Skills and Stress

As evidenced by a high blood pressure reading at my most recent doctors appointment(s), I’m stressed. This is nothing a) new or b) abnormal, especially with a job in a corporate office. I’m working on my stress-relieving/coping skills, and finding that they’re pretty limited.

I take showers. (This is not very good for the environment, and I feel a little guilty about taking wanton showers that I don’t need, but it DOES help me de-stress)

I go for walks. (When it’s not dark. And when my joints cooperate. Also, I need new shoes.)

I try to meditate. (I’ve been learning various kinds of mindfulness meditation for the last year and a half, though I’m admittedly not very good at it. Still, focused breathing, even if I can’t get to focused, non attached thinking, helps)

But I kinda need some more tools in the box. When I’m really anxious, eating a snack helps, but that doesn’t really help with stress – and depending on the availability of gluten free snacks, can be a stressor instead of a de-stressor.

I’m open to trying some new things to help me manage this. So what do you do to manage stress?

Blogging Mindfully

If I blogger deletes a post draft, can they still learn from it?

One of the bits of guidance often given to new meditators, particularly those working through Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (or, like me, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is that whenever you feel the urge to talk to someone about meditation, you should shut up and go meditate.

Which makes for really lousy blog posts.

But I think the spirit of that advice is that it’s better to be mindful and meditate than it is to talk about it. And it’s easy to fall into the trap of talking more about meditation than actually DOING meditation.

That said, I think there’s something gained from reflection as well. (This is not me arguing with Dr. Kabat-Zinn. This is me being a blogger and liking expressing thoughts in writing.)

I’m not very good at meditating though. In the last year that I’ve been working through this therapy and mental-process-adjustment, I’ve not attained any sort of amazing breakthroughs. In fact, about the only thing I’ve attained is better awareness of how my brain works – watching your thoughts can be a pretty amazing experience, especially when you deal with TraumaBrain and other vestiges of mental illness.

That awareness DOES help with self-compassion though. It’s a learning process, and my mental judge is … extremely vocal. And not keen on shutting up. But slowly through the meditation practice (and it is a practice), I’ve learned to be at least aware of my self-judgment more than I used to be, and being aware of that mental voice lets me be more kind to myself about how my brain functions.

It’s all about little victories, and small steps in the right direction. I’ve had to work on accepting wherever I am on a given day, accepting what kind of focus I have or don’t have, and just being mindful and kind in this moment. The Gurus say there’s no such thing as bad meditation – only today’s meditation. I’m still working on taking their word for it.

And really, meditation is not easy, but it’s also so very simple it’s frustrating how hard it can be. (That’s a confusing sentence.)

I really encourage giving it a try though, just for a few minutes, if you find yourself in a stressful situation. Ok, WHEN you find yourself in a stressful situation.

Try the following (done easily in a desk chair, in the parking lot, in the bathroom, wherever):

Stop what you’re doing, sit back comfortably (straight spine, but not forced), and take three slow, deep breaths. With each breath think to yourself “Breathing in, I see myself at peace” and “Breathing out, I am relaxed” – that’ll give your mind something to chew on while the oxygen gets to your brain and slows down your central nervous system.

I keep a post it note on my computer that says “Stop. Breathe. Be here now.” to help me remember to ground myself in this present moment and slow down. Bad and stressful things are usually related to worry about the future or fretting about the past – very rarely is there a problem in THIS exact moment. (Even, or especially, worry about money. For the next 2 minutes, you can let go of worries about money.)

Even just little snippets of meditation, little snippets of being truly HERE in the present moment, can make a big difference. You’ll slow down your nerves, be more alert and refreshed, and be better able to handle the stresses of life. Think of them as fun-size Mindful Moments – just the right size for a mid-day stress-relieving mental snack.

And now, since I’ve talked the talk for 650 words or so on the subject of meditation, it’s time for me to go walk the walk.

Or sit the sit, as the case may be.

Making Mandalas

Crossposted from the Deadly Divas

Everyone has their own way of expressing emotion, of managing anxiety.

A year or so ago, when I was digging through reviews of various fountain pens, I stumbled across a blog called Spiritual Evolution of the Bean, by artist Stephanie Smith. She teaches the creation of mandalas as art and personal expression, and after following her instructions and making a few, I was totally hooked.

What is a mandala? Well, that depends. In the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of aspirants and adepts, as a spiritual teaching tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.*Any concentric diagram can be a mandala, though the most traditional mandalas are a circle circumscribed with a square.

For me, mandalas are a way of drawing that starts small and works concentrically outward, free of judgment, thinking, or really planning out what I want to do. They are a form of focused mindfulness, of being completely in the moment and allowing myself to express whatever comes to my mind (with no judgment).


How do you make one?

To create a mandala, you must first release all judgments about your ability to aesthetically put pen to paper. Throw those thoughts out the window because no one has to ever see it but you, (unless you choose to share it) and it’s totally your prerogative to destroy it once completed. – Stephanie Smith

After that, you take a piece of paper and a writing implement of some kind, and, starting in the middle, you work out in concentric circles, allowing your subconscious or unconscious mind to pick patterns at random. There is no wrong choice as long as you make simple geometric shapes repeated around the circle. You can use words, or not, but repeated ones seem to work better (like the repetition of the phrase “A thought can be changed” – kind of like a visual mantra).

Stephanie Smith explains the process much better than I ever could in two of her posts on the subject: Oh the Mandala and Mandala Process Continues (Go read them, I’ll be here when you get back)

I also highly recommend the following YouTube video. It’s a different style of mandala, but then, it’s a different person, and each person will tend toward slightly different patterns and styles.

YouTube – How to Grow a Mandala

Looking at other mandala art (and “Zentangles”, which are the same principle) for ideas of patterns is a lot of fun too, but the ultimate goal is making art, not looking at it. Spontaneous art, at that. Sometimes I plan out colors (or use the colors that someone requests), but usually I just find some markers that I like and go with it. All the ones you see pictured are made with prismacolor markers and black and white gel pens. Literally ANY media will work. Pencil, crayons, ballpoint pen, whatever.

Remember, the ultimate goal here is to let go of the conscious part of your brain that says you can or can’t do art. There is no “wrong” mandala. It might be uneven, or you might not like the colors overall when you’re done, but that doesn’t matter. And really, when you finish one, only you decide what to do with it – whether you save it, throw it away, frame it, or just keep a whole running notebook, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the process of doing it, the careful progression of repeated shapes around a circle. (I make lots, and they all provide relief of anxiety and help me feel calmer and more relaxed, but only a few of them end up on the internet or in frames.)

So the next time you find yourself bored, perhaps you’ll grab a piece of paper and doodle a mandala.

I’ve found them to be addicting, and now keep a little notebook with me for that purpose (mostly because my bills started getting mandala doodles on the return envelopes after awhile). They’re very good for keeping my brain busy in stressful situations, and also for filling in dead time while I’m waiting around for an appointment.

And sometimes they turn out quite pretty at the end.

*From Wikipedia