By Andrea Lieberstein, MPH, RDN, RYT
Bestselling author of ‘Well Nourished: Mindful Practices to Heal Your Relationship to Food, Feed Your Whole Self and End Overeating,’ Instructor at eMindful, Speaker, Trainer, Mindfulness and Mindful-Eating Coach
Many years ago, a family member of ours had a medical emergency. We were in the midst of the life-or-death unknown for over a week. We had lots of time on our hands and nothing to do but wait. She was under the best medical care, but there were hard choices to make. I was aware of how much my mindfulness practice contributed to create a sense of stability while so much was uncertain for my family.
Our mindful practice helped us to stay clear and grounded. It also helped us to tune in and appreciate the social support, prayers, and medical advice we were receiving. We were able to be loving to each other and weather this challenging time with grace. We practiced some self-care while being as fully present as we could, given the difficult circumstances. Thankfully, the positive outcome, which was not guaranteed, is that this family member is still with us and flourishing today.
We’ve all had those periods of life when everything is moving along predictably. We may feel lulled, bored or a kind of complacent contentment. Or we may feel happy and engaged. Unless there is enough novelty or creativity we will likely not be fully engaged, for novelty actually keeps us more present, focused and feeling alive. Yet too much novelty, uncertainty and change can cause distress and anxiety. Where is the healthy balance between the two? Between having enough novelty in our lives and when too much change?
How can mindfulness help balance the expected and unanticipated transitions that affect us? At some point, we all experience loss or significant changes in our job, health, home, or important relationships. Even positive changes—planning a perfect wedding, children growing up and going to college, long-awaited retirement, or getting everything ready for your dream vacation—can sometimes bring stress.
Practicing mindfulness trains the ability to focus, and sustain attention, in the present moment with the qualities of curiosity, non-judgment, and even kindness. This allows us to be with, see clearly, and respond with care and wisdom to, all that arises along the whole continuum of change.
Being Present – The ability to be fully present in the midst of crisis enables us to be our best selves. When we’re present, we can manage the fears and worries sabotaging us, draining our energy, and keeping us in habitual patterns that won’t help with the current change. It may be that we’re overestimating the risks and underestimating our inner resourcefulness to navigate change.
Clarity – At times of stress, our minds particularly enjoy exaggerating our concerns. Mindfulness helps us stay in the present moment. It frees us from imagining worst-case scenarios our minds like to dwell on. It helps us refrain from jumping to conclusions and freezing in the face of the situation’s most dreaded outcome. It gives us clarity to explore available resources.
Curiosity – On one hand change can be overwhelming, but on the other end of the continuum, a little change spices up our lives. Even a lot of positive change can be exciting and fulfilling. Novelty can help us feel more engaged and aware. By tuning into our body we can notice where we are on the continuum. Is it too much and we’re feeling over-stimulated and dizzy? Or are we feeling energized and engaged?
Try this Mindfulness Practice for When the Changes are Challenging
Begin with a mindful check-in. Take a few deep, relaxing breaths. Then, allow your breath to return to its natural rhythm. Notice any physical stress arousal and thoughts or feelings related to the challenge at hand. Gain perspective by acknowledging this experience is part of being human. Invite a sense of kindness and compassion for yourself and others. Know you can meet the challenge posed by each moment, fully present, drawing on your inner and outer resources to make your decisions.
Try this Mindful Strategy When You are Feeling Disengaged
If you’re feeling disengaged, shift predictable routines and habits, engage in new activities, or make fun, out-of-the-ordinary plans with friends! If you can’t catch your breath, remember to balance excitement with moments of rest. Make this new season your best yet.
Join us at eMindful this week as we explore how mindfulness can help us work with the expected and unexpected life transitions—big and small—that are part of the human experience.
Also published on Medium.