Practicing Mindfulness to Manage Stress
Stress is understood as mental and emotional tension resulting from difficult situations and life events. Not all stress is bad. For example, if there are many exciting life events going on, you may feel a “good” kind of stress. Other examples of good stress include playing sports or exercising. Often, stress can be bad when it results from unfortunate and unexpected circumstances, like a death in the family. Bad stress can also accumulate over time when handling a serious role, like family caregiving because a loved one is ill.
As a caregiver, you are often forced to confront extremely difficult realities about a loved one’s health, the end of life, and personal finances. Managing this stress can be challenging if you are balancing many other responsibilities like working and raising a family. Fortunately, there are techniques to help you manage things when times get tough.
One of the key methods many counselors suggest is mindfulness. According to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, “[M]indfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” This is a technique that requires you to stop thinking about the past and imagining the future and to focus on the immediate present. For instance, if you find you’re worrying about things out of your control, try to recognize that you are having a stressful thought and reorient your thinking to your immediate experiences. Try asking yourself questions like “What am I doing right now?”, “How do I feel in this moment?”, “What kinds of things do I hear, smell, and feel?”
As Jon Kabat-Zinn writes in his well-known book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, “The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.” It means observing yourself and your behaviors while being fully present in the moment you are currently experiencing, because this moment is the only moment you have any control over. This practice is summarized simply, but it is difficult to master.
A helpful image that Jon Kabat-Zinn uses is to think of your thoughts as a river. Instead of allowing this river to take you wherever it goes, try swimming to the bank and observing the river. You may not always like the thoughts that are flowing through your mind, but being aware of these thoughts is a way to observe your mind’s habits and the tendencies you have that take you away from being present.
Many people find it useful to do deep breathing in order to help their mind stay present. Breathe in for four seconds and breathe out for four seconds. Make sure to count the seconds you breath as you go in and out. This technique is a very helpful way to keep your mind from getting distracted. Try doing this for 5 to 10 minutes a day.
Don’t let stress control you. Only focus on the things you can control. If you have any questions, please call ElderCare at Home at 888-285-0093 or visit our website.
 Source: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition
 Kabat-Zinn, Jon, Wherever You Go, There You Are, (New York: Hyperion, 1993).