Did you roll your eyes a little when you read the title of this article? Because, honestly, I did when I wrote it.
I’m pretty new to the whole mindfulness thing. I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, about 45 minutes from the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Both my parents had grown up on farms. My dad worked in a factory until he had to go on disability, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. We ate casseroles and meat-and-potatoes meals. There was a lot of love in our family, but not the kind where you talk about each others feelings. Conversations about our feelings just didn’t really happen in our Midwestern household.
I inherited my stubborn attitude from my mom. Combine that stubbornness with growing up not discussing feelings, and you’ve got a young woman who’s skeptical about a lot of things that she can’t see outright – meditation and mindfulness among them.
However, in 2010, I made several large life changes at one time and I began to fight some pretty gnarly anxiety. After sparring with it and just pretending that it would go away for years, in 2013 I finally decided to take action. I made appointments with my doctor to talk about medications, and I decided to give yoga a try. I mean, what could it hurt?
Being new to yoga, I started with some “slow flow” classes. These classes focused a ton on syncing breath with movement, stretching and holding ahhhhmazing postures, and just general mindfulness – doing the moves and breathing with intention.
As I was driving away from one of my first yoga classes, I felt it: calm. I suddenly realized that spending an hour on mindfully moving my body with my breath turned my anxiety down to the point where I actually felt calm. I had been struggling to find that feeling for years, and then poof, it was there, after yoga class.
Since starting Lexapro and yoga, I had been able to keep my anxiety under control, and was doing well….until I lost Jonah. My pregnancy was full of really hard times, and I lost all of the focus I had on my health and shifted it all to Jonah.
Almost six months now since I gave birth, my anxiety is difficult to handle again. Not only is my core anxiety still there and not responding to the Lexapro as well as before, but it’s combined with my grief for my son. My chest is tight, my shoulders are up by my ears, my throat is constricted…”calm” isn’t in my vocabulary.
To help, I’ve started using mindfulness, not just during yoga class (which I’ve started up again with a vengeance), but during the moments in the day that I feel like I’m losing it, like I can’t breathe, like anxiety and grief are combining in an epic whirlpool that’s just pulling me down, down, down.
I’m going to tell you what I do, in the chance that just maybe it can help you, too. It so far is working to pull me out of those moments, when I’m spiraling out of control.
When I feel a particularly difficult moment of panic or grief or both coming on, I close my eyes (if possible) and focus on the physical sensations of my body. I feel my breath going in and out. I pull my shoulders away from my ears, I rest my cheeks and jaw, and I slowly roll my neck. I take note of how my body feels in whatever position it’s in, and say it in my head:
“I feel my butt in the chair, my lower back pressing against the back of the chair. I feel my feet on the floor, grounding me. I feel the gentle air circulation in the room on my face, hear my computer fan humming, and smell the rice I cooked for lunch.”
Focusing on my senses like that always seems to help me calm down, physically and mentally. I usually go step further for my heart, though:
“Yes, I lost Jonah. Yes, it really, really sucks. Grief is here, in my heart. I feel it. But I also feel hope in there, and sometimes, even happiness. I love my husband, my family, and my friends. We are surviving. I’m okay. I’m doing okay.”
This is my advice for you, mama – create moments of mindfulness for yourself throughout the day. It can be like mine, or it can be whatever you need it to be. Heck, you can even be doing the dishes! All you need to do is have moments of focus where you feel your body, feel your surroundings, and feel your heart and its grief. Assure it that you’re doing this…you’re surviving your loss. You’re doing what you need to. You are a beautiful, strong mama <3