Managing stress with mindful connections

A trip to NH to connect with family and nature ~Photo by Sofia Reddy

“Have you offered your presence to the person you love? Are you so busy that you cannot be there for that person? If you are a father or a mother, or a partner, generate your own presence, because that is the most precious gift you can offer.
When the other person realizes that his or her presence has been recognized and confirmed, he or she will blossom like a flower.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay),
you are here, Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment

Thay’s words ring so true. Even when we are present in body, are we truly present in mind? Often we get so caught up in the tasks we need to accomplish for the day, or the emails we have to respond to, or the phone calls we have to make…and we forget to fully connect with those around us. One day I was typing an email back and forth with a colleague who was down the hall. “This is ridiculous,” I thought, “I should get up and go talk to her in person.” Having a ten-minute discussion with her drastically reduced the amount of time and energy it would have taken to email back and forth. We ended up also connecting on a personal level by giving each other support around being sleep deprived working moms. All in all, I left the conversation feeling a bit lighter than I had before, and even got some exercise from getting up from my desk and walking.

We have an opportunity to truly connect with others in our personal lives as well. For example, there are days I go home feeling completely drained and can’t understand why I don’t have any energy left to be present to my family. Mindfulness practice has helped me notice when negative thoughts are impacting my relationships. For example, I notice that when I’m tired and stressed, time with my kids starts to feel like another chore to complete on the to do list. On my commute home I’ll notice my busy mind running through all the tasks that need to be done once I get there:

“we have to prepare dinner, clean up, get the kids washed up, brush their teeth, get my stuff together for tomorrow…Oh, and I have to enter my work time sheets, check emails and throw in a load of laundry too. Mark (my hubby) needs a break too!”

I realized that this train of thought left me feeling exhausted by the time I got home. Mindfulness practice helps us focus on being in the present moment and not constantly anticipating what’s next. Through mindfulness, we can pay attention to the beautiful scenery as the sun sets over the horizon and the vibrant colors bounce off the trees and clouds. I find the best nights are when I practice a mindful commute home. I then feel energized enough to play with my kids, mindfully connect with my husband or to have a heart to heart conversation with a good friend.

Today’s Practice:

Today take time to notice what’s around you using your five senses. Be mindful of the types of thoughts you are having. Are they inspiring you or draining you? Are they helping you connect with loved ones in meaningful ways? Notice the scenery on your commute home. Sing and dance with your kids after dinner. Go on a mindful walk. Turn off the TV and play instead. Kick the ball around in the yard. Catch fireflies. Enjoy every lick of the ice cream cone with your favorite toppings. Make eye contact with your loved ones. Be present. Be there mentally as well as physically, because after all, “that is the most precious gift you can offer.”

How did your practice go? Were there any difficulties, and if so how did you manage them?

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


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


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


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.