Meet Owen O’Kane, the former NHS palliative nurse-turned-psychologist who can calm your mind in 10 minutes flat. More haste less speed? That’s so 2018…

People often feel they don’t have 30 minutes spare for meditation, and they may not be able to afford therapy. Owen’s solution is Ten to Zen, a time-efficient daily mind workout, designed to de-stress and achieve calm in just 10 minutes. Here he shares his 10 tips to emotional harmony:

1. Put on the brakes

We’re hard-wired to worry, because it’s a protective mechanism. You’re going to feel jittery, agitated, tense and communicate perhaps in ways that are unhelpful. Regulate that threat system by stopping. This creates space, allowing you to begin switching off your threat system. Most of us ask how others are doing, but don’t ask inwardly: ‘Where am I at today?’ Find a quiet space to do this.

Owen O'Kane

Owen O'Kane, photography | Nicky Johnston

2. Negative feelings are OK

In psychology, we talk about ‘reinforced patterns’. The more you push something down or try to hold it back, the stronger it becomes. Most people try to beat down what they term ‘negative emotions’, because they don’t feel good, but feeling frustrated, low or angry is part of the trajectory of life. Get curious about these feelings. Allow yourself to be human.

3. Make sense of your story

If you had a highly critical parent who said you weren’t good enough, in adult life your brain will respond in the way it’s been trained to. For example, if your manager’s criticising you this may evoke an inappropriate response. Understand that you’re not the content of your mind. We all carry a lot of guilt, shame and blame around. Let it go by getting to know your unhelpful patterns, and then start to work on restructuring patterns that represent the better version of you.

4. Acceptance

Growing up, I repressed who I was and hid rather than standing up to the bullies. Too many of us apologise for who we are, to fit in. When you’re truthful about yourself in your own life, and learn to be comfortable in your own shoes, you stop trying to seek validation, and step out on the road to freedom.

5. Get out of your own head

In our everyday lives, there’s a lot of noise and distraction. To switch off the threat system, close your eyes, visualise somewhere calm, and use a tapping technique by tapping on your thigh in a slow alternate motion, left to right, 20 times in total. When you next visualise that place, the brain recognises you’re stepping out of the chaotic activity, and responds by deactivating the threat system.

6. Self-care is key

When your brain is tired and taking a bit longer to process things, take care of yourself. When you’re struggling, what’s the tone of voice in your head? If you’re calm, gentle and kind, like you would be to a friend who is struggling, it will ease psychological distress.

7. Baby breath

It’s difficult to breathe properly when the mind is in overdrive. The older we get, the higher we breathe in our chests and necks. Try to breathe from the diaphragm, almost like a baby, and then release, counting in for four seconds, and out for four seconds until you feel calm.

person meditating

8. Lifestyle matters

The maintenance you give to your life, like getting out for a walk and eating good food – in the world of CBT this is called behavioural activation – naturally helps with emotional regulation by stimulating helpful feel-good chemicals including dopamine and serotonin.

9. Think about the bigger picture

When I worked with the terminally ill, they’d talk about making the best of your time, living a full life, taking more risks, and not taking life so seriously. The dying are head-on with their mortality; they know there isn’t certainty, and deliver with wisdom the lessons to be found in living in the present moment. Stop and take stock of your values and principles, learn to let go of anger and resentment, and live lovingly and with kindness.

10. Open up

If you’re struggling, find the courage to tell someone – a GP, a therapist or a friend – because the minute you admit you’ve got a problem, you’re on the road to recovery, and can move towards resolution. Whenever anything is kept a secret or suppressed, it festers and becomes worse. If you’ve got a bad kidney or lungs, you seek help and make adjustments. It’s time to do the same for your mental wellbeing.