BY: Elizabeth Mason, MSSA, LISW, CT
If you are like me, you may have heard the term “mindfulness” and wonder what exactly it means. The basic idea of mindfulness is to be present in the moment. To do this, you focus on specific processes of your body or on things in your immediate environment to help calm racing thoughts or overwhelming emotions.
This is a great tool to help manage the symptoms of grief. You may have noticed that grief is more than just an emotional response; it affects our physical, behavioral and cognitive reactions as well and can create a great deal of stress on our bodies. By practicing mindfulness, we can learn to relax our bodies as we experience these symptoms of grief and reduce the accompanying stress.
The simplest form of mindfulness is focusing on your breathing. You may have heard of the term “belly breathing,” which is when you feel your belly expand as you inhale and then deflate as you exhale. Because the breaths are deeper and longer, belly breathing triggers relaxation. Breathing just in your lungs is shallower and prepares your body for a fight or flight response. As you take belly breaths, focus on how your breath affects your body. As you feel your belly fill and empty, you may notice your heart rate slowing or your shoulders relaxing.
You may choose to keep it simple and focus only on your breathing at times when you start to feel stress, anxiety or other overwhelming emotions. Another option is to expand on this and spend some time meditating.
When meditating, choose a quiet location where you can sit and try to just focus on your breathing while allowing the rest of your concerns and thoughts drift out of your mind. You may have thoughts come into your head while you are meditating, and this is okay. Like grief, emotions take us by surprise and can make us feel out of control. If you speak to any of our bereavement coordinators, they likely tell you to be patient and allow yourself to feel these emotions as they come. Similarly, as thoughts come into your mind during meditation, be patient and accepting of them. Simply notice your thoughts and then return your focus to breathing.
As with grief, we need to go gently into mindfulness practices. Start small and try the breathing exercise or meditate for just five minutes at a time. It may be helpful to choose specific points throughout the day to take a short break to practice or it may become part of your daily routine.
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Buddha.
If you are interested in some resources, try some of these:
Mindfulness For Prolonged Grief: A Guide to Healing After Loss When Depression, Anxiety, and Anger Won’t Go Away
, by Sameet M. Kumar, Ph.D.
22 Mindfulness Exercises, Techniques & Activities for Adults
You may also want to try downloading a mindfulness app on your phone.