Thursday, March 16, 2017

Stress: Taking Time to Look Within

Recently, my border collie Izzy was relaxing on the couch with my husband. From this spot she could see out the front window. Each time she heard or spotted a neighbor passing our house, her body would tense up, her ears straightened and her eyes became focused. Then, just as quickly, she would plop back down on the couch, close her eyes, and return to a restful sleep. She repeated this same behavior over and over. As I observed her, I realized I wanted to be Izzy. The last month or so, my body has been tense from the time I wake up, continues throughout the day, and stays with me in my sleep. Generally I am a happy person, but I have been finding smiles and laughter a rare behavior. It isn't often that I can't change a negative thought into a positive one, but lately my mind has been full of negative, even hateful thoughts.

This isn't me. Izzy reminded me that I needed to get control over what I am allowing to happen to my body and my thoughts.

Step 1. Eliminate Facebook and news for the weekend or until mentally ready. After a weekend away, I just didn't feel strong enough to go back to reading the thoughts and beliefs of friends and family that break my heart and disappoint me. I didn't even have the energy to consider my own opinions anymore. I just needed silence. I needed a break from news in general. I needed to put my energy into positive thoughts. I needed to return to my early days with rheumatoid arthritis when I spent a considerable amount of time looking within. It was then that I realized I am a sponge. I am a great listener, but tend to soak up the feelings others are sharing with me as my own. This isn't a bad thing, unless it consumes you, which is a natural trait for me and something I have been working on for many years now. I realized that 2017 and all the changes occurring in our country have brought back that feeling of needing to absorb the feelings of every group being harmed. I realized it was time to look within again.  

Step 2. Download the app Buddhify with over 80 meditations for "modern mindfulness wherever you go." Each time I wanted to go to Facebook or check my news feed, I did a quick meditation. I am in love with this app. The meditations are fairly short and I don't feel like I have to find a comfortable, quiet place to practice. Basically, I can do it anywhere. I can even do it when eating or snuggled up in bed! The best part is that many of the meditations remind me to smile. I love smiling. It makes my entire body feel energized. Also, the app has given me training that I hope to use as I let a little news back into my life. Information can be known without having to put a story or label to it. I can have knowledge of information without having to get involved. This has been hard for me. I have literally been reading and learning everything I can about new policies taking place. It is just too much. Going forward I hope to focus on a few topics that are truly meaningful to me and then use my involvement as a positive for myself and others. For all other topics, it is okay to just know something about them without needing to get involved. "Let it go," is a mantra I have been repeating all week. It is a good one for me.

Step 3. Read books. While I love the internet, it is not always a safe place for my easily distracted mind. Books allow me to keep my focus for an extended time. I checked out a book from the library, Lilac Girls, for pleasure. (Books are a safe place to absorb the feelings of others.) Then I remembered I had recently purchased The Book of Joy with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu Desmond. I highly recommend this book for everyone. The focus on learning to be compassionate is exactly what I need to read right now. I need to feel compassion for those close to me that are being affected, but also for those who I disagree with.    

Step 4. Connect. Since the election, I have been obsessed with the news. Almost every conversation I have turns to something happening in politics. At the end of last week I realized I need to let my fears and frustrations have time off so that I can focus on the lives of my family. This week has been so great. I have listened more and felt more connected to others in general. I've tried to look in my children's eyes, to touch my husband's hand more often, to remind myself of how absolutely lucky I am to have the love of my family, friends, students, and job.

Step 5. Create other healthy lifestyle changes. Rather than spend all my free time online, I have started working out...again. I cooked more this week. The house is cleaner!

I am not sure how long I will continue with a break from Facebook and most news, but for now I know I am where I need to be. When I do return to hearing the thoughts and opinions of others and learning more about what is happening to our country, I hope I can react as Izzy - feel the tension and then let it go. Long-term stress is not healthy. For those of us with rheumatoid arthritis or other chronic illnesses, we know the effects it has on our bodies. My joints were starting to feel the stress and I was waking up with an awful headache that wouldn't go away. Those are both big signs to me that it was time to make some changes. I am glad I listened. My body always knows what is right for me.