You know those days? The ones where your cat pukes in your shoe, the kids want to argue about everything, and you miss a deadline at work? We’ve all had those days. It can be pretty easy to tell that your mood is going to crap as the day goes on.
What about when your kid gets in trouble at school on Tuesday, your husband tells you he’s deploying for 6 months on Thursday, and you have to work late so you miss going out with friends on Friday? It can be a little more difficult to notice your mood falling over time. For many of us, several factors keep us from noticing compounding stress from these situations.
Since I began practicing mindfulness as a way of dealing with stress my ability to notice stressors both as they happen and the effects of these stressors over time has grown. In addition to this, my mental and physical health have been greatly impacted for the better.
There is no denying that one’s physical health can be a direct result of their mental health. For me, stress and anxiety can lead to physical symptoms such as migraines, panic attacks, and painful flares of my chronic autoimmune condition.
It can come as a surprise to some that mental health issues can lead to physical symptoms. I was not aware that mine were exacerbating my condition for years. Of course, I was aware that it could have an effect. However, I had no idea the extent to which the two are intertwined.
Knowing your body’s baseline is a great place to start with mindfulness. How does your body function when it is at peak performance? By understanding these things you can quickly identify things that may be uncommon for you, or far too common.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition you can take this into account as well. For example, migraines as a result of stress are a big problem for me. However, my baseline is to have a mild headache daily due to a pre-existing condition. By noticing when I was getting worse, more frequent, or longer migraine flares I was able to realize that while headaches are just a part of my life there were things I could avoid to make them a little more tolerable.
Know Your Situation
Our situation can be stressful for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we deny that things are bothering us as much as they are. Other times we try to power through things in hopes that things will get better on their own. In both of these instances, stress can build up over time. Often, it can do so without us noticing as well.
It is important to really take time each day to evaluate our situation and identify whether it is causing us stress or not. This could take a few minutes or even a few hours depending on how much of a break you require.
For me, this year has been a combination of both factors. I was in denial that things were bothering me. I wouldn’t allow myself to be upset and kept reminding myself that there were so many in the world who had it worse than I did. In addition, I kept telling myself to just keep going no matter how low I felt.
With every new event that brought me down, I reinforced to myself that I had to keep going for my family. I had kids to educate, animals to feed, a house to clean, and a blog to manage. I was just too busy to be depressed. My migraines and Lupus pain were getting worse and I found myself having severe anxiety because I wasn’t physically able to do all of the things I told myself I needed to do. This would lead to even more depression. It was an endless circle of denial, desperation, and depression.
Know Your Stressors
Stressors are those things in our life that cause us emotional discomfort. Sometimes these things can be obvious. Other times we may not be aware of the effect they are having on us.
In addition, ignoring or not properly recognizing these stressors over time can cause a compound effect that is difficult to reverse. It is much better to be able to recognize these stressors as they happen, evaluate them properly, and take time out to deal with them one at a time.
For some of us who are living with mental illness, these stressors can be beyond our control. As a person with bipolar disorder, I have no control over the fact that I may have heightened emotions, underlying mania or depression at any given time, and other factors of my mental illness. However, by recognizing these facts and noticing when something is off I have been better able to manage my mental illness.
An Exercise in Mindfulness
My journey into mindfulness began with my interest in Buddhism. I began meditating as a means of calming on bad days and quickly realized the effect it had on my mental health. Over time, it became apparent just how much it can affect my overall health for the better.
By being in the moment at any given time I was more able to notice something having a negative impact on my mood. By thinking through the situation and doing my best to understand it from the other individual’s point of view I was able to approach things with a sense of understanding and empathy. I wasn’t worried about things hours later or still mad over something that had been said to me. Rather, I was able to look at the situation from all angles, calm down, and let it go.
Say your dog chews up your favorite pair of shoes. You could scold the dog, feel bad about it, and still end up with a chewed shoe. However, with mindfulness, you could pick up the destroyed shoe but then take a moment to look at the situation from all angles. Sure you loved the shoe but it is replaceable. Was there a reason why your dog decided it looked tasty? Perhaps they aren’t playing enough, if they are a puppy they could be teething, perhaps you had stepped in something that smelled particularly appealing to them. By assessing the severity of the situation and all of the possibilities you can better react to it. By giving yourself a timeout to work through the event you can relieve yourself of much of the stress of it. This could take any amount of time that is appropriate for you. There is no manual on these things.
As parents, it is important to teach this technique to our kids. Not only will it help them in their everyday lives but it will help them grow to be more empathetic and emotionally stronger individuals.
So many of us, especially moms, have a hard time taking a minute for ourselves. We tell ourselves that we don’t have the time or that it would be selfish of us to take a minute away. The thing is that when we don’t take these “wellness breaks” throughout the day we end up being less than the best person we can be because we are stressed out, angry, or downright just in a bad mood.
Not only are we cheating our family out of a mom at 100% but we are setting ourselves up for worse consequences if we ignore the need for mental self-care. In the end, the few minutes a day we spend working on mindfulness is much less than the potentially days or longer we are taken out with depression, migraines, or other health issues.
It can seem difficult when first beginning and you will want to stop a million times or feel like you are doing it all wrong and wasting your time. The thing is that there is no wrong. Of course, there are better techniques and styles to enhance your practice. When you first start out though you are just learning and will quickly find methods that work for you based on your ability and time constraints.
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