In the last article we discussed how to manage stress by recognizing that things change and bad times don’t last forever. To do this we used a combination of linguistic awareness (“estar”) and awareness and focus on the now. The second trick is what we will explore today. When we focus and stay aware of the now we are engaging in mindfulness.
A quick internet search on the definition of mindfulness reveals this: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
When one is able to achieve this state, stress and it’s associated symptoms pretty much go away. It’s a wonderful feeling…especially compared to how crappy it feels to be stressed out, anxious and/or depressed. This article will discuss some simple ways to help you and your kids to be more mindful.
II. How do you eat an elephant?
“Why would I want to eat an elephant?” I hear you say. Just roll with me on this one. Imagine you are REALLY hungry. Someone brings you a delicious whole roast elephant (perhaps Fred Flintstone style) and it is now your chance to dine. How would you go about doing it? Trunk first? Tail?
I often pose this question to my clients…and they usually look at me like I’m out of my mind (kind of like I’m imagining you’re looking now. It’s ok. There’s a method to my madness). The answer to this question is simple: One bite at a time. That’s it. If you were to try to eat an emephant….as long as you take one bite at time, the elephant would be consumed by you. Sure, take a break when you get full….we’ll assue you have elephant sized Tupperware for easy and convenient storage. When it’s time to eat again, just keep taking more bites. Eventually, you will run all out of elephant.
The elephant represents any large, seemingly overwhelming task. It’s easy to look at something like a big project, a pile of bills, tons of homework, etc. and just see how big it is. This gets your brain thinking “It’s too much! I can’t do it!” and that trips your coping skills associated with avoidance. However, if you stop looking at the whole and focus on the basic manageable parts (like a single bite, one problem, one bill, etc.) then you will notice that it’s all quite manageable. If you just take each little manageable part as it comes and do that…then eventually the task will get finished. Focus on the moment, focus on what you CAN do. Stop worrying about how big, how long, how hard…all of that is illusion and just serves to hold you back and keep you stressed out. This is a coping skill of approach which is what one often needs to get through difficult tasks. Keep it easy and you’ll cruise through it.
III. No matter where you go…
…There you are. (Thanks Buckaroo Bonzai!) You can only exist where you’re at. You can only control yourself and your choices at this moment. Energy spent crying over the past is energy wasted (the past can’t be changed). Worry (anxiety projected into the future) is energy wasted as you can’t do much about the future until it becomes the present. So, when you find yourself worrying and anxious, take a moment to ground yourself and focus on where you are. (This is exactly what Yoda said Luke needed to do more of. I’m reasonably confident that if Yoda thinks it’s a good idea then it probably is.)
There are lots of ways to ground yourself in the present. I like doing the color game. It works great for both children and adults. Take a few deep breaths to calm that sympathetic nervous system…then pick your favorite color. Look around you and find five things that are that color. Next, look for four things that are your next favorite color. Then find three things of another color. Two things, One thing. DONE! It’s shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. You should notice an immediate reduction in your anxiety and emotional activation. I call this the brain cooling effect. A cooler brain allows you to think more clearly and hopefully cope with whatever is going on for you at the present moment (where you can actually do something about it).
IV. The mind’s eye
This last exercise is less about being mindful of where you are so much as being mindful of who you are and how you are connected to others. Close your eyes. Now picture the most important person in your life. It could be a partner, friend, child….anyone to whom you feel close. Now imagine sitting across from that person and looking deeply into their eyes. Feel the love and connection with that person. Feel their acceptance of you. Feel safe in knowing they love you and you love them. Try to hold onto this feeling for as long as can.
I hope you found something in this article that helped you get rid of some stress. Please forward this on to anyone you know who might also benefit from a little mindful stress reduction. I invite you to share and comment on your experiences with mindfulness (I love learning new mindfulness exercises!). If you wish to work with me directly then please call 484-693-0582 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a session.