We are bombarded with information at all times of the day and night. Social media, newsfeeds, emails (personal and work related) all clamor for our attention. Yet how we engage with such shapes our daily experience. Particularly valuable are the first minutes of our days.
Do you roll out of bed and immediately connect to the online world? That may be a mistake. The first 15 to 30 minutes of our day sets a tone. Imagine awakening, stretching, enjoying a warm beverage, breathing deeply and connecting with yourself or a partner, engaging with some light exercise. Grounding yourself in the day. How different is this from rubbing the sleep from your eyes while scrolling through a twitter feed? How might that shape you as you move into the faster paced world of obligations and demands? How we begin often shapes how we end.
Today’s post will be brief as duty calls me elsewhere. However, I’d like to take a moment to return to the physical (a favorite topic). I can’t stress how important engaging with our physical bodies is for emotional wellbeing. We are physical creatures immersed (for the most part) in an incredibly sedentary, non-physical daily experience. Now, more than ever, it is important to compensate for this by moving, stretching, and breathing. This need not be extreme. It need not involve a gym or a trainer or the expenditure of anything but time, motion and a little sweat. Move yourself! You just might be surprised at how it feels.
In times of stress and uncertainty, as we rush from one indoor location to another, it can be easy to become “ungrounded”—to lose that deeper connection to ourselves and that which supports and nourishes us. When we are ungrounded we tend to feel anxious, depressed or uneasy. Often, it is hard to put a finger on what is “wrong”.
There are many ways to ground and center ourselves at such times. Taking a deep, slow breath and scanning our bodies is a start. Beginning at the top of your head, be aware of the physical sensations present, then slowly guide your awareness down through your body…your face, neck, shoulders, arms, chest and back, hips, legs and feet—simply pay attention as you scan. And breathe. What do you become aware of? This isn’t about changing anything, it’s about connecting with yourself. When you reach your toes, take an extra moment to bend your knees slightly and, with a slow, deliberate breath, gentle bounce up and down for 20 or 30 seconds. Allow the bounce to be soft and rather subtly. Imagine that any anxiety or unwanted sensations are being knocked loose from within you and falling to your feet where they are expelled into the ground.
Another manner of grounding connects you, not only internally, but externally but assisting you in re-linking with the land that ultimately supports you. When climate permits, take off your shoes and socks and head out-of-doors. Walk on the bare earth…feel the grass under your feet, or mud squish between your toes. Breathe. Really allow yourself to experience the sensation of being connected to the earth. Imagine your stress, your worries and cares are draining down through your body and pouring out the soles of your feet into the ground and descending downward even further, where they are released and composted into something else.
A third method of grounding that can be utilized during times when the climate (or your comfort level) won’t allow you to walk about barefoot, is to approach a tree. Approach with awareness and respect. Breathe (see a theme here?). Pay attention to your physical experience as you come closer to the tree. Again, there is no need to change anything, simply be aware. Reach out and place your hands on or around the tree trunk (that’s right, I’m encouraging you to hug a tree). Pay attention to the feel of the bark under your hands and the sense of contact between yourself and the tree. Then give your attention to what cannot be seen. Visualize the inner world of the tree, the delightful way in which it is rooted into the landscape and the marvelous and efficient manner in which it’s deep roots draw sustenance from the earth. Lean forward against the tree and once more breathe deeply. Imagine your feet sprout roots that dig down into the deep layers of the earth as well. As you breathe, imagine the power of the land is being drawn upward into the soles of feet and then fills your whole body with relaxed power. Allow this visualization to continue for as long as feels appropriate, then allow the image to fade. See the roots from your feet draw up into you once more. With a final breathe, give thanks and go back about your day.
These three exercises can be done individually or together as your time and desire allows. However you have engaged with them, be sure to pay attention as you go back about your day? Has you experience of anxiety or unease shifted? Let me know!
3. Breathe! A simple reminder, perhaps, but a powerful action. Breath (along with blinking) is one of the few physiological processes we can consciously control. Think of a time when you were startled or frightened—a car backfired, a door suddenly slammed, someone rounded the corner unexpectedly. Most likely you physically froze, took a big breath and held it. This is natural. The opposite is equally natural. By consciously exhaling and inhaling, slowly and deeply, we can use a physiological process to help navigate an emotional one. Try this the next time you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or over stressed. Exhale, then take a slow, steady breath in for a count of four. Hold the breath for a count of four. Exhale for a count of four. Hold the breath for a count of four. Repeat.
2. Honor Your Own Needs and Wants. There can be enormous pressure (at the
holidays and throughout the year) to be all things to all people and to set aside your own wants and needs in order to meet the wants and needs of others in
your life. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, unless and until it becomes a perpetual pattern whereby you constantly forsake the signals of your own mind and body in an effort to meet the needs and desires of everyone else. Your experience matters! Saying “no” or “not now” is acceptable. Give yourself permission to take that nap, skip that party, soak in that tub. You may be surprised at how honoring yourself in such ways will help provide more energy for engaging with others afterward.
1. Move! We are an incredibly sedentary culture. We sit in front of screens, tap at phones, drive or ride in cars…yet by design we are creatures of motion. Several times throughout the day, consider stopping whatever activity you are engaged
in and slowly roll your shoulders. Stand up, then gently bend at the waist and bring your hands toward the ground (whether you touch your toes or simply let your arms dangle matters not). Slowly look over your right shoulder. Then your left. Place your hands on your hips and engage in some slow hip circles. Get away from the screens in your life and take a walk, however brief (it need not be for miles). You may be surprised at how stress relieving such simple measures can be.
Better yet, combine all three of these…Honor your desire for less stress by moving and breathing. And let me know what happens!
Bryan Dieterich, MA, LPC