I have an important question to ask you: how are you handling your stress these days? I know, stress is basically unavoidable. At some point throughout your day or week stress is most likely going to find its way into your life and take up residence for an indefinite amount of time. We may not be able to avoid stress completely, but we can implement certain strategies to make it more manageable.
I would like to invite you into the world of mindfulness. Mindfulness has become a very popular and effective tool in the worlds of mental and physical wellness. Although this practice has its roots in Eastern spiritual traditions and can be exercised through things like yoga and meditation, it can occur at any time without much effort at all, no yoga mat required. The trick? Purposefully paying attention to yourself at any given moment without judgement. We have been conditioned to set ourselves to autopilot. We jump from task to task and forget to check-in with our inner selves, the part of us that yearns for attention. When ignored it calls out to us via physical and mental symptoms such as chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and anger.
Let me ask you if any of these scenarios feel relatable:
Can you recall a time that you became so angry at someone you had an immediate reaction which ultimately made the situation worse?
Have you ever experienced distressing thoughts that provoked anxious or depressive-like symptoms?
Are there days that have been seemingly doused in so much stress that you are exhausted yet completely keyed up by the end of the night?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above then mindfulness may be of interest to you.
Let’s put it in plain terms: Prolonged stress has profound effects on the brain. It can impact our ability to reason, rest, and recover from overstimulating situations. When we experience prolonged periods of stress our prefrontal cortex (the part of our brain responsible for higher-order tasks such as focusing one’s attention, predicting the consequences of actions, impulse control, emotional reactions, and planning for the future) essentially gets weaker while more primitive areas of the brain such as the amygdala (the part of our brain responsible for our fight-flight-freeze response) become intensely activated and get stronger. The result? You are tired, anxious, keyed up, distracted, and struggle to regulate your emotions.
To reiterate, the goal of mindfulness is simply to pay attention without judgement. It really is that simple. We underestimate our body and mind’s ability to communicate our needs with our conscious state. Our fears, worries, grief, anger and yes, stress, live within us on a cellular level. If left unaddressed they continue to take up space and we will undoubtedly feel their weight.
Mindfulness in Action
Here are some ways to introduce mindfulness into your day-to-day routine. Regardless of your work requirements, childcare needs, social commitments, and other important to-dos, mindfulness has a place in your schedule.
Listen to Your Children Laugh
Time doesn’t stop, but we can create a blueprint for our memories by pausing to soak in the details of the good stuff. Listen for their unique sound of laughter. That special noise that comes only from their individual soul and fills up the room with the joy of the heavens. Watch their face transform as they laugh and smile. Pay attention to how your body responds: does your heart all of a sudden make its presence known? Does your body feel instant warmth as your own cheeks perk up with a responding smile? This is mindfulness! You are paying attention to everything that is happening right in the moment of your child laughing. Your brain is receiving this information and putting it to good use!
I prefer to start at the top and work my way down. Focus on your head…is it clear or foggy? Heavy or light? Is there a throbbing, or maybe a calm instead? Work your way to your face. Are you holding onto tension in your cheeks and forehead? Is your jaw clenched? How do your shoulders feel? Are they relaxed or strained? Continue to check-in with your body until you get all the way down to your toes. Again, we carry our stress in our body. It gets stored away until we provide it with an exit. A body scan will allow you to bring awareness to where your body is holding onto any emotional baggage so you can work to wring yourself free of that extra weight.
Reflect vs. React
Mindfulness helps us regulate our emotions through awareness, identification, and behavioral intervention. The next time you find yourself in conflict practice a reflective pause before reacting to the situation. Within this pause observe what is happening and how you are feeling. Honor your feelings through validation but gear your behavior towards the outcome you desire. What are the consequences of your initial reaction? Will it be helpful or harmful? Do you have all the facts in order to justify your outward reaction? What do you want to achieve and how will your reaction get you there (or not)? After you reflect take some time to re-check your emotions. Even the slightest diffusion can make a difference in how we handle a situation and how we regulate our emotions.
Mindfulness can be applied to any circumstance you find yourself in, whether you’re resting at home after a long week, cooking dinner for you and your family, or driving to the grocery store. When we give ourselves the attention we deserve our mind and body celebrate. You are worthy of that, mama. It starts with you.
Be kind to yourself and shuffle on…