Guest post by Tanara Bowie
Are You Holding A Plate Too Full?
Sometimes I can sense when I’m approaching overload, but other times I don’t realize until I’m in the midst of it. I imagine it’s a combination of my Type A “get ‘er done” personality and working as a D.C. area PR person for clean-energy companies, while also being a caregiver, among other roles. But I know I’m not alone in holding a full plate that sometimes feels close to tipping over.
There used to be a time though that I’d beat myself up mercilessly for not being able to take care of everything perfectly. Looking back, I think about the things I’d say to myself that I would never say to anyone else—whether I liked them or not. Are you stupid? Why’d you say that? Why’d you do that?
Thankfully, simple, mindfulness techniques like meditation and deep breathing exercises, which I began as a way to show myself the compassion and kindness that I often show others, have stopped the withering, critical thoughts.
Don’t get me wrong. I still feel a range of harmful emotions like anxiety: Will the LA Times really be on this call? Have I done enough to make this event successful? I also feel profound sadness when I see the devastating effects of climate change around the world.
When these situations arise, I stop, find a quiet spot and take a series of long, deep breaths. Then I slowly exhale them out. I do these exercises to get myself present and grounded because the future-thinking I’m engaging in or the feelings of helplessness I experience when I see extreme drought and hunger take me away from answering the question: What CAN I reasonably do?
So What Can You Do?
When I take time to get myself grounded I find that I’m better able to respond to and accept whatever is happening as a result of taking time outs for myself.
Psychologist and Buddhist Tara Brach, who leads a weekly, packed meditation in Bethesda, calls these compassion practices “Radical Acceptance.” In her book, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, Brach says: “As we free ourselves from the suffering of ‘something is wrong with me,’ we trust and express the fullness of who we are.”
These practices have their roots in Buddhism – but you don’t have to be a Buddhist to use them. In fact, various cultures, belief systems and religions require or encourage people to take time out and go within. However, the greatest use with mindfulness practices comes from finding time to engage in them everyday throughout the day.
Researchers in the field of neuroplasticity, which looks at how the brain changes in response to stress and other experiences, have found that meditation is having a beneficial effect on a wide range of people, including soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, the depressed and people with chronic health issues.
Easy Mindfulness Techniques You Can Use During Your Busy Day?
The simple answer is any action – yoga, meditation, or going for a walk – can bring you back to the present and help you get clear about what steps, if any, you need to take to address whatever situation you’re facing or avoiding.
One simple exercise can be found in the book, The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, et al. “The Three-Minute Breathing Space” is a short exercise you can easily take time out for when you’re feeling stressed.
What Do You Have To Lose?
We’re all doing work to make the world a better place. We just don’t need to do that at the expense of ourselves. Mindfulness practices can be a way for us to take care of ourselves while doing our part.
Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life by John B. Arden
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach
The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn
Tara Brach’s Weekly Meditation in Bethesda, MD
“Training the brain to stress less” by CNN contributor Amanda Enayati
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