Stress Getting the Best of You? Just Breathe.

Breathing-Medium-1080x675When first introduced to breathing as a relaxation technique, we wonder how something so simple can work.  My favorite story about “breathing” was finding my 10 year-old daughter playing the deep breathing/relaxation CD I’d made to a friend who was spending the night  and having trouble sleeping.  She said, “Just listen–you’ll feel better.”  Fifteen minutes later, they were both asleep.

Deep breathing works so well because we spend so much time physically  and emotionally stressed.  Psychologist Alice Domar states that the average US adult experiences the fight or flight response 50 times daily.  While adaptive for cave-dwelling ancestors running from saber-toothed tigers, the flood of stress chemicals through our bodies makes us edgy, irritable, and more vulnerable to physical and emotional health problems.  Likewise, it results in short, shallow breathing which fuels rather than diminishes the stress response.

The busier we are, the truer this is, especially for moms with small children who already feel physically and emotionally depleted.  The more rundown we are, the more likely the fight-flight response is to trigger.  Research has shown that five minutes of deep breathing several times a day leads to lower stress hormones by day’s end.  Why wait?  If we can delay bedtime to pick up the house, certainly we can take 5 minutes, 3 times a day, to improve our physical and emotional well-being.  Although it may feel strange at first to be still and breathe deeply, it feels good.

This week’s mantra: “I always have my breath to destress.”

Click here for my “Simply Breathe” YouTube exercise

Article from Well & Good on “4 Yoga Poses and Breathing Exercises that can help you get better ZZZ’s”

What I Learned This Weekend

Today I had the privilege of gathering with 10 other women at the Midwest Mind Body Health Center for a class I taught on Mindful Stress Reduction. The class focusses on different practices which ease stress and improve mind, body & spirit health and well-being through mindfulness and meditation. Each time I teach, I learn so much and today was no exception. Although many of the women were going through multiple losses including the loss of loved ones, their light was bright and illuminating.

Here are some of the insights they shared.

  1. Even in the midst of sorrow, practice gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for and while it won’t take your sadness away, it reminds you of life’s goodness.
  2. Sometimes what you need most is to stop and take care of yourself. Let the laundry sit unfolded or whatever you think you “need to do” before you stop to recharge. Sit still or do what nourishes you first.
  3. Take time to be in nature. Go outside with your family and turn off the indoor distractions. Reconnect with each other. Tune in to the simple pleasure of being together.
  4. You are not alone. Everyone is affected by life’s ups and downs. Stop feeling bad because it’s only you. It isn’t.
  5. Be prepared to make mistakes and fall in the same hole over and over. Become aware of the control you have to make a different choice. Even if you still fall in, notice where you are and how to get out. Then, learn to walk around the hole and finally, walk down a different street.
  6. It’s important to grieve the losses you experience in life. This is how you heal. They won’t go away if you deny them.
  7. In spite of what others want from you, be willing to say no especially if it’s best for you. Leave others to deal with the unpleasant circumstances they create.
  8. We create our own suffering. Learn to set aside unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations, by finding activities you enjoy rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past. Life happens in the present moment. Embrace it.

For your homework this week, think about what you’ve learned this year which has helped you grow mind, body & spirit. Then, let us know. Remember, we are here.

Namaste

Living Self-Care: A Mindful Journey

Last week we started a new class Living Self-Care: A Mindful Journey at the Midwest Mind Body Health Center in STL which Stacey and I hope to offer online next month. We talked about our five mindfulness foundation skills, practiced “Simply Breathe,” and discussed how we could take care of “Our Bodies” outside of class.

My students gently reminded me how challenging it is to practice self-care and mindfulness outside of class and how helpful it is to have a group in which we deliberately set aside time to practice and how much they’d missed this. Honestly, I missed it too. Although I make time usually for self-care or mindfulness, I was also more lax since our weekly meetings stopped.

Likewise, because I often teach “formal” skills/exercises in class, I realized I hadn’t said enough about how to practice “informally” throughout the day with the opportunities that naturally occur. For example, today when I was out for a walk, I stopped to look and listen to a passing train until the caboose went by. Or the other day, noticing the passing clouds in the sky instead of rehearsing my to-do list. Or, being in the shower, and paying attention to the smell of the soap, the sound of the water hitting my skin and the way it feels when I open the shower door to grab my towel.

This week, see if you can find a group of like-minded souls to spend some mindful time together or look for ways to add informal practice wherever and whatever you’re doing. For formal practice, check out the “Simply Breathe” video above.

Best to each of you. Namaste.

Mindfulness is For Everyone

When my daughter got to 6th grade, things quickly turned ugly for her. This was the year that the 4 hours worth of homework, advanced classes and extracurriculars began. Neither of us were prepared for the onslaught or how it would trigger her anxiety in such a big way.

I remember those days vividly, even though they happened 3 years ago. Nothing makes me feel more helpless than my upset child. But this was even worse than that. Picture an 11-year old girl weeping and screaming hysterically because she’s paralyzed and overwhelmed with anxiety. Nothing could calm her down except time and distraction. It was obvious that the DNA that my husband and I gave her had kicked in…the anxiety genes!

I took her to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with GAD and OCD. She began taking Prozac when she was 13 years old. She had barely even gotten her period (though I’m sure the hormones helped aggravate her dormant symptoms, too)! Fortunately, the medication helped her. It took the edge off. I took her to counseling, but she could not seem to form a rapport with any of the folks I took her to. I refused to “be her therapist,” but got her a couple of books on coping skills and spoke to her about some of the techniques.

Of all the different coping mechanisms I went over with her, including reframing (looking at things in a different, more healthy way), positive self-talk, breaking down tasks into steps, time management and deep breathing, mindfulness ended up being the thing that helped her the most!

She said that there was just something about knowing that she can handle things right now,even if the future still frightened her. It resonated with her that life is a series of right nowsand that the future is just an abstract construct in our minds. We don’t know what’s going to happen in 5 minutes much less 2 weeks.

Three years later, my daughter still turns to mindfulness when she feels overwhelmed. She hasn’t given meditation a fair shot yet, but she says it’s something she wants to try during the summer months. I look forward to practicing with her! Her experiences just reinforce the importance of mindfulness for me. I hope that her story will help you as much as it did me!

Namaste.

And Now for the Rest of the Story

Am I the only one who misses Paul Harvey? I bet not.

I digress. Sorry about the missing Thursday post! Life has been busy…isn’t it always? I volunteer a lot of my time at my local Police Department, and we had our giant yearly fundraiser on May 10, followed immediately by National Police Week activities. Thursday, I was wrapping muffins and preparing for the annual Police Banquet!

I offer this not as an excuse, but as a beginning. I am blessed to have so many things that I am passionate about in my life. Many people have problems finding one passion, much less several! These things bring purpose and fulfillment to my life, at least right now. It wasn’t always this way, however, and probably won’t be this way forever. The one thing we can always count on to stay the same is change!

I think back to when my daughter was born back in 1999. Like many of you, I had an unrealistic view of what motherhood would be and was thinking about finding a way to be a stay-at-home mom. It sounded ideal to me! I could raise my child my way, save on daycare and not have to work, at least outside of the home (we all know that SAHMs are some of the hardest working ladies out there!). I was assigning raising my daughter to be my purpose in life.

Many mothers, grandmothers, dads and other caregivers have found fulfillment in this for thousands of years – I figured that I could, too. But I was wrong. And because I was restless, depressed and felt purposeless, I didn’t enjoy my time with my baby girl. Instead of looking at changing my situation, I blamed my discontent on myself as some sort of character flaw. I thought that ALL mothers naturally felt such joy with their babies and something was wrong with me because I didn’t. Those thoughts snowballed into a severe, suicidal depression with a nice, juicy side of panic.

I can look back now and understand that there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with me…I was just trying to make myself fit into a box that was a different shape than I needed. Over time and with therapy and medication, I got to that understanding, went back to work and felt much better. And, of course, as the years passed and my daughter got older, my preferences and passions have changed into something I never really expected. That’s the awesomeness of life at work – if we stop trying to force ourselves into boxes and instead just roll with things, doors will open that we have never even considered!

I knew that y’all would be cool with me being late with this post because we’re all Living Self-Care here! Now, my challenge to you is to sit with yourself and try to identify your life passions and purposes. Are you living them? Do you even know what they are? If not, use mindfulness to observe when you are truly content and in the flow…where time passes without notice. Those are the things that you LOVE to do and are PASSIONATE about. Life is too short not to have passion in your life. Whether it’s a hobby, a part-time job or a full-time career, fulfilling your true purpose is essential to basic good health, well-being and Self-Care!

 Namaste

Being in the NOW

By Diane Sanford, PhD

I loved Stacey’s post from last Thursday about how her hand surgery helped her bring her attention back to the present. It’s so astonishing when that happens although our thoughts quickly drift back to what’s ahead or behind us. Two weeks ago I was deep in worry about what was ahead of me-a combined graduation party for my two daughters and Mother’s Day celebration which my family hosted yesterday.

Instead, the weekend was relaxing and fun. There was still time to get my walking in, sit on my porch and enjoy all the greenery blooming around me, spend time with my daughters before and after, and get everything done. My older daughter who was planning to get in just before the party started, discovered on Thursday that a graduation event she thought was happening Saturday night was Friday so she came home early. An unexpected pleasure.Then one of my best friends stopped by to drop off some potato salad for the celebration. Because I didn’t have a “million things to do” like I’d thought two weeks prior, I had time to visit with her. Very pleasant indeed. Next, my sister who thought she’d have to work, called and said she had the day off and could join us, and then another friend who I thought was going out of town, called to say she could also make it by.

So, here’s the lesson. We really don’t know how any experience will be until we experience it. Instead of suffering from our fears of the future or regrets from the past, greet life as it’s occurring. Truly, it’s the only choice we have and as this weekend taught me once again, often much more delightful than what we’ve imagined. Namaste 

Mindfulness Marathon: Let’s Get This Party Started

By Diane Sanford, PhD

Stacey and I have decided as part of Maternal Mental Health Month to sponsor a “Mindfulness Marathon,” so here’s an exercise to get you started. If you’re new to mindfulness, it’s defined as “paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgement.” Now, if this sounds like something more to put on to your to-do list, it’s not. One benefit of mindfulness is that you can practice it while you go through your day without adding anything. All you have to do is to pay attention to what you’re already doing.

We call this “informal” practice. For example, when you’re showering, direct your attention to the sensory experience of taking a shower-sounds, touch/feeling, smells, sights and taste (well, maybe not taste although when shampoo gets in my mouth…). If thoughts occur, note them by saying “Thinking-Planning-Overthinking, etc,” and then re-direct your attention back to the sensory experience of the shower. At first, you may spend most of going from thought to sensation, thought to sensation and back again. Don’t worry, that’s completely normal. The idea is to let whatever happens happen without judgement or self-criticism.

Image

This week your assignment (should you choose to accept it), is to pick one activity you do on a daily or regular basis, like showering, doing the dishes, driving to work, and focus on your sensory experience of the activity rather than the thoughts or “tickertape” running through your head. Do this without judgement, understanding that your mind is likely to drift from thought to sensation and sensation to thought frequently. Remember, mindfulness is realizing your mind has wandered, so when this occurs, stop, take a breath, and re-direct your attention to the moment you’re in. That’s it!

Namaste