When we’re stressed, we can do mindless things.
I’m not talking about losing cell phones, or glasses or keys to the car or house. I’m talking about temporarily losing ourselves. Stress, through caregiving, grief or our own negative thoughts, can make us do mindless things.
The day before my father-in-law’s memorial service, I got a haircut. The hairdresser was competent and caring, and the cut turned out well. I placed some bills into an envelope for a tip, expressed my thanks, and walked out the door. Several minutes later I found myself asking, “Did I pay my bill?” I returned. “I think I may have forgotten to pay. Am I right?” She nodded. “Has anybody else done that?” She shook her head. Oh my, oh my. I paid. “I’m so sorry. My father-in-law’s memorial service is tomorrow. I was thinking about that instead of the present.”
At other times I’ve been scattered and disconnected from life. Maybe you have, too. We multi-task, engage in continuous thinking, and rehash the past or rehearse the future. Our minds are off-center and we miss what is happening in the present. According to “The Mindful Advisor,” by Eric Zook and Stacy Zook, CSA Journal, Winter 2015, 4-12, “This is what causes us to burn ourselves with the iron or stove, drop dishes, or have a car accident.”
The Zooks are among the proponents of a mainstream movement called Mindfulness. It’s the art of being in the moment without a desire to change the situation. That means refraining from judging ourselves or the events or people in our lives. It means staying in the present, neither exaggerating it or denying it. Says Social Worker Jeannie DeSmet, “When we’re mindful, there’s less need to escape a painful situation. The motivation is to care, not to cure.”
The benefits of mindfulness for the caregiver and others are reduced stress, increased immunity and overall health, better concentration, improved creativity and innovation.
One way to aid in mindfulness is to practice deep breathing, which anchors our minds. As we do, we can stop, look, and listen, observing our emotions and paying attention to them.
Set a timer for two to five minutes and bring your attention to your breathing. Just notice the breathing; don’t try to change it in any way. Once you have settled into a relaxed easy breathing, count down from ten to zero. Each full inhale/exhale counts a one. Don’t worry if your mind strays; just come back to your breathing and start over at ten. Continue this exercise until you can make it to zero at least three times in a row. Then start the next workout session at fifteen.
Other ways to build mindfulness is to pay attention as you walk, drive or eat. The key is paying attention. When you walk, go slowly, outdoors or indoors, using stairwells. Be mindful of the act of walking.
I’m a work in progress when it comes to mindfulness. I often have a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep because my mind races. Paying attention to my breathing helps me sleep. I also like to walk slowly, taking in the act of my body walking.