The holidays can be a magical time of year but they can also be a stressful time of year. Financial worries, family drama, family loss, and juggling multiple obligations can make the last few months of the year leave some people feeling a lot more scrooge like than they would like to admit.
The other day at work we ran a small group counseling session for students on Mindfulness and how to use it to combat stress and anxiety. It made me think about my own coping skills and how I manage my own high-stress situations. At this point in my life I think I have a pretty good plan in place, but I can think of times when I didn’t.
During my last year of graduate school all the stress I thought I was handling smacked me right in the face. Literally. I woke up one day and the whole left side of my face was swollen. It looked like I had the mumps. While I hoped this would subside after a few days it didn’t. In fact it got worse. After a barrage of testing, including so much blood work I lost count, a CT scan and several specialist visits, it seemed that the consensus was that I had an autoimmune disorder called Sarcoidosis. They would need to do a biopsy and other testing to confirm it, but the swelling responded to Prednisone, so I stayed on a steroid to keep the disorder at bay so that I could finish my internship. Because, clearly that was more important to me at the time than my health. I told my doctor we could deal with the biopsy after I graduated in a few months. Ay Dios Mio. What was I thinking?
I guess I was thinking I couldn’t handle one more thing. This last semester was not only physically taxing but it was financially rough. I was a single mom working on my unpaid internship during the day. After dinner each day, following that full time stint at my counseling internship, Id gather my compassion fatigued, overwhelmed body and my youngest daughter and we’d trek across town to my actual job. There she would do her homework while I crammed eight hours worth of billing and accounting work into two! At the same time I was preparing to send my oldest daughter off to college and worrying about post graduation and the job search. Whew! No wonder my body went a little cray cray.
After graduation I did ditch the steroids and my doctors assured me the Sarcoid would come back, but lo and behold it didn’t! Once all of the stress left so did the symptoms. Looking back I wish I had known about Mindfulness during that hectic time of my life. It wouldn’t have fixed all of my problems but it certainly would have helped me handle it better.
So what is Mindfulness and how does it work to combat stress and anxiety? Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing ones awareness on the present moment. Sounds simple right? A lot of our stress and anxiety has nothing to do with our present moment. We are constantly thinking about “whats next” and that can be anxiety provoking. Mindfulness actually trains your brain to slow down your racing thoughts, which allows you to focus on where you are right now. This leads to much more clarity and focus and improves both your mental and physical state.
A lot of people think of Meditation and Mindfulness synonymously and that’s probably pretty true. Meditation is one of the most effective ways to train your brain to be more mindful. If you haven’t tried it yet I do recommend that you give it a go. There are several apps out there that help guide you through the practice, and I want to emphasis the word practice because it is something that gets easier the more you do it. However, meditation isn’t the only way. Here are 5 Easy things you can do to each day to relieve stress and become more mindful:
Practice breathing-Yup! Super easy and takes only a few minutes of your time each day. you don’t need to sit cross legged or have soothing wave sounds playing in the background (although that’s great too). You simply bring your attention to your breath and do five or six focused inhales or exhales. The new app on the apple watch reminds you to do this twice a day but you don’t need an app. Place a sticky note on your computer screen or fridge and get to breathing.
Grounding-Find an object or picture with a design that you can trace with your finger. Taking the time to focus on the sensation of your finger outlining the pattern will ground you, forcing you to focus for a moment on the pattern and not the nine million things running through your head.
Take a walk outside-Baby I know its cold outside… but that makes it even better! Bundle up and take a walk. Observe your breath in the cold air and the sensations that you are feeling. Focus on the sites and sounds you are experiencing. I’m guilty of walking my dog while talking on the phone or even scrolling through social media, I even have a neighbor who reads a book while walking her cute little sweater wearing pug. And while I am impressed by her talent to do these two things at once, it’s important to stop the multitasking. Put those things aside and focus on the walk itself.
Listen to Music-Actually sit and just listen to music. I remember as a young girl I would lay on my bed listening to music. Music can be a great stress reliever but hardly anyone ever actually listens to music anymore. We have it on as background noise but we are focused on so many other things that we aren’t really paying attention to the music. Take a brain break and put on your favorite song and focus…
Color-Yes, you read that correctly. Adult coloring books are huge right now. You can find them almost anywhere. Mandalas, and adult coloring books are wonderful for reducing stress and anxiety as they help you once again focus on the present moment and its fun! Thats why we liked it as children.
Speaking of childhood, if you think about it we were all pretty good at all of the things listed above as children but then life got in the way. Sometimes as adults it’s important to simplify things even if just for 10 minutes a day. Try meditating or one of the other simple tips and see if it helps relieve your stress and anxiety. I am betting it will.
Let me know what other techniques you use to practice being more mindful.
Until Next Post,