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Mindfulness and Stress Management
July 8, 2010
Anyone living with diabetes knows that any number of things connected to our disease can be stress triggers: for some of us, it may be the constant monitoring and watching our blood glucose numbers; for others, it may be communicating with doctors or dealing with the financial pressures that diabetes can add. Managing a chronic illness on a daily basis simply is a stressful situation.
And stress is not a helpful thing to add into the blood glucose management mix: stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol, which has the affect of raising blood glucose. So getting stressed about your diabetes can actually make your diabetes worse.
For the last fifteen or so years, I have been actively working on ways to reduce my stress and to live a peaceful, balanced life. Pursuing a stress-free life has been quite a journey, and while I’ve had times in my life that have felt more balanced than others, the ongoing desire to seek inner calm and peace has been a wonderful pursuit.
Fifteen years ago, I began a yoga practice that first helped me to be aware of the connection between my body and mind. Yoga, the Sanskrit word for “union,” is about awareness of our breath. Doing yoga, I noticed how I held tension in parts of my body. As I moved and stretched through a series of “asanas” (postures), I drew attention to my body and was able to breathe into parts of my body that felt tense.
I admittedly am not a fitness lover and have never felt particularly at home in a gym, but the energy of a yoga class feels very natural to me, and in that setting, I can work my muscles and come out feeling both more centered and also strong. My yoga practice has waxed and waned over the years — I stopped doing yoga for several months after the births of my children and at other demanding times like when we moved a few years ago. But I keep coming back to yoga — and now aim to do a 15-minute morning routine three or four mornings a week. When my children are older and even more independent, I hope to add more yoga time into my life.
Over the last year, I have also been learning about and experiencing the concept of “mindfulness,” which has been an incredible help in managing my stress. Mindfulness meditation is a practice of sitting silently and focusing on the breath (or an image, mantra, or the like). As a person focuses on his breath, thoughts come into his mind and distract him from the practice of noticing. When the distractions come in, the point is to simply notice them as distractions and return to the breathing practice.
My experience in working on mindfulness meditation is that I am better able to notice the thoughts that race through my mind and detach from them. I can notice the kinds of “tapes” that go through my mind — maybe I’m thinking about a disagreement I’ve had with my husband, worrying about what’s currently in my checking account, or simply creating a to-do list for the day, and I haven’t even been aware that I’m thinking about these things.
By bringing my attention to what is going on in my busy brain, I can stop it — if just momentarily. I will probably keep on ruminating, worrying, and creating to-do lists throughout the day, but the ongoing practice of noticing what is happening in my mind does allow me to catch it — and change the tapes.
I have also appreciated the way that I can better notice my emotional state, without judging it. I can tune in and notice that I am feeling angry, sad, joyous, distracted, etc., and see that, like my thoughts, this is a temporary state of being.
I used to try and be a “positive” person, but practicing mindfulness has helped me to realize that I just need to be a present person — someone who is awake and aware.
This practice is absolutely helping me to reduce stress, which I know is helpful for my diabetes and for my body in general. Living with diabetes is a stressful challenge — there is no doubt about that. Mindfulness helps me notice when I am feeling particularly stressed and the process of noticing often relieves my stressed state.
Do you meditate? What helps you to manage your stress?
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