Many of us have suffered through awful marriages, bitter divorces, and are now staring ahead at the future. That future involves all sorts of unknowns - financial, emotional, romantic, just to name a few. Divorce can be the end of one stressful experience and the beginning of another.
Everyone tells you that you have to relax. You try, but you just can’t. Your friends may try to set you up. But, while you’re on your blind date, you can’t stop thinking whether or not this guy is going to be as awful as your ex. Your parents may offer free childcare while you go out with your girlfriends. Yet, while you’re out dancing all you can think about is how much your body has changed since you were younger. You trot on down to your local fitness center and sign up for a yoga class so you can help manage your stress and relax. And, at yoga class, all you can think about while you’re doing your asanas is, what the hell is the point? I can’t shut my mind off! I will never relax, there’s too much I have to think about. But you can relax and shutting your mind off isn’t the way.
How often during the day do we find ourselves doing mindless things? Things like biting our nails, tapping our feet or our fingers, grinding our teeth. In fact, we may not even notice that we’re doing these things, yet we wonder why we suffer with headaches or toothaches, or why our manicures don’t last and our nails are always breaking. Perhaps, someone mentions it to us - hey, please stop making that noise - and then we are brought into the moment when we recognize that our bodies are doing things our brains aren’t aware they were doing and so we stop for a few minutes. Then we forget ourselves and start again.
Maybe we’ve even tried to stop the nervous habit altogether, to no avail. So many of us have had little success stopping our nervous habits because we’re not aware that we’re even doing them. Becoming aware of what is happening at any given moment requires becoming mindful and, while it takes practice, it can be very relaxing and extremely rewarding.
Studies have shown that just a few minutes of relaxation can help bring down your stress levels. Meditation is a great way to relax if you can do it. I am the mother of two young kids, plus we have three big dogs, so I don’t get all that much time to sit quietly by myself before someone - human or canine - jumps in my lap and demands my time. But if you are someone who has some free time here and there, meditation might be right for you. Here are some tips for beginners.
Many people find relaxation through practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is sort of like meditation, but instead of clearing your mind and focusing on nothing, you focus on the present moment. You can do it anytime, anywhere.
Image Courtesy of Silverwoodhypno.co.uk
So, what is this thing called mindfulness?
Take time to smell the roses. Wake up and smell the coffee. Hello; this is reality calling. All of these are colloquial (somewhat obnoxious) ways people may tell us to be mindful. Mindfulness is the practice of living in the moment and opening your mind so you can experience what is around you. It is the state of active, open attention to the present without any sort of judgment. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance. Mindfulness during stressful periods brings us out of our mindless state, stopping us from doing things, engaging in nervous habits, that don’t contribute to relaxation and actually contribute to more stress.
I happened upon mindfulness by accident and I owe it all to my hair. I never had any idea that I twisted my hair until someone mentioned to me that I had this lovely ringlet hanging over my shoulder. Now, if you’ve ever seen me, you’ll know that I don’t have ringlets in my hair. Well, my hair has become increasingly curly since I had my kids - darn you, hormones - but this was a number of years ago, before the kids, when my hair was, as they say, straight as sticks. When this person mentioned the existence of a ringlet to me, I checked, and there it was! How did that get there? And that is when I was alerted to my habit of twisting my hair. I had absolutely no idea that I did it. None whatsoever.
And that got me thinking. I was twisting my hair without realizing it, what other things was I doing? I decided that I was going to pay a little more attention to what I was doing. I didn’t realize it then, but I had just made the choice to become mindful.
My first step was to try to catch myself twisting my hair. In order to do that, I had to start wearing my hair up. If my hair was up, I would have nothing to grab when I reached for it to start twisting. When I found myself grabbing air, I brought myself into my mind to think about what I was thinking and doing. Was I worrying about something? Was I bored? Was I hungry? What was going on in my subconscious? I recognized my thought and let it drift away, instead choosing to focus on what was around me.
What I came to recognize was that I often twisted my hair while I was driving - one hand on the steering wheel and the other in my hair. The hand that twisted my hair was the hand which used to hold the cigarette. I had replaced one mindless habit with another! Huge realization for me. What was I thinking about when I was driving? Apparently, sitting in my car alone in traffic set my mind to wandering all over the place and it often ended up in places it shouldn’t have been, such as what kind of shenanigans was I going to have to deal with at work or when I got home.
Bringing mind to focus on what was going on right then helped me to achieve a more relaxed state, which helped me in several ways. The first was that I didn’t show up wherever I was going stressed out of my mind as a result of some preconceived notion that I was going to encounter some sort of shenanigans. I also started to enjoy my commute regardless of whether it was easy or not. Sitting in traffic stopped being a time when I was wholly focused on sitting in traffic, but instead became time to listen closely to the music on the radio, or the wind in the trees, or to just notice how different everyone’s car horn sounds.
Here are some ways you can be mindful right now:
Why Be Mindful?
Often when we’re stressed, we find ourselves dwelling on one thought or feeling, likely a negative one. When practicing mindfulness we allow ourselves to break free of the negative thoughts and feelings and let them go. When we let go of our negative thoughts and worries, we can begin to start thinking about them objectively. When we begin to think about things objectively, we can better deal with situations that arise because we have let go of the fear and second-guessing that often accompanies reacting to stressful situations. We begin to respond, rather than react to situations.
When we let go of our negative thinking patterns and become more mindful, we can begin to recognize patterns of behavior that contribute to stress and transform them into healthy, positive patterns that contribute to happiness and tranquility. Who doesn’t want more of that?
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*Lead Image Courtesy of Lily Atherton