You’re having a rough patch. A caregiver didn’t show up. Your loved one accuses you of stealing their money. You ‘re not paying enough attention to your job/kids/relationship and it shows. You feel isolated and alienated. So you decide to get together with a trusted friend and unload, problem-solve, and hopefully, feel better. You have a glass of wine or a good meal or both. A moment’s relief.
Why is it then, when you get home, you either can’t sleep or can’t stop thinking about the things that stress you out in the first place? You just had an intimate, lovely evening with a good friend but still......?
Maybe it is because the stressors are still there, your momentary respite is over, and what you are left with are your own repetitive stories about what’s wrong.
Financial issues, relationship difficulties, unhealthy behaviors around self care are all things that contribute to this treadmill of resolve, effort, and back to stress again. Sound familiar? How do we find emotional resilience or equanimity?
Oh yes, everyone says “just meditate five minutes a day and it will change your life”. Actually it probably does. Give it a try. There is an app called Insight Timer that’s kind of cool. There are many different types of meditation apps and they all have a similar effect. just google meditation apps and you’ll find something.
Spend more time with your four-legged, if you have one. Animal friends have no agenda and just want to connect with you. Dogs, especially, love you no matter what. Horses and cats have their own special potion of animal wisdom and love that will revive you, at least for the moment.
Get out there! Even if it is a walk around your neighborhood, it will do more for your mood than staring at your screen or hiding indoors. Exercise is one of the only things that science has confirmed delays the progression of cognitive issues. Every study confirms that moving your body and being outdoors are reliable mood elevators. So get some fresh air and exercise at the same time.
If you can somehow notice that moment when the stress level is rising, the anxiety is creeping in, or when you are starting to tell yourself stories about whatever is going on (and let’s face it, we end up believing those stories which only makes things worse) - just stop. Literally stop thinking and take three deep breaths, noticing nothing more than the sound of your inhale and exhale. You have the 15 seconds it takes to do this. It doesn’t solve your problems or make the stressors go away but it takes your attention and focuses it on something else. Additionally, when we are stressed, our breath tends to become shallow. Slow, deep breathing brings in needed oxygen to calm your nervous system. Your breath – the miracle fix.
You may be thinking “How do I fit another activity into my busy life?” Find something that speaks to you and decide if you can give up a couple of hours a week/month to dedicate to someone else’s life or wellbeing. Doing good feeds the soul. When the soul is hungry, our minds fill up the space with ideas and thoughts about what is wrong and then comes the stress. You will know what moves you if you give yourself a few minutes to think about it. If you need some suggestions to grease the wheels of this inquiry, think about serving in a food pantry, feeding and touching in an animal rescue/shelter, offering yourself to a senior center, reading to someone in the hospital or nursing home, playing with kids at a day care. It’s gratifying to notice how appreciative people are for your offer, not to mention the satisfaction of making someone else’s day a little better.
Surveys show that serving brings more satisfaction to people than being served!
It is not easy to be human in this world of ours. Bringing some attention to the care and feeding of our souls and bodies is worth thinking about. And one more mindfulness tip – if you do start this self inquiry, notice if your first thought is “But.....” and stop. Take three deep breaths and listen.