Minding Stress Together (with mp3!)

Stress is bad for the heart and soul. For those of us who can’t seem to escape stress in our lives, we tend to choose three different ways to deal with stress: ignore it, push through it, or store it.

When we ignore stress, we ignore the healthy warning signals in our bodies. Those heart palpitations or kinks in our neck, that tightness in our chests and the rumblings of upset stomachs, together signal,”take care of me”, “time out! Relax! Rejuvenate!”, “pause! you’re going too fast, too strong”.

We also push through stress. We think that we, “just have to get over this one hump, and then relief will come. “If I just get through this project…” “Maybe if I just work really hard late tonight..” or, “I’m not sure this will end, but I don’t have a choice”.

We tend to store stress as well. In our bodies, like mentioned earlier, our muscles ache, we begin experiencing psychosomatic symptoms: headaches, stomachaches, heaviness in our chest, weight gain. During our yearly check-ups, we may find that those markers of health–blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels–together reflect the cumulative effects of stress in our lives.

Stress is something that is a natural part of life but it’s also important to recognize that we construct our own reality of what is stressful in our lives. Perhaps that reality is altogether off.

Leaning into God’s truth to assist us in truth-making by aligning our life goals to meaningful ones (to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves as well as our enemies) helps.  Inviting the power of His Spirit to assist us in addressing the objects of, or situations we are in, is often under-utilized. Seeking clarity in our relationship with Him by steeping in His presence–these are the tools of minding stress in our lives. We do it together with Him.

Stress comes and yes, stress can go. Those markers of our health tell us, remind us, urge us, to consider our limits. While it’s present, stress can help us realize that our whole system is in need of ways to deal. Realigning our thoughts, mindfully attending to our bodies, mind, spirit, become fruitful over time and with practice. Let’s tend to not let those three ways of dealing–ignore it, push through it, store it–be the actions we take. Let us, instead, deal with the objects and situations of our stress with intention, mindful of God’s presence as we seek realignment and as we seek understanding…together.

(I wanted to provide a practical element in this post to support you if you are considering, or are already making mindfulness a part of your journey.  The link here is a 30-minute module I have been working on, as part of my research on mindfulness framed in the Christian tradition (I do hope you may still find support in it even if you don’t identify as a Christian!). Please know that you will need to use Google Drive to open and then download the mp3 file in order to listen to it. Sorry about that! Tell me what you think about it if you try it and follow the instructions in the module and listen through the whole thing.)

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The Mindful Working Mom

Each weekday has a set of challenges.

First, the busy mornings of rushing out the door requires that my kids and I are both dressed to face the world. Our bodies need to be fed with nutrient rich food (one of my continued commitments through this new year!) and our bags packed with appropriate tools. For mine: laptop, cellphone, good handcream, sunglasses. For the boys: books for in-class reading, pencils with lead and notebooks. The husband is lucky because he logs in, and instant work, voila…Like making a cup ‘o noodles–add hot water, eat up!

Second, after we have all gone our separate ways, emails are checked, social media is read for up-to-date national news and news of friends, of course. The mental checklist and to do’s are drafted either on paper (if I have a good pen and paper and a hot mug of tea beside me) or in my head. The day charges on–classes, student meetings, emails sent, pages written, laughter with colleagues, a meal…the afternoon comes on suddenly like that car that zooms past your blindspot when attempting a left turn.

In the afternoon I evaluate the day so far. What needs to be done before children need to be picked-up? Breathe in, connect with God and self to determine priorities here. I ask, “what are the last tasks, tweaks to the next week’s curriculum, ideas for the next day?” What are the corrections needed, plans that hold meaning ahead?” Mind clear, focus attuned, discernment hopefully reached…charge on, charge on, charge on.

Lastly, children are picked up, they are active on the playground burning off the energy that will allow them to focus on the homework ahead and the discipline needed for karate practice. Dinner is on, hubby is helping, eating together then soon the bedtimes and alone time with my life partner.

 

This is an ideal day, of course. But it’s also typical.  It’s hectic and busy, yes, but, it doesn’t have to feel this way. May I suggest…Breathe in. Ask for wisdom, read a meaningful passage, breathe out the worries of the day. Charge on…but WHY the charging on? For obvious reasons: the gift of life, the gratitude for another day together as a family, the health while I am still capable to accomplish these tasks, the opportunity for influence on younger folks who want to do good work for the kingdom.

 

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For more reasons: the deep value of lifelong partnership, the smiles on the faces of those still-chubby faces, priorities that go beyond myself (I hope!) the limits of time. Breathe in, settle into quiet and rest.  Receive the feelings and experiences of being nourished and nurtured in mind-body-spirit. THEN, can I charge on, charge on charge on.

Fall

October is generally hell month for me in the Fall academic cycle. For me and my students it means that big papers are due and the time to dedicate to finishing, editing, revising, and submitting them is like sand through a sieve. I try to salvage what I can through moments of harried but focused concentration, catching little pieces before all spills to the ground, so to speak.

I am also much grumpier than usual (ask my husband!)  and can physically feel the tightness in my chest. My allergies go haywire even while medicated, my hair goes unbrushed as I fly out the door rushing toward the day ahead. Overwhelmed, keeping above water, breathing while pushing through–these are the feelings shown through my clenched jaw and tight shoulders.

Mindfulness practice is a resource that I should be accessing daily, deliberately and consistently. So, I’m writing this to re-commit myself to the practice because it has gone to the wayside. This summer, I dedicated days and hours to the practice. Gobs of time to sit, think, connect, contemplate…but that was summer and this is fall. That was then and this is now.

Seasons change, I realize, but that connection I felt, I experienced and the presence of the Presence is always with me.

I remember…

So, this fall season I will actually read the mindfulness practice resources that come through my inbox. Twenty minutes of Centering Prayer was recommended in the last instructive email I received. Centering Prayer for the morning time and evening. More structure helps me to not have to think of what to do next. I just follow the instruction and relax into the voice of the wise practitioner.

This is the season for following the Presence and may God expand the sacred time and space in our lives. If what I described is like your season, let’s try it together and help get each other through the Fall…