My experience with mindfulness based stress reduction
I have always been an anxious person, but lately I have had difficulty dealing with things that were causing me stress. I suffer from social anxiety, I get stressed out about driving, I get stressed out about work and my family, and I have menopausal hot flashes which often seem to be worse when I am under stress. As a health coach, I know that this stress is not healthy.
I kept hearing that mindfulness meditation would help me deal with the stress. I had meditated before, but never consistently enough to see results. I read about all the ways that stress was bad for my health and this made me more stressed out. I knew I needed to do something. I decided to give meditation one more try.
I was excited to find a free online version of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program. The MBSR program was started by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s and there are now many programs throughout the world. It generally involves going to weekly meetings and combining this with a formal practice at home and informal practices to use mindfulness in everyday life. The online programs are a relatively new offering. One MBSR instructor who saw the benefits of this program decided to offer a free program so more people could get the benefits of it.
One of the first exercises was eating a raisin. This was just an ordinary raisin, but the task was to actually pay attention to the experience of eating the raisin. How did it look? How did it smell? How did it feel in my hand and in my mouth? And finally how did it taste? I never realized a raisin could taste so good. I really have to try this with chocolate.
What this is really teaching us is that so often we are not present for experiences as they are actually happening. We are often eating while working, driving or reading the news. How often have I had the experience of eating a piece of chocolate while doing something else only to wonder how I had finished it.
We were taught different meditations throughout the program. There were sitting meditations where we become aware of our breathing, body scans where we became aware of each part of our bodies and yoga where we were aware of how our bodies feel in each position and aware of our breathing. It is all about being aware.
I am a couple years postmenopausal and still get frequent hot flashes. Lately they had become quite frequent. After a couple of weeks into the program I noticed that I hadn’t had a major hot flash. As the program went along my hot flashes were less frequent than before. Hot flashes can be triggered by stress. I had noticed that there were certain situations that I often got hot flashes. These didn’t seem to be occurring any more.
We learn in the program to notice when we are feeling strong emotions and to notice where we are feeling them. This is something I really haven’t mastered and possibly never will. I found that when the strongest emotions occurred I was so wrapped up in what was happening that I didn’t notice how I was feeling it until later. I’d be driving to work and getting angry with slow drivers and the timing of traffic lights and not realize I was clenching my fists, clenching my jaw and holding my breath.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
We are asked not to have expectations going into the program, but since the program is called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, I hoped that I would see some stress reduction. After a few weeks I did start to feel less anxiety and started to feel like I had more coping mechanisms. I’m finding that the smaller stressors are easier to deal with, but I think that I had a lot of small stressors piling up on me. Now I have more emotional energy to deal with the bigger issues.
About five weeks into the program I was to attend a baby shower for a coworker. This is the kind of situation that would often make me feel anxious. I often end up feeling out of place, not knowing what to say or how to act. After I’ll usually over analyze everything that was said and not said. This time I found myself looking forward to it. I had conversations with people I knew and some that I didn’t. I felt relaxed and I really enjoyed myself.
I had high hopes but low expectations when I started this course. Was it really possible to eliminate a lifetime of being stressed about the past and worrying about the future. It has now been a few weeks since I completed the course. Now that I am not accountable I find that I sometimes skip days of meditation. If I miss a couple of days in a row I find I start to see signs of anxiety creeping in. I am still trying to find the best way to fit this in as a daily practice, but I can see how even this short time of more focused meditation has started to make a difference in my life.
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