In these unprecedented times that we are all enduring right now, I find our family is pulling out all the stops to keep life moving in a healthy and helpful direction. Most days in our house, a flurry of activity surrounds work for both adults and schooling for the kids, eating loads of food, cleaning for a chosen few, mountains of laundry, tv watching, reading, game playing, and lots of moaning, pleading, complaining, and sometimes tears. Can you relate?
Amidst all this chaos and unexpected change around our house, we’ve struggled to keep things moving along some days in a healthy and helpful direction. I found these three Ms essential in managing stress levels and making things happen:
Not everyone in our household has embraced each one, but I find myself tapping into at least two of these most days to help keep me sane, calm, and focused on the task at hand.
Movement, especially outdoors, helps get my blood flowing and gets me out of my pajamas. I find the task of getting ready to go face the world outdoors helps me not only change my clothes but also gives me a glimpse into the world we retreated from back in March. I see neighbors I greet from a safe physical distance. Enjoy the sunshine and our beautiful surroundings. We are fortunate to live within a couple blocks of the American River in Sacramento and I find walking along the river and the wooded paths refreshes my heart, mind, and soul. It reminds me that some things have not changed and remain constant. I take comfort in that truth.
On days we want a longer outdoor adventure, we will hop on our bikes and head to over to the American River Parkway. It’s a 26-mile paved recreation path that spans land along the American River between Sacramento and Folsom, CA. We typically stay within about five miles of our house, but we found a couple scenic and refreshing 10+ mile loops to ride. I understand not everyone has a 26-mile parkway in their backyard to enjoy, but I am certain each community does offer its own unique outdoor places that likely can be enjoyed, especially as cold weather becomes less of an issue. So, move your body, get your blood flowing, and spend time outdoors soaking up sunshine and perspective.
Besides moving my body outdoors most days, I also try to incorporate some short exercises, yoga moves, or stretching to get my blood flowing again midday after sitting at my desk for a while. With some help from my community, we compiled the below list of resources for movement. Of course, consult a doctor before starting an exercise regimen. Also, a search engine like Google, DuckDuckGo, or Bing can help you find exercises that work well for you and your family in your community.
Meditation helps clear the mind by focusing on simple thoughts, ideas, or concepts. Practicing meditation can aid in emptying one’s mind of any pressing concerns and help clarify one’s intent, meaning, or purpose in life. The meditation exercises also help calm nerves, eliminate ruminating thoughts, clarify ideas, help people fall asleep, and/or settle a person’s mind and physical body into a focused, calmer state.
Over the centuries, meditation has played a significant role in both Eastern and Western religions; however, in our current Postmodern era, many methods of meditation do not focus on specific religious beliefs. The physiological benefits of meditation tend to include a calmer physical state (lower heart rate, blood pressure, eye movements, etc.), slower thinking patterns, and an enhanced sensation of presence in the moment. Additionally, a meditation break at midday can help bring energy and clarity in a stressful situation.
The list below includes apps, websites, podcasts, and community resources. While most do not subscribe to one faith or another, a couple include specific Eastern and Western religious beliefs. All the apps listed have search functionality to help you find different meditations to address concerns, feelings, or challenges you face. Most meditation apps also offer a free trial period if a cost is involved.
If you are new to meditation, do not be intimated by the idea. You can start with short, focused meditations, and if or when desired, you can consider trying out longer ones. Just bring a willingness to follow directions, to focus, and to breathe deeply.
The art and practice of mindfulness draws awareness to yourself, to your environment, and to others by using your five senses to ground you in the present moment and by encouraging expressions of gratitude. If you’ve ever walked into a kitchen with someone baking chocolate chip cookies, you’ve been drawn into that experience by your sense of smell. If you were preoccupied by other concerns, or maybe even irritated with the individual baking them, you momentarily set aside those thoughts and think about the cookies and want to enjoy tasting one. Suddenly, you may also feel a sense of gratitude toward the person who took the time to make and bake these cookies for you to enjoy. This example, though simple, works as an analogy for the art and practice of mindfulness.
Simply put, you use your five senses (smell, touch, taste, sight, sound) to bring yourself into the present moment. Then, once your awareness is brought to the present, you reflect on things you are grateful for. These actions often help you to reframe your thoughts or anxious heart, which helps you let go of the concerning thoughts or situations and to focus on the present moment and acknowledge gratitude for the things you choose.
Another example of grounding yourself in the present moment would be the feeling you get when you put your feet into—or jump into—a high mountain lake or river (with a life jacket, of course). The intensely cold water you feel shocks your body. In the following moments, maybe you express gratitude for the sun that warms you or the beautiful surroundings. At home, a similar experience can be created by filling a bathtub with cold water and ice or by submerging your hands into a cooler filled with icy water.
To use your sight to ground you, simply bring awareness to your present surroundings by noticing and naming the details of your surroundings. Name colors, shapes, objects, or contrasts. You may also notice sounds and include naming those sounds. Then when you are grounded, you reflect on items you can express gratitude for.
I hope these examples give you a more concrete understanding for this abstract concept. I call it an art form and a practice because there’s no one way to do it and what works well for you may not work in the same way for your friend. So, explore the resources listed below and start creating your own art and practice of mindfulness.
Published Authors as Resources
I’d be remiss if I didn’t state that I am not a health care professional. I compiled these tips from things I’ve incorporated into my life to help me and my family, and from members in my community. Please consider seeing a physician or seeking support from a mental health professional if you or someone you love is consistently finding daily life unmanageable.
If needed, do not hesitate to access the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
Author: Cynthia (aka Cindy) Albrecht works as an instructional designer on the Customer Education team at PowerSchool. Cindy holds a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Colorado at Denver and CU at Boulder, respectively,and a professional concentration certificate from University of California Davis Extension in Website Design. She’s licensed to teach both social studies and English in secondary education classrooms in California and Colorado. She currently resides in Sacramento, California with her husband and two teenage daughters.