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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

This time of year can be especially stressful for those of us prone to free-floating anxiety.  One of my strategies for coping with anxiety is simplifying my to-do list, which is one reason I haven’t been updating my blog much lately.  But I thought it might be helpful to collect and share my thoughts about what works for me to ease stress.  Please note that these are just my two-cents; I am not a medical practitioner; these are just my personal experiences, observations, and suggestions.

When we’re in the throes of feeling panicky, whether it’s a full-blown panic attack or the precursor stages of your brain freezing up and your palms sweating, it’s a little late to do any prep work.  So I’ll start by offering some suggesting for triage, things that have helped me get back in my body and functioning again.

  1. The very first thing to do is BREATHE.  Take a deep belly breath.  Then another.  If you have the bandwidth for it, do some left-nostril breathing, or even better yet, some alternate-nostril breathing (one exhalation and inhalation through one side of your nose, then the other side; continue for several rounds or several minutes – this will reset your left-brain-right-brain connection and does wonders for resetting your body’s anxiety level).
  2. Acknowledge that something is going on that needs to be addressed – maybe not at this very moment, but at least give it a nod and let it know you will pay it attention when things are calmer.  Like all emotions, anxiety has something to tell us, so it’s a good idea to listen to it, not just try to squash it.  While hypersensitivity to stress might be a genetic predisposition, we can still learn from it, even if we need to treat its effects.  Later on, if you know how to journey, journey to your anxiety and ask it directly, “What are you trying to teach me?  What are you trying to say?”  You can also do this through meditation.
  3. Step away from your computer or from whatever you were doing.  Go to the rest room or walk around outside if you can.  Stretch your body.  Feel your feet on the ground.  Continue to breathe, deeply.
  4. Essential oils can be very helpful.  I like to deeply inhale peppermint essential oil when I first feel myself start to tailspin.  Lavender and rose are also soothing.
  5. Step away from the coffee pot and other caffeinated drinks.  Caffeine revs up your system, makes your heart beat faster, simulating fear in many ways.  Nothing wrong with having a cup or two, but know your limits.  Know what your triggers are.  Switch to chamomile tea.
  6. There are some very effective homeopathic remedies such as Calms, Calms Forte, and Nerve Tonic that can help.
  7. Try to pay attention to one task at a time.  Practice mindfulness rather than future-tripping.
  8. Give yourself mini-breaks throughout your day to stretch, breathe, offer gratitude, come back into your body, and pay attention to your thought patterns.   Try setting a timer on your computer or phone to remind you to tune in to yourself.

Here are some things I’ve found helpful to keep from getting to the triage point:

  1. Have a regular meditation / journey / prayer practice.  Connect to Spirit on a regular basis.
  2. Spend regular time in nature.
  3. It’s ok to say “no.”  We don’t have to commit to every project or appointment that we are invited to participate in.  And it’s ok to unplug and unwire yourself, to take a break from constant information input.
  4. But do make sure you find time for your family and friends!  Build community.
  5. Have some kind of relaxing hobby, whether it’s gardening or playing Candy Crush.  Extra points though for doing service working on behalf of animals, the environment, or other people!
  6. Surround yourself with beauty and images of what brings you joy.
  7. Anxiety is a sign that something is out of balance, so it’s important to pay attention to that.  This might mean something needs to be released from your life, or that something is lacking in your life and needs to be brought in.  It might be as simple as needing to throw out a pile of old magazines, or as profound a shift as trading in perfectionism for compassion.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to talk with a professional counselor to help sort this out.
  8. And sometimes medication can be a wonderful thing.  It can help break the cycle of anxiety and panic while you sort out the underlying causes.
  9. Nurture all aspects of yourself – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual.  Create an “emergency kit” to keep with you for future “triage moments” – some peppermint essential oil, a book that centers you and connects you to the sacred, a smooth stone, some soothing music on your ipod, a note that reminds you to breathe…
  10. Regular healing work can do wonders – energy work, massage, acupuncture, etc.

So, those are a few things I’ve found helpful.  One or two will be useful to you, especially during the holidays, which can be especially stressful.  I’ll leave you with two photographs that I find soothing, and a quote from Mark Twain that helps me keep things in perspective.

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

– Mark Twain

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Beautiful wood shavings from my husband's woodworking shop; © Lynda Skeen

Beautiful wood shavings from my husband’s woodworking shop; © Lynda Skeen

Winter sunset at Venice Beach with my brother; © Lynda Skeen

Winter sunset at Venice Beach with my brother; © Lynda Skeen

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We are continually bombarded with reports in the news of atrocities that invite us to distance ourselves from suffering that we can’t wrap our heads – or our hearts – around.  But the beginning of suffering is actually that separation.  Suffering doesn’t start in a vacuum and neither does compassion.

Everything is alive, connected, and sacred, including the incomprehensible.  To become conscious of this web, start by offering gratitude, which awakens an awareness of the basic fibers of our connections.  It’s easier to start becoming aware of these connections in our day-to-day lives rather than waiting to try to make sense of things in difficult times.

Some practices I recommend:

  • Start right where you are.  In this moment.  Breathe.  Connect to your heart.
  • Start by offering gratitude for our bodies.  For the elements.  For the elements which are all in our bodies – water, air, earth and fire.  As you take a deep breath, offer gratitude for each, one at a time.
  • Offer gratitude before you eat the food on your plate.  Say thank you to the life forms that gave their life for your meal, for all the energy and elements that went into its being on your table, for the people that harvested and transported it.
  • Build up to saying “thank you” to a difficult person or circumstance in your life.  If your difficulty is that you don’t feel connected to anything, start by offering some gratitude to that, to whatever you will learn from that.  Acknowledge it.  Connect to it.  Try this once a day for 30 days.  Note how you feel at the beginning and how your relationship shifts as you go along.
  • Select an element or cause that you feel particularly connected to, and find a way to improve its condition in your neighborhood (or on a larger scale).  Be of service.  Get out of your head and into your heart.  Clean a river.  Adopt a pet.  Install solar panels.  Read to a child.
  • A formal mindfulness meditation (or other meditation form) can be extremely helpful.  Besides books, retreats, and DVD’s, you can also learn to practice on your own with some apps that are available for smart phones.  One that is very user-friendly and loaded with great information and practices is called Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson; he has a book by the same name as well.
  • And of course shamanic journeying is a great way to connect consciously with the essence of things.  Learning to practice shamanic journeying changed my life.

The farther away we feel from ourselves, each other, the natural world, and our spiritual essence, the more depressed and angry we are likely to become.  Just remember that it’s ok to start small, to start right where you are.  Breathe.  Breathe again.  Connect to your heart.  Practice remembering.  Start small – with saying “thank you” for your meals, smiling at a stranger, opening the door for a loved one.  Eventually, acknowledge your connection to natural disasters and even psychopaths.  We don’t have to understand.  We are connected to what we understand as well as to the Mystery.  Start small; save a seat for the rest.

As we offer gratitude for this moment, for our connection to All That Is, for its incomprehensible beauty as well as sometimes awfulness, we can start to feel the suffering of alienation eased by the reality that we are all connected.  We are not alone.  We are part of the web of life.  And that we don’t have to figure it all out before we can love and be loved.

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