Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You are listening to episode 54, titled “Pressure That Won’t Let Go”. This week I have been trying to write something meaningful and it’s unraveling me. That happens more often than we realize, but usually, we’re too busy protecting our image and sense of strength in the world to let ourselves release the tension in our lives. And since I know I’m not the only one unraveling under pressure, this week we’re going to examine the value and importance of mindfulness as stress relief.
Mindfulness has a complicated reputation. For some, it evokes images of waterfalls and stacked rocks, quiet yoga retreats and silent hikes. But for most of us, it sounds unattainable.
But mindfulness is misunderstood, and I’ll be the first to admit that I hated the idea of it for a very long time.
It wasn’t until recently that I started to understand that my life of constant pressure, stress, and motion is in response to a few internal desires but primarily, is a response to an external force. When someone invites me into an act of mindfulness, they’re not asking me to focus on my problems or pretend they don’t exist. In fact, neither of those is the goal of mindfulness. In truth, I find that when we explore our hesitations to mindfulness with a little intention, we might realize we’ve applied binary thinking to this practice – just as we do with most concepts we misunderstand.
Mindfulness practices are an act of generosity toward our internal selves; an invitation to soften in our core selves while the externals of life are put on hold.
We can continue to justify the busy nature of life, putting everyone else first and let our bodies be the ones to break down for us. Or we can decide that our body breaking down is the last resort.
It’s been nearly a year since I blacked out in my kitchen. To be clear, I have a disorder that can cause fainting, but it’s uncommon and in this instance, all the usual triggers were missing… except for stress.
I was sitting at the kitchen table, in my pajamas, with a fresh and full cup of hot coffee – my hand looped through the handle. One minute, I was talking with my family and saying, “I don’t feel so well,” and the next, I woke up delirious in my partner’s arms, soaking wet from the coffee.
Although I was out for maybe 2 minutes, it was the first time our daughter had ever seen me blackout. I usually have about 10 seconds of warning when the dizziness hits but not this time. I was helpless and without my partner’s quick actions, I would have crashed from a high stool onto the floor in front of her, too.
So hours later, while begging for more blankets and waiting on test results, I had a choice to make. I was grateful to find the nurse was a friend of mine – one I could fall apart with in the stark white room with the broken door. And she knew me well enough to call me out.
I’d been under incredible pressure from every direction, and chose to ignore my needs as often as possible to please others. I wasn’t sure where to start, but knew if I didn’t just pick an area of life and make changes, I wasn’t going to live much longer.
Because stress can actually kill us.
It was about a month later when Disney’s Encanto came out, and like everyone else in the world, I sobbed hysterically listening to the oldest sister, Luisa, singing her song about pressure that won’t relent, expectations that never end, and obligations that can’t be denied.
Of course our child is obsessed and watched it at least 30 times that month, increasing the pressure of healing right along with all the pressures in life that led to my blackout in the first place. Of course my heart grew more and more overwhelmed. Knowing you need to make a change and knowing how to make that change are two different things.
And that pressure? It’s everywhere. I reflected and realized I had survived the pandemic with 100% of my energy going toward everyone else, leaving me to be so exhausted every few weeks that I slept through a few days and binged tv shows to “recover.” I needed a real change. Something sustainable, accessible, attainable, and real. So how do we counteract the pressure of our daily lives without relying on a few days to fall apart?
This is where mindfulness can make a real impact on our health.
And this is where we have a choice to make. I want to be clear; it’s not always a safe environment or practice for someone to begin embodiment work by themselves. So if you are someone with a history of bodily trauma or possible grief attachments involving your physical body, please give yourself space as needed before continuing in this episode.
We’ve discussed the value of a body scan in the past on this show, and today I want you walk through one with me. It will be quick. You can do it while walking or driving, although it will be most effective if you are stationary and not focusing on anything else.
When life gets hectic, we have stress on all fronts. Our thoughts, emotions, body, and connectedness are susceptible to stress because we are in a society that expects productivity on all fronts.
So in our mindfulness practice today, we are going to push back on the worry and hurry of life to pause.
Instead of focusing on the external, we will bring our thoughts to the internal center of stability within ourselves. The nervous system that releases adrenaline is over taxed when we are stressed, causing our body to believe it is in constant danger. If we never give ourselves the chance to decompress from that physical experience of adrenaline rush, we will continue to inhabit a body that experiences headaches, muscle aches, rising blood pressure, and spiritual disconnection from ourselves and others.
Connecting to our body through a little bit of attentiveness to each of the areas that carry stress is like waving a magical wand above ourselves. Bringing your attention to the area of tension naturally allows yours muscles, body, and tension to release.
Let’s dive into the mindfulness practice together, right now.
Even if the last thing you want to do right now is sit still, it’s okay. You can do this lying down, walking, or sitting up. And if you are feeling activated, restless, or feeling stressed at the to do list, remind yourself that you deserve the few minutes of space you are taking right now.
Begin by taking a gentle breath in, and then releasing it out. Do that again – in and out.
Feel free to close your eyes if you can, and bring your attention to the rise and fall of your chest. There’s a chance your mind is trying to get out of this activity. Maybe you sense a little urge internally to fidget, just remember this is your stress trying to keep you moving. We are here to help our stress take a break.
Bringing your attention to your head, focus on the top of your scalp and forehead. Are you scrunching your face? Bring your thoughts to your jawline. Are you clenching your teeth? If this is the case, let’s give our jaw permission to loosen. No judgement if you are feeling tension; it’s just a fact about how our body is reacting to stress.
Bring your thoughts to your neck and shoulders. Send your intentions of love and kindness to your muscles and your neck. It’s okay to release the shoulders from your ears, trusting that what needs to be done will be done.
Sending attention to your belly and noticing if you feel tension. If so, breathe into that tension – allow it to soften and rise and fall with your breath. Inhale, gently again. And out, again.
Bring your thoughts to your hips and legs. If they are feeling achy, or tired, or even ready to run, I want you to explore wiggling your toes and hips a bit. They’ve carried you far and if they are experiencing fatigue, that’s okay. This is our gift to your lower half to rest and pause. Send your thoughts of gratitude to your body and how it has carried you through your life.
As you start to become more aware of your whole body, invite a few more gentle breaths.
And now, place your hands on your belly and take one more deep inhale, softening again in any areas in your body that feel pressured, tense, or general discomfort. Slowly open your eyes by fluttering your lashes, and exhale deeply.
Consider this practice of awareness of tension rising in your body as you continue through the rest of your day. Give yourself permission again as needed to release any rising tension. You are engaging yourself in a way that breaks old habits, and it will be difficult to maintain.
If you can give yourself a few extra minutes after we’re finished to maybe roll your neck from side to side, or to stretch your arms over your head on either side. Notice if you feel any differently than you did before; reflecting in this way can reinforce the value of the simple practice we’ve just done together. And that, my friends, is exactly what we need to do – reinforce what serves us well and leave the rest of it behind.
Thank you for listening to episode 54 of Restorative Grief. I hope you found this mindfulness practice accessible and invitational. I never want you feel like after listening to my show that you must go carve this grand, dramatic space in your life to do grief work. Our grief work is portable – it goes with us and takes up as much space as we allow. In this gentle practice, you’ve learned that you can build a little window of kindness into your day. And I want to acknowledge that although you now have access to a simple body scan meditation, that doesn’t mean it is an automatically attainable practice for everyone. It is a great privilege to make space for practices of self-care, and so I want to share a little insight about how I work these practices into my too-full days.
This is something I do waiting in line at the grocery store. While pumping gas. Before exiting the restroom. Waiting for the microwave to finish. At red lights. Before exiting the car when I first arrive home. Before driving the car when I first close the door.
Create a moment for yourself. It doesn’t need to be long. It needs to be intentional. I’d love to hear what kind of moments you can find for yourself.
If this is your first time listening, welcome welcome. I hope this episode brings encouragement and tenderness to your life in a way that you’ve always wanted to express toward yourself. Take a moment to subscribe to the show and leave a review, since all those kind words bring our audience a little bit closer each time.
And as a premium subscriber, know that you gain access to even more episodes like this one – upcoming meditations, common questions and answers from my grief practice, and exclusive interviews. Your support helps keep this work afloat, and I cannot do it without you.
And as always, one last thing before I go. Please remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. Thank you for listening. I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources from this episode: