Mindful Tips to Ease Stressful Times
It's a whirlwind right now. Collectively, we are experiencing physical, emotional, and mental anxiety that permeates us as soon as we wake up in the morning and before we fall asleep at night. My dear one, it is a lot to handle, on top of our existing daily worries. Many of us can't even get a proper night sleep because even our dreams are carrying on our daily angst in the forms of apocalyptic nightmares that wake us up in cold sweat ...
While anxiety is in the air, I’m focused on all the positive things in my life and the many many things to be thankful for. It’s easier said than done, of course. I’m only here because of years of dedicated practices and studies. Even so, I still have those stray-away moments. I’m only human.
To provide assurance to our kids and family, take care of oneself first. As wisely stated in flight manuals: put on your own mask before tending to your children. Allow me to share some easy tips you can do right away during times like this (or any other stressful day).
TIP #1 - TEN DEEP BREATHS
Breathing. Seems simple enough, right? It’s so automatic we don’t even notice it most of the time. But what I’m referring to is deep, belly breaths. “Belly,” in that you’re breathing SO deeply you can feel it in your belly or abs (depending on how in shape you are! 😉)
Whenever you feel stressed out from your kids’ screaming or feel nervous before a big meeting, walk away from the situation and find a quiet space where you can be alone for a few minutes. In a comfortable position, close your eyes and start breathing slowly. On the in breath, try breathing in from your nose into your belly, breathing in as much air as you can. On the out breath, slowly breathe out, releasing all the air from your belly. You can even put your hands over your belly to feel the gentle up-and-down movement. Do this for about 10 breaths or what feels right to you. If you find yourself unable to focus, you can even think the words “in” and “out” as you breathe. Or, be creative and find words that resonate with you at the moment. It can be “love,” “peace,” “calm” as you breathe in, “worries,” “stress,” “negativity,” as you breathe out.
When our lungs are filled up with clean fresh air, we then have all the oxygen we need for our bodies to do the work they’re designed to do - give us energy, clear our minds, and improve our health. It’s also important to let all the air out of our lungs as well, saying goodbye to all which no longer serves us. Breathing not only relaxes us but scientifically keeps us healthy. You can easily try this with your children too! (More tips to come for kids!).
TIP #2: BODY SCAN
Sometimes we are so caught up in our daily stress that we don’t even realize the physical discomforts we are experiencing like headaches, back or shoulder pains, tense muscles. Our physical state is connected to our emotional and mental well-being. Thus, body scan is a wonderful mindfulness practice to release tension that we’re not even aware of. I especially love doing this before I sleep at night, even teaching it to my boys in fun and creative ways!
Start in a comfortable position, preferably lying down for total relaxation. Be gentle with your eyes and start breathing slowly (belly breaths!) Now, bring your attention down to your feet and begin observing the sensations in one foot. I start with my toes to really bring in the attention. Notice if you feel anything. If so, acknowledge it (and any thoughts/ emotions that come with) and gently breathe through it. If there’s pain or discomfort in that specific body part, you can visualize the tension leaving your body through your breaths, evaporating into midair. Continue this practice with each area of the body, moving from your right foot to your left, moving all the way up to the top of your crown. If you can make it all the way there without falling asleep, you’re amazing!
TIP #3: MINDFUL LIVING
Mindfulness is simply being aware. Mindfulness can be achieved in almost everything we do in life, not just in meditation. You can apply mindfulness in all our daily actions - eating, walking, exercising, dancing, cleaning, showering, you name it.
A classmate once shared how she used to panic while driving because she would forget if she had locked her house doors. She would then spend her whole drive obsessing and questioning herself, not realizing she was completely lost on the the road 🙈 This happens to the best of us. Just because we put our phones away, does not mean we are actually present. We could literally be “talking” to our spouse but thinking about the million things we have to do for our kids today, this week, this month, next month. All this while, your spouse could've been expressing much he or she loves you. 🤣
So, start off with one simple task - walking, eating, or showering. When you’re walking, just walk. Experience the pace at which you walk - can you slow it down, pick it up? Can you go as far as feeling the soles of your feet touching the ground? The way your heels comes in contact with the floor first, then the soles, then the toes? How about when you’re showering. Can you drop your thoughts and focus on the way the water hits your skin and how comforting it truly feels to wash your scalp? Give it a try! I always have the most amazing aha moments when I’m truly mindful with the task at hand. Remember, one thing at a time.
TIP #4: CREATIVE CHANNELS
Creativity knows no limit - the boundless energy not only releases stress but leads to surprising self-discoveries. Whether it’s music, poetry, painting, theater, dancing, singing, there are endless artistic forms that illuminate your soul.
For me, I choose writing (spiced up with some Zumba!)
When I write, I get to know myself again. I uncover subtle parts of me hidden through the past thirty some years. The art of writing or even vocalizing has become a natural practice for me everyday. It helps me sort out my daily thoughts, process what’s happening within me. It provides a space where I can be free. I highly recommend keeping a beautiful journal for yourself. A secret diary where you can purge your every thought.
A great routine is finding a few moments everyday, and just write, the pen never leaving the paper. Just write whatever is on your mind and let it flow. It could be about how your kids are driving you crazy, how tired you are, how much you love your husband, the things you’ve learned today, the things you want to learn, that cute sweater you want to buy. Anything and everything. When you feel finished, stop and look at your scribbles. Within those few moments, you've completely freed yourself, allowing your inner soul to come through without any editing. You’d be surprise to find some new discoveries about yourself when you reread the entry, even more as you read over your progress. It’s very cathartic. It will feel much better than writing your frustrated thoughts on social media to those who don’t care.
Ladies, write for yourself. Not for others.
TIP #5: BE WITH NATURE
“What is so healing about spending time in nature is the sense of ‘recovery’ it brings - the sense of restoring ourselves to some primal state, or the Buddhists refer to it, of being ‘in right relationship to all living things
(David Orr, Ecological Literacy)
The word “nature” comes from a form of the Latin word nasci, which means “to be born.” Instinctively as humans, we turn to nature for healing, cleansing, recharging, for we are interconnected at the cellular level. I remember as a child, every time the sun came out, my mom would gather up all our pillows and blankets and lay it out in the balcony to kill off the germs. Then, she’d force us to go hiking with her all day, surrounded by views of luscious greenery, sounds of the trickling streams and harmonious cicadas, while being bitten by the damned Taiwan mosquitos. We would then hound down delicious plates of mountain vegetables, fried oysters and egg omelettes with bowls after bowls of rice at an obscure local restaurant. We’d return home tired, but happy and whole from a day ‘forced’ with nature.
Now, as parents of our own, whenever the sun does come out, we would bring the boys out to play all day - soccer, basketball, biking, swimming - recharging with the breeze and sun while releasing sweat and stress. Body, mind, and soul get connected. Mindfulness is at work by doing the things we love (tip #3 👆🏻).
It’s only when something is taken away, do we truly appreciate it. During this moment of quarantine for many, while we can’t go out, nature can also be brought into the home with flowers, plants, biology books, pets, and the musical sounds of nature. When this is all over, do enjoy our beautiful Mother Earth for which we are born into. It is my personal goal to integrate nature into my family’s life!
So, what’s the commonality between all these practical tools? Returning to the present moment. When you are depressed, you are stuck worrying about the past. When you are anxious, you are worrying about the future, most of which are all self-fabricated. Instead, try these simple tactics regularly and come back to the now.
The trick is not to be hard on yourself. If random thoughts keep flying around as you’re mindfully walking, it’s okay. If you fall asleep while body scanning, it’s okay. Your body is doing what it’s built to do, to take care of you. As in all things, with more practice, it will become easier. You will find yourself able to be more in the now, seeing the beauty of everyday life and leading a calmer, less anxious pattern.
I hope you can work at least one of these tips into your life. We will get through this together! If you ever have any questions, please feel free to reach out. Best of luck!