Mindfulness – A blog by East Cheshire Hospice’s Lindsay Dobson
Today I want to explore Stress, I imagine we are all feeling it one some way right now, but those on the front line especially!
Stress is an amazing thing – really! It’s amazing how our body can shortcut all our logic when faced with danger, how it can redirect our energy into survival . It allows our body to switch from digesting food, thinking about everything and anything, learning, relaxing, into full on animal survival. Blood pumps faster, energy is taken from digestion and reproduction into muscles and brain is focused on the threat, time slows down as our brain processes that threat faster than usual. So we can run, or fight or freeze and escape that life threatening danger !!
The problem is, our brain has not adapted from this, and it cant tell the difference between a threat like a tiger chasing us or a bus driving straight towards us, and the thoughts about these things, or the stresses we face daily!
Right now for instance, we face a life threatening virus, but non of those stress responses really help us with this! Because we cant fight it or run from it the way we can a tiger! But our body still thinks it needs to be in that stress response. The problem is, our bodies are not designed to keep that up for more than a short time!! If we do we enter a second stage of stress, where the body now has to carefully balance, immediate survival with long term survival! Now it needs to divert some energy back into digestion as we need to eat to survive long term! Yes when being chased by the tiger, its not important – if the tiger catches us it will digest our dinner for us! But now we need to digest, and rest and get on with life, but the brain cant quite switch off the stress response, because its still registering a threat.
So our energy and our health are impacted, maybe we feel sick, or we overeat or we have no appetite! Sleep becomes difficult because we have hormones being released into the body to keep us alert to danger and awake! And yet we need to sleep! I could go on with a big list as to why stress long term is not good for us! But the big one right now, is we know it impacts our immune system!! And we need that right now as that’s our best defence against a virus!!
So this bite size bit of mindfulness is about how important it is to look after you!! Trust me I know only too well how easy it is to say I don’t have time – and sadly sometimes we just don’t!! But self care can look radically different for all of us! If we can find the time, then take it!! Every damn second you can! To do what relaxes you – because when the rest and digest part of our brain is on, it naturally lowers the stress response!! Helping our body’s immune system – relaxations, yoga nidra, long bubble baths, a walk, yoga, cuddling your child or pet, reading a beautiful book, a long lovely nap! Whatever it is – if you can, then do it!! Your helping not just you, but all those you love and care for, as when you fill up your cup, you have more to share with others!
And Talk about it it!! Offload to someone, talk about how it feels and whats happened – we are tribal creatures and in those stone age days we would have faced a threat, and then sat around the camp fire and told our stories of it.
But when you cant do those things? Well sometimes its about turning towards how we feel. So humanly what we might do is, deny the stress, or pack away the difficult scary feeling, to get on with our day. But this actually takes energy to do!! So taking a few moments to just sit down with the feeling can help us discharge it a little.
I have two ways I do this;
They both start with just sitting for a moment, taking a few deep breaths, feeling my feet on the floor, my bum on the chair
Then the first one is give my feeling whatever it is, fear, grief, anger, I give it a character and I imagine what it looks like, moves like, sounds like and I invite it to sit with me. Sometimes I have a chat with it, ask it about why its feeling the way its feeling, sometimes i just observe and watch, sometimes I offer a hand and just hold its hand and sit with it. When I can I try to befriend it, but if I cant I just accept its there and observe.
The second is I notice how I feel, where I feel it in my body, and I observe and watch and be with that feeling and emotion in me for as long as I can tolerate. I just let it be, I stop fighting or hiding it, and just allow it to be there for a while
Its almost like I make and agreement with it, your there, I feel you, but for a lot of my day I cant face you, I need to get on with all the things I need to do, but at this time, in this place, I will sit with you, I will let you out, so that maybe the rest of the time you will give me some peace!
Does it make our fear go away, no, but it can help us face our feelings and hold them gently rather than stuff then down so they impact our health or suddenly burst out and overwhelm us at surprising moments!!
We would not tell those we care for to ignore their physical symptoms and yet so often we do tell ourselves to ignore how we feel . So just as we would tell one we care for to notice where the pain is and then do what needs to be done to help with it, we can do that with ourselves, notice our pain, fear, grief and tend to it. Just as we would our patients or loved ones.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,