By Emily Brechting
Patient Support Psychologist, Susan Mast ALS Foundation
Given the current crisis, the Susan Mast ALS Foundation team is working to provide resources to ALS patients and families in West Michigan. The uncertainty of our situation can lead to feelings of worry and stress. Below is a brief introduction to several stress relievers written by John E. Schmidt, PhD.
PRACTICE BEING MINDFUL. Mindfulness is simply the act of focusing all your attention on whatever activity you are doing at any particular time. You can practice mindfulness when doing relaxed breathing, when praying, when eating, when driving, when taking a shower, even when you are exercising or listening to your favorite music.
Keep these simple rules in mind when you try being mindful:
1. Observe what is happening with all your focused attention.
2. Describe what is happening to yourself mentally.
3. Participate in the activity fully.
4. Be non-judgmental of the activity and of any negative reactions you have like if your mind wanders or is distracted by an unrelated thought. Just notice that you are distracted and bring your attention back to the activity.
The benefit here is that you are practicing keeping your mind from focusing on internal thoughts that are associated with worry and stress. When your mind wanders off of the activity you are doing and starts thinking about the future (e.g., what will happen tomorrow), those thoughts often trigger negative emotions like worry, fear, anger, guilt, etc. Practice being mindful several times a day when you are doing typical activities to train your mind to be more ‘in the moment’ and less easily distracted.
GO OUTSIDE AND GET SOME SUN AND FRESH AIR. If possible, take a break and head outside. As you soak in the fresh air and sunshine for a few minutes, take the opportunity to be mindful of how your body feels. Notice the environment and allow yourself to be immersed in it. The effects of being in nature (even a short while) on stress is well documented. Take a break and get some fresh air and feel the sunshine on your face!
READ SOMETHING UPLIFTING. One of the challenges with the ongoing situation is our constant need for new information. We become addicted to checking our favorite news source. That desire and behavior most certainly increases our stress and worry. Take some time each day to disconnect from the news and read something just for you, for your heart, for your soul. Many of us will open our Bible or other religious or spiritual writings. Perhaps you have a favorite author such as Maya Angelou, Thomas Merton, Eckhart Tolle, Saint Pope John Paul II, to name a few.
LISTEN TO RELAXING MUSIC. Music is ideal for stress relief. I always have soft, relaxing music playing in the background. My regular patients often comment on how much more relaxing it is. Listening to music daily is an easy way to lower your stress and allow your body to relax. Take a break and listen to your favorite artist. The music should be soothing and relaxing (so save the heavier stuff for when you are working out).
SPEND QUALITY TIME WITH YOUR FAMILY OR A CLOSE FRIEND (keeping social distancing in mind of course). A relaxing conversation, a laugh about something silly. These shared moments with those we are closest to are so important for our well-being, health, and for our relationships. Please take time each day to share these moments. Watch something relaxing, read stories, or play some games. These activities are great for you and your partner and can be especially important for your children as they cope with all the changes going on.
Given the impact that ALS can have on breathing, this exercise is suggested for caregivers.
SLOW RELAXING BREATHING. Just focus on your breathing for a couple of minutes several times throughout the day. Stop everything else, put yourself in a relaxed position, and breath in slowly, using your diaphragm and then exhale slowly, allowing your diaphragm and belly to return to the rest position. These breaths should be deep but not like a deep breath you take before jumping in a pool. Nice and relaxed, about 4-5 seconds on the inhale and 4-5 seconds on the exhale, breathing in and out of your nose if you can. Breathing through your nose makes breathing slowly easier and filters/moisturizes the air before it enters your lungs. While breathing, just focus on how your body feels, paying attention to your belly as it expands and contracts, noticing how the air feels going in and out of your nose. Try this simple breathing break several times a day for a few minutes to let your mind and body relax and let go of tension.
The goal here is to try to use some of these techniques for reducing stress and worry each day. It really does not take a whole lot of time or effort, just the desire to fit these activities into your regular routine. The benefit and impact on how you are feeling is so important, especially while we are all dealing with our very unpredictable situation. Each one of these activities is a way to take your mind off your stress and worry, momentarily. Your sense of well-being and resilience will grow stronger and you will feel healthier and more in control.
Be well and take care of you and your loved ones!
John E. Schmidt, PhD
Walter Reed National Military Medical Center