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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Calming Practices 101

Shortly after the birth of my firstborn, we moved.  I had a new home, new budget, new lifestyle as a mother, new work from home job and I was just plain stressed.  I was having trouble sleeping, eating and felt anxious almost all the time (though I did quickly lose the baby weight gain - an unexpected bonus). 

I'm so thankful that I was encouraged to talk with a therapist.  I learned valuable skills that helped me through that season, tougher ones to follow and still practice to this very day.  Keep reading if you want to see some of what works for me, and share what helps you keep sane, too!
My anxiety levels are much lower now than in past times, but I still have to 'manage' my stress or it creeps in to steal my energy, joy and productivity.

There is no shame is seeking help.  We all need input from others when our circumstances get overwhelming and blind us to our ability to overcome.  Friends, family and ministers are great resources, but sometimes the authority and skill of a professional is needed for real and lasting change. 

My learned skills include:
  • Unload - in the moment and practiced regularly, sharing the burden divides the load.  I talk to God and fill my mind with His truth.  I often visualize Jesus nodding, chuckling, hugging or empathizing with me.  Friends and family are safe places for me to share burdens, too.  It's great to 'bounce ideas' off others since I don't have a spouse to offer feedback.
  • Breathing well - deep, tummy breathing is a vital part of calming me down.  The body automatically produces stress hormones to help us deal with tough circumstances, but it's unhealthy to operate with those in the system at all times.  Intentionally breathing deeply for just a few minutes each day stops this production and your emotions will follow.  Provide space for yourself to think out your actions instead of just reacting to an urgent issue.  Seriously, do it.  Some recommend calming music or inspirational words/verses on which to meditate, I find that the simpler I keep it, the more likely I am to do it, so I just breathe.  Do it when you're triggered and do it as a habit.
  • Focus...then not - At least sometime during each week, I take time to think about the 'problems' or areas of concern where decisions are needed.  I study scripture, I research options, I do something to address what needs to be addressed.  Then I spend time in prayer, specific and ongoing, very direct, very real.  Finally, I do something active, but mindless.  Walking, gardening, even cleaning the kitchen.  These tasks keep my body busy but allow my mind space to think, to hear from God, to consider options.  Though you have been focused, now let your mind wander to possibilities, options, outcomes.  Think about worst and best case scenarios.  Don't feel like you need a decision, just consider. 
  • You've got to "Move it, move it" - your brain needs your body to move so it can think well.  I'm a single mother so I know it is so hard to find the time to really move.  I set some weekly goals so that when I miss a day, I can catch up.  This way I don't go too long without movement in my life.  Plus, the little ones enjoy the benefits of activity, too, and bedtime are much easier.
  • Sleep - do whatever it takes to get the sleep you need.  For me that is a minimum of 7 hours, I do best with a bit more.  Sometimes I leave the dishes in the sink, the washer still has wet clothes, much gets left undone.  But sleep is essential for wellness, so for me it is a priority!  Schedule your day to get your rest and remember to leave some margin.  Don't make excuses.  Yes we all have a crazy week, sick little one or sleepless night, but don't let these be the norm.  I take a sleep aid when occassional mild insomnia hits.  If I struggled more, I would get help to sleep better.  It is that important.
  • Get back to basics - turn off the electronic stimuli, eat and drink well, breathe deeply, cut out the clutter of your calendar and your home, serve someone else and meet another's need.  
Life is pretty complicated.  I get stressed out and I used to get anxious that I was stressed!  It was crazy-making and now I know we all get stressed.  It is a vital life skill to know how to manage that stress.  These are just the very basics of what I practice and even teach my children.  I have coped in unhealthy ways with stress, but now I know better.  What about you?