Besides the heat and nearly unbearable humidity making me cranky, I have very little stress in my life right now. However, I live most of my life holding onto at least a little stress which usually manifests in physical sensations such as headaches, neck tension, stiff back muscles, butterflies in the stomach, IBS, or nausea. On Monday I vowed to begin a new mindfulness routine in order to tune in more to the here-and-now, as well as experience the many benefits of mindfulness, stress reduction being one of them.
First, I’ll give you a quick update on my progress. I successfully spent five minutes Monday and Tuesday in quiet mindful meditation, just sitting still and listening. Those who do this practice every day or make YouTube videos about it make it seem so easy. It is not! No sooner had I closed my eyes the first day, one of my cats mewed softly at my feet and I responded (eyes still closed) with the usual kissing sound I make at all my cats. I found it amusing that I was already doing something when I was supposed to be doing nothing, so I started laughing. I calmed down enough to start hearing the many sounds of the street and house, but my mind often drifted. The more I tried to empty my mind of thought, the more that entered it: “Did I email Jen?” “I wonder how so and so is. I should call her.” “Are those people outside fighting or just talking loudly?” I got annoyed with myself until I realized I’m not supposed to judge my thoughts, so I tried to just let go of them. I tuned in again to the sounds around me. Occasionally a new sound would catch my attention. My second day of mindfulness was more enjoyable and less frustrating. I was able to judge my thoughts less and concentrate just a little bit more. So, I guess it’s “working”.
Now, I promised to focus my second mindfulness post on mindfulness for stress reduction. If you want to read about the therapeutic tool (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction or MBSR), click here. The general gist of mindfulness for stress reduction is to help you keep your thoughts in the present, not the past or the future. It’s widely known that those who experience anxiety tend to think about the future (“what if…”) and those who experience depressed mood tend to ruminate on the past (“why didn’t I…?”). MBSR helps the individual attend to and notice the things happening in the present. It helps us fully engage in whatever activity we’re doing rather than doing one thing while thinking of something else. I can’t count the number of times I do that! I’m washing the dishes and replaying a conversation over and over in my head or I’m working out at the gym and thinking of all the things that need to get done at work that day. Or worse, I’m counseling a client and thinking about how their concerns relate to my own past. Not being fully present in the moment isn’t the worst thing, but it takes a toll on our bodies, minds, spirits, and even our relationships. And when we’re not tending to our minds, bodies, spirits, and relationships, we begin to experience stress at an emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational level. It impacts just about everything we do.
For the next two days, I’m going to continue my practice of mindfulness and take note how I feel. I hope you’ll join me or choose your own mindfulness practice for reducing stress.
Peace, joy, and health,