Managing stress with mindful eating

Mindful Break @ Muffin House Cafe, Medway, MA
Photo: ~Sofia Reddy

Quote of the Day:

“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.”

~ rashaski · Zen Proverb

Reflection:

One of our major struggles in modern day life is trying to do too much in a short amount of time. Often what is sacrificed is the purely enjoyable experience of a eating a meal slowly, intentionally – with our full attention and awareness. One area that eating becomes another chore on the to do list is at work. When I facilitate self-care workshops I often hear employees saying, “I don’t have time to eat lunch,” “I often run out the door in the morning with a cup of coffee but skip breakfast,” or “my lunch is interrupted by phone calls and colleagues stopping by to make requests.”

Sound familiar?

The problem with skipping meals or rushing through them is that we tend to either under or overeat. Ultimately we are not getting the nutrients we need to maintain our energy levels and our productivity is more drastically compromised. If we give ourselves permission to take 10-15 minutes to enjoy our meal, not only do we end up feeling more satisfied, we have the energy needed to stay focused and accomplish our goals for the day.

Today’s practice:

Today, try eating a mindful breakfast, lunch and dinner, alone or with family, a friend or colleague. For breakfast, get up 10 minutes earlier so you have time to eat something with your full attention and awareness. Savor each bite of your favorite fruit, cereal or other morning meal preference. I can’t leave the house without eggs for breakfast. They pack protein and keep me full throughout the morning. Often we boil eggs and keep them refrigerated, which is a quick meal that is healthy and tasty.

For lunch, turn off the computer and telephone ringer and set your timer for at least 10 minutes. Clear the desk. Or better yet if it’s a nice day out take lunch to a picnic table or bench. Smell the aroma of the food you are about to enjoy. Notice its texture, taste, smell and really savor it. Allow your senses to experience every aspect of this meal.

At dinner, turn off the tv or other electronics. If you live with family make it a rule to turn off electronics and the telephone during dinner. Spend at least 30 minutes together enjoying each other’s company and the meal. Look at each other. Talk to each other. Spend some time in silence too. If you feel moved perhaps say a prayer (or meditate) about feeling thankful to have this food to eat and reflect on how the food got to the table. Think of all the people and processes involved to bring this food here. Savor every minute.

How did your practice go? What did you notice? 

Were there any difficulties, and if so how did you manage them? Do you have any other ideas or questions about this practice? 

Would love to hear from you! Share with us by commenting below or through my Facebook page @Sofiasanctuary

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When stress levels go up, take a mindful breath

Beach Day at the Cape, MA ~Photo by Sofia Reddy
When I feel my stress levels start to creep up I imagine this beautiful day at the beach and look forward to my next escape. 

I’ve been listening to a guided meditation about relieving stress on the Meditation Oasis podcast by Mary Maddux. In it she reminds us that “things can be accomplished in a calm and relaxed way.” It doesn’t always seem like that is the case though, especially when we are faced with daily care-giving responsibilities at work and at home. However, we can use the moments in between the busyness to practice mindful self-care. We can take a moment or 2 to close our eyes and breathe or stretch, or we can give ourselves the gift of using our lunch break to take a brief walk or eat a healthy snack.

When we take mindful breaks we are able to replenish our energy by cueing our bodies to trigger our built in relaxation response. When we tame our stress levels it helps our minds think more clearly to tackle the challenging tasks competing for our attention. Many of my clients and students have shared that “there is no time for self-care, I have so much to do.” Maybe you can relate. However, I find myself being more productive and less irritable and prone to health issues when I practice regular self-care. I find that my energy levels increase, and that my mood and health improve and then I’m able to accomplish even more.

Recently, when my computer was being slow, I noticed my heart rate increase and breath become shallow, as thoughts of anger and frustration raced through my mind. Instead of reacting in the old way and fueling the frustration by lashing out, I chose to respond with mindful self-care. Instead, I closed my eyes and listened to calming piano music while remembering to breathe slowly and deeply. I noticed my stress levels and irritation steadily go down. When I opened my eyes the email message I was trying to send had gone through. Hooray!

Let’s take time this summer to practice awareness of when our stress levels increase so we can then take healthy action – mindfully.

Take a moment now to reflect on these questions:

  • When your stress goes from moderate to severe, where do you feel it in your body? Do you notice your chest tighten or your jaw clench? Maybe you start to breathe more rapidly or get headaches. Notice where you feel stress in your body. Remember, not all stress is bad because at mild-moderate levels it helps motivate us to take action when needed. However, chronic severe stress can turn toxic and wreak havoc on our bodies when it’s not well-managed.
  • What can you do in the moment to stop and allow your nervous system to calm itself down? What helps you the most? Is it meditation, walking, breathing, stretching, or praying? Think of ways you can clam your mind and body down both at work and at home.
  • Do you need some time off? When was the last time you took a mental health or self-care day? Sometimes just a day off to do whatever you want can be restorative. Think about what you need in the short and long term and make a plan for it. Talk about it with healthy supports and take action!

What did you try for self-care? How did it work for you? Share with us by commenting below or through my Facebook page @Sofiasanctuary

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Mindfully managing work stress and conflict

Quote of the Day:

“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone,
including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”

~Pema Chodron

Reflection:

One of the most common complaints from employees in the self-care workshops I lead is the challenge of working with different personalities. Whether you are actually supervising people or not, a top stressor in the work environment is dealing with people we work with. We each have our own personalities, temperaments, motivations, and communication styles that we bring to the table. These differences can be complementary and become one of our teams’ greatest assets or they can lead to division, tension and ultimately conflict. I appreciate Pema’s wise words on dealing with others. I think if we approach the work environment from this compassionate perspective it can diffuse intense emotions that might otherwise lead to toxic interactions that create a corrosive work environment.

Sometimes we are lucky and end up with colleagues who are a great fit, but what do we do when that isn’t the case? My experience has taught me that using the skills of mindfulness can help us navigate challenging relationships in the workplace. For example, the skill of present moment awareness without judgment helps us to understand others and use compassion instead of anger. Could it be this person is having a bad day? Perhaps he or she is struggling with something I don’t know about. Perhaps this person is triggered or feels anxious, stressed or worried. Practicing compassion doesn’t mean we passively accept toxic behavior from another, but it does allow us to soften a bit. When we seek to understand others, they might soften a bit too. I am not saying we don’t assert our own needs and preferences. We must absolutely be willing to speak up about any inappropriate behavior. However, in a work setting we usually have shared objectives that we can use as common ground to stand on. We can then choose to interact with others using a collaborative approach (“let’s problem solve together using our strengths”) instead of an argumentative one (“you’re wrong, I’m right, now just do what I say”).

One of the most important skills we can practice at work (and at home) is recognizing each other’s strengths and contributions. We can strive to foster an environment of mutual respect, while promoting healthy boundaries and limit setting when needed. Sometimes saying no to a request is necessary. Taking time off and taking mindful breaks is also important.  Being mindful of our own needs and preferences and learning to communicate them is critical. After all, we are not responsible for other people’s behaviors, only our own. Finally, when all else fails, understanding when it might be time to move on from an unresolvable situation is important. We can make healthy changes in our lives when necessary – one mindful step at a time.

Today’s Practice:

Seek to understand before being understood. If a difficult situation arises with a peer, boss or client try to put yourself in that person’s shoes for a minute. Consider what this person is trying to communicate. Even if you don’t agree with their style of communication you can extend the gift of compassion in the moment. Notice if any of your defense mechanisms come up. Recognize your body sensations and emotions. Ground yourself by taking a deep breath and don’t cave in to the urge to counter-attack, argue or get your point across right away. Take a break if you have to. Ask for time to think it over. Say, “I’ll get back to you” or “I need some time to think this over.” Go out for a walk and fresh air or go to the bathroom and splash water on your face. Take time to unwind and think it through. Don’t let emotion mind take over. Take care of yourself first and give yourself time to respond later. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to write a journal entry about what makes work most challenging for you at this time.

Are there particular conflicts happening? Are you bored or uninterested in your work? Is it too demanding or not demanding enough? Are you dealing with a long stressful commute?

Describe the stresses you are experiencing in your current work life. Then describe the benefits and what you appreciate about your job and the work you do. What would you change if you could? Reflect on this information and discuss it with a confidante. Talk about it with your therapist, a friend or mentor whom you trust.

Remember, every job has its pros and cons. Notice what’s working for you and what’s not working for you. Start taking mindful steps towards making the change in your life that you are seeking, or practice acceptance of your current difficulties knowing that the benefits make it worthwhile to stay (at least for now).

This article was written by Sofia Reddy and originally published in the New Leaf Meditation Project for the 7-day mindfulness challenge in August, 2016, hosted by Anthony Cernera and Sofia Reddy. Some edits have been made.

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