Mindfully Navigating the Unknown
By Angela Angiolieri, MSCP, Counselor
The last year has been challenging (understatement, right?). My little part of the world included a loss of a job that I enjoyed, along with it my financial stability. Also, with many others, I dealt with the loss of family members and the loss of my social life. Collectively, we all have experienced some level of grief and significant change in our lives throughout the last year.
At Pennsylvania Women Work, we recently introduced a virtual six-week mindfulness series to help our clients cope with the many anxiety-ridden situations we are all experiencing. Research has shown these practices can help with a variety of issues, including trauma, stress, anxiety, and depression.
During each session, we explore different ways participants can incorporate mindfulness into their lives. We practice mindfulness activities, and we guide our clients in their mindfulness journey by offering a variety of methods and resources.
I believe in the power of this practice and would like to share how you can incorporate some of these ideas into your day. Once you start, you will experience how this practice can help you manage strong emotions and significant life changes.
What is mindfulness?
All of our experiences are different, but the emotions and feelings that arise in response to our experiences are likely similar. You may feel anxious, angry, depressed, detached – or all of these. Prioritizing your self-care is essential – especially during difficult times. A mindfulness practice is just one self-care suggestion.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defined mindfulness as, “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” By focusing on the breath, noticing where it is most prominent in your body (nostrils, chest, or stomach) and following it with a sense of curiosity, it allows your mind to slow down and connect to the sensations within. It is then that we can really notice our thoughts.
Mindfulness is one type of meditation practice, there are many others to discover. The roots of meditation vary in all cultures from East to West. I encourage you to explore the vastly different worldviews and decide for yourself which fits you best. Sebene Selassie says, “meditation practice is about learning to see our whole selves compassionately.” We are all connected, and cultivating mindfulness increases our collective well-being and compassion for others.
Stop. Breathe. Repeat.
Often, we move so quickly, at such a frantic pace, that we are unaware of our thoughts. Instead, slow down, try to stay in the moment and when you inevitably become distracted by your to-do list, or your inner critic, just note it, don’t judge, let go and gently, compassionately bring yourself back to the present.
We all have thousands of thoughts per day that go unnoticed because we are not living in the present moment. We are either ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. This is normal, but with practice, our ability to stay in the moment increases.
It’s simple, but not easy.
They call it a practice for a reason. Some days it seems effortless to prioritize self-care, and other days the struggle is real, and we allow other things to distract us. If you feel that sitting and focusing on the breath is not comfortable for you, then try incorporating mindfulness through movement, art or writing. Cultivate new habits by being mindful in everyday routine activities, like brushing your teeth, cooking, cleaning, eating, etc.
The benefits are real
There are many physical health benefits, such as lowered blood pressure, reduced chronic pain, and improved sleep. Mental health benefits include reduced rumination, less emotional reactivity, increased relationship satisfaction, and a boost to your focus and memory.
That said, mindfulness is not a cure-all. I encourage you to take charge of your physical and mental health by enlisting the help of a doctor or therapist if you are struggling with the activities of daily living.
You know what you need best, take good care of yourself.
When experiencing a high level of grief, loss and change, it becomes even more important to create a habit of caring for yourself. Mindfulness doesn’t require you to buy anything or use special equipment, you only need the desire to practice.
In my own life over the last year, my job loss and other struggles were eased by my mindfulness practices. I hope you can find the same solace. If you are struggling, consider reaching out to a counselor or joining one of our upcoming Mindfulness classes.
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