Taking My Own Advice Re: Self-Care

Posted on March 26, 2020

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I didn’t post for the past two days because I was taking my own advice and focusing on self-care. I, like everyone else, am having as little physical contact w/ other humans as possible, because of the Corona virus pandemic, and I have been experiencing the “low rumble” of general anxiety over the suffering that human beings are facing because of it. On a personal level, my anxiety rose over the last few days as COVID19 is now being tested for and diagnosed in my own town, and I’ve learned that a relative has a serious heart condition that requires surgery that has been scheduled for today.

On Tuesday, I did work on writing, even if I didn’t post here. I had issued a challenge to a former student who is now a high school junior. He’d been in my ELA9 and Mythology classes, so I invited him to write something that addressed the pandemic through the lenses of Literature, Mythology, and Theory of Knowledge, a course he’s taking now. He was up for it, so we wrote our pieces on Sunday and did a phone conference on Tuesday. By then, I’d spent a few hours on writing, and I let myself off the hook for a blog post. Technically, it was working on a blog post, because he’s going to tweak his piece a bit more, then we’re going to put it up here as a guest post, I’m excited to say.

Yesterday was a sunny day, and I spent it outside, from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I gardened for two hours, moving more soil, building up garden beds, transplanting three small shrubs, and moving stones. I took a break to eat and shower, then I was back outside for a two-hour walk. After that, I took my lounge chair, a book, and my dog to a sunny spot where I could read and nap until supper time.

I am reading Mindfulness for Prolonged Grief: A Guide to Healing After Loss When Depression, Anxiety, and Anger Won’t Go Away, by Sameet M. Kumar, PhD. I checked it out of the library with a stack of books on Mindfulness and difficult emotions for a workshop I gave earlier this month. I’m glad to have it on hand just now. In the introduction, Kumar writes:

The first step in this approach is learning mindfulness meditation. The purpose of laying a foundation in regular meditation practice is quite simple: mindfulness is one of the most consistent and powerful ways to deal effectively with very intense and turbulent emotions and ruminations….Research by others and my own clinical and personal experience therefore tells me that a mindfulness-based approach to well-being is one of the best ways to cope with prolonged grief. You can expect to feel better if you engage in the practices as described and understand the rationale for doing so….You life will never be the same again. Resilience doesn’t mean going back; no one can travel back in time, and the nature of life is that it is always changing, always presenting us with different potential trajectories. For you, one of those trajectories is healing from prolonged grief, and I believe that mindfulness can help….Grief teaches all of us that life is vulnerable, but also that life has tremendous potential.

One informal practice that Kumar recommends is called “Cues for Belly Breathing.” I was introduced to this concept first by Thich Nhat Hahn, who called it “Bells of Mindfulness.” The idea is that we can use ordinary daily occurrences as reminders to take a few deep breaths every now and then, throughout the day, weaving informal mindfulness practices into the fabric of our day. They can include sounds, like the alarm clock, or sights, like the first stop sign/light on your drive, the sound of the Morning Edition theme song on NPR, the dryer buzzer, that big Sycamore tree you see when you leave the neighborhood…or things you do, like making coffee, taking a shower…anything can be a cue, a reminder to breathe.

When I was a high school teacher, the bells to change classes rang regularly to remind me to take some deep breaths, relax, re-set, re-invigorate. Now I have different cues, like the oven timer when I bake, but I continue to weave these “mini-mindfulness” minutes throughout my day. Kumar writes,

Part of the fight-or-flight response is shallow breathing, only into the chest, with the breaths pumped quickly in and out as you would do if you needed to sprint. Belly breathing is the opposite of this type of breathing. Because your body automatically does belly breathing when it’s relaxed or running long distance at a more leisurely pace, you can trick your body into reducing its stress response simply by changing how it is breathing.

Along with sights and sounds, I like to use Belly Breathing to mark endings or use it as a transition from one activity to another. For instance, when I finish reading a chapter in a book, washing a load of dishes, or folding a load of laundry, I stop and breathe. It’s like a mental “palette cleanse” that includes both, “Whew. Good job,” and “Now for this…”

If you are new to mindfulness meditation, you may be able to sit for formal meditation for only a few minutes–which is fine. Research shows that doing five-minute practices consistently over time has many benefits. But we can also reap the benefits of mindfulness practices by incorporating small, informal mindful moments throughout our days.

I encourage you to identify several cues that normally occur over the course of a normal day and use them to remind yourself to take some deep breaths.

Be well, friend. Take care of yourself.


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lisa eddy is a writer, researcher, educator, advocate,  musician, and gardener.

On Twitter: @lisa_eddy

On email: lisagay.eddy1@gmail.com

 

Posted in: Mindfulness, Wellness