ONE SMALL THING
Your Daily Suggestion for Mindfulness, Self-Care, and Healing
A PRACTICE IN MINDFULNESS
In grief, our our pain can be overwhelming. Many of us struggle with anxiety and despair. Having "grounding techniques" can be essential, especially as we try to navigate the early days of our grief. Doing small things mindfully, and fully focusing our attention on small actions can be huge in giving us moments of reprieve from our pain and helping to get through intense bursts of grief.
Today's suggestion: choose a lotion or hand soap. Focus on feeling your hands rubbing against each other. Bring your hands near your face. Is there a scent? Inhale deeply. Watch your hands working together, and then close your eyes and focus on the sensation of rubbing one finger at a time. Rub your palms against each other. If you find that your attention wanders, gently bring it back to the sensation of your hands rubbing together. Continue to breathe deeply.
Find a comfortable seat. Close your eyes. Take several deep breaths, and as you do, let your attention wander from the top of your head all the way down to your toes. Continue to breathe and scan your body in this way. Notice any places of tension or pain, perhaps stretching or rubbing those places as you continue to take deep breaths.
Prepare yourself a drink you enjoy, whether it be a hot coffee or tea, or even just a cup of juice or ice water. Select your favorite mug or glass. Place your hands on the outside and feel the temperature against your skin. Raise the glass to your face and inhale, focusing on the scent of your drink. Take a first small sip and focus the the change of temperature in your mouth and the way the flavor spreads across your tongue. Now focus on the sensation of swallowing, and how the liquid soothes your throat. Try to continue savoring your drink in this way, taking your time, until your cup is empty.
CREATING A BLUEPRINT
Grief turns your world upside-down. You may find that it is hard to focus, or to motivate yourself to do anything. Days can blur together and anything resembling a routine or normalcy goes out the window. And yet, having some consistency to our days can provide healthy structure and mental anchoring. This is especially important right now, as many of us are out of work and stuck at home.
Today, choose one small thing that you can schedule into your day – preferably something you will enjoy and look forward to! Maybe it’s a 10 a.m. coffee break, or a walk at 5 p.m. Perhaps you begin your day with 20 minutes of journaling, or end it with a gentle stretching routine. Whatever you choose is fine – the important thing is to select an activity and a time and to stick to it.
A WORK OF ART
Creative activities are good for your mind and emotions, and can be particularly grounding - or cathartic - when you are grieving.
Today, spend at least five minutes exploring a visual creative outlet. Draw or doodle, use a coloring book (there are some great coloring apps online), paint, make a collage, or whatever else might appeal most to you. For today, try to make it emotionally neutral. (For instance, something like "springtime" could be today's simple inspiration.) Maybe you will even find that when the five minutes is up you want to continue doing it!
One of the most important self-care habits is learning to say "no" to the things that don't serve us, whether it be unbalanced relationships or toxic habits.
Today, say "no" to something. Maybe it's returning that phone call that you simply don't have the bandwidth for. Maybe it's the daunting task that will deplete energy that could be spent on doing something restorative. For today, just say "no."
If you are able, get outside and walk. It can be merely a walk around the block, or to the mailbox and back. The distance doesn't matter as much as the mindset.
As you walk try to use as many of your senses as you can. Look around you and note things budding and blooming. What can you smell? What do you hear? Feel the breeze and sunlight on your face. Feel your feet connecting to the ground.
If you are unable to walk, a similar practice can be done by sitting outside, or even sitting by a window.
When you feel your mind start to wander, try to gently bring your attention back to the world around you, and what you are seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling.
The words "I love you" can be so powerful - both to hear and to say.
Today, reach out and tell someone you love them. Maybe it is another grieving person you need to say it to (see today's journaling prompt), maybe it's someone who has been there for you through your pain, or, maybe, it's someone to whom you simply haven't said those words in a long time.
A NOURISHING MEAL
When we are grieving and in pain it is easy for basic self-care to go out the window; and yet, some of the most essential things we can do for ourselves in early grief are the most simple: drinking enough water, getting rest, taking prescribed medications, gentle exercise/movement, and eating regularly and healthily.
Although these things are "simple" that doesn't mean that they're easy - especially when it feels like we're struggling just to take our next breath.
Today, make yourself a nourishing meal (major bonus points for getting in three!), or even just a healthy snack. Try not to eat mindlessly, but to take time to savor it. It might sound small and silly, but caring for your physical body can have a huge impact on your mental and emotional health.
Spending time focusing on the things for which we are grateful can provide a powerful reprieve from the darkness of our grief. Even when we are not grieving, but otherwise going through a difficult period in which we are struggling to see brightness in our lives, taking time to reflect on the things for which we are grateful can be a helpful practice in trying to create equilibrium.
Today, make a list of the things for which you are grateful. Try to come up with at least five. One item might be a person who has supported you in your grief, or maybe it's something as simple as the sun being out today, or the daffodils blooming in your yard. Big or small, whatever you come up with, take a minute to focus on those things and to say a quiet "thank you" for each one.
MOVE YOUR BODY
If you're like us, you probably have spent a lot of time in one place over the past few weeks. Today, find a way to get moving. Maybe you put on some music and dance. Maybe there's an online yoga video that appeals to you. Perhaps, if you are able, taking a walk is a good option. Or maybe some gentle stretching is what feels most accessible to you.
Whatever you choose, try to do it mindfully, and with focused awareness and gratitude for what your body is able to do - no matter what that is.
Our thoughts are powerful. Our thoughts are so powerful, in fact, that they can actually change our brains. Habitual thoughts create what are called "neural pathways." The more we have a thought, the deeper that neural pathway becomes, and the more central that thought becomes to our self-concept and worldview.
For instance, if we have a repeated thought that "people are jerks," or "I am always messing things up," it can become really difficult to trust people or to give yourself credit for your achievements.
Fortunately, we can create new neural pathways. It takes practice and intention, and it might even feel like you are lying to yourself when you first begin, but in time, a mantra - or positive phrase or statement - can create a new neural pathway, and truly can change the way you see yourself and the world around you.
Today, identify a mantra that reflects what you want to see in your life. Maybe it's "I am strong and brave," or "I am grateful for everything I have," or "I am doing my best, and that's enough." Whatever you choose, try to say it to yourself throughout the day; if you say it enough, you will come to believe it's true - and it will be.
THE ART OF DOING NOTHING
Most of us put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be productive. Many of us feel guilty when we think we are "being lazy" or not accomplishing enough. However, periods of rest are essential to well-being, and to healing - especially when we are grieving. Indeed, rest is its own kind of productivity.
Today, give yourself permission to do nothing. This doesn't need to be an all-day commitment - even setting aside a half an hour is sufficient. Maybe your "doing nothing" looks like just sitting or lying down somewhere. Maybe it looks more like reading, listening to music, or watching TV. The point is to give yourself permission to take a break from your to-do list. If you feel any pangs of guilt, remind yourself that it's okay to rest, and that you are actually doing something: you are taking care of yourself.
THE HEALING POWER OF WATER
Water is life-giving. Our bodies and planet are largely made of it, and it has been recognized for its healing properties for centuries. The healing properties of water can revive your body, increase your circulation, relieve aches and pains, relax muscles, and revive you. Baths in particular can actually improve heart health, encourage better sleep, increase immunity, and even balance hormones!
Today, treat yourself to a leisurely bath or shower. Perhaps, if you are taking a bath, add Epsom salts or essential oils. Or, if you are showering, take a few extra minutes to massage your scalp with your shampoo. Pay attention to the way the water feels on your skin. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and visualize your body soaking up the radical healing power of water.
In grief, we often feel very alone. Sometimes this is because we feel that people don't understand or care about what we're going through. Sometimes we don't want to burden people. Sometimes it's because the person we are grieving was the one we spent the majority of our time with, or was our greatest support. And if you are grieving now, perhaps it's because you truly are (physically) alone.
Today, identify a way to connect. It could be calling or texting a loved one. Or perhaps, finding a grief support group (check out our calendar for upcoming virtual support groups), posting in a grief support forum (we have one on this site), or contacting a grief counselor. Even posting on social media can be a way to feel connected. Reaching out today doesn't have to be about your grief - the point of this is to realize that you are not alone.
MUSIC AS MEDICINE
Music can elevate mood, stimulate memory, ease anxiety, improve cognition, and even lower our blood pressure.
Today, listen to your favorite song. Really listen. Try to do nothing else but hear the music. Move your body gently if that feels right, take deep breaths, but when you feel your attention wander, bring it back to the rhythm and melody.
MAKE YOUR BED
Okay, you might be thinking "How is making my bed an act of self-care?" but hear us out: the simple act of making your bed can set the tone for your entire day.
It might be a small accomplishment, but just making your bed can give you a sense of pride and empower you to feel that there are other things that you can achieve throughout the rest of your day.
Making your bed can actually lower stress and improve mood, according to several studies. It instantly makes the room you spend about a third of your life in look more organized and under control, and, by extension, help can you feel more organized and in control.
GET RID OF THE GNAT
Just like an obnoxious gnat can keep us from enjoying a beautiful sunset or summer afternoon, small, tedious tasks can take up mental real estate that can keep us from fully enjoying our day.
Today, identify something you've been putting off - one of the "gnats" that's been irking you. Maybe it's a light bulb that needs to be changed, or a drawer or closet door that's come off its tracks, or a pile of laundry that needs folding.
When you're finished, take a minute to praise and reward yourself for your accomplishment. You may be surprised by just how much that gnat has been nagging you.
THE SOUNDS OF NATURE
There is a wonderful quote from C.S. Lewis' book, A Grief Observed: "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid." Can you relate to this? Many of us, when grieving, experience fear-like sensations, or actual fear. Anxiety, restlessness, and even panic attacks are common, especially in the early days of grief - and these sensations are really hard to manage.
A recent study found that "listening to 'natural sounds' (such as the burbling of a brook or the wind in the trees) affects the bodily systems that control the flight-or-fright and rest-digest autonomic nervous systems, with associated effects in the resting activity of the brain." In other words, listening to nature can be a powerful antidote to anxiety and soothe these fear-like feelings common to grief.
Today, listen to the sounds of nature. Opening a window, or walking outside you might hear birdsong or the patter of rain. Or, there are free apps, such as Naturespace, that allow you to choose your favorite sounds from nature. Close your eyes, listen, breathe deeply.
YOUR INNER CHILD
Children have the miraculous ability to become completely absorbed in what they're doing. It's only as we grow older that the chatter of our egos and worries and endless to-do lists start creeping in to become perpetual invaders that steal joy and get in the way of being fully present in whatever we are doing, often even when we are doing the things that we like and wish to become fully absorbed in!
Cultivating mindfulness is one way that we can get closer to our "inner child," but today we encourage you to do this in a very literal way. What was your favorite thing to do when you were a child? Is there a way you can do that today, or do a modification of that activity? You may feel silly at first, but do your best to let go of the "adult voice" that tells you that you should be doing anything other than what you are. And remember, just like any other mindfulness activity, this might take some practice, so be gentle with yourself.
All of us appreciate a colorful sunset or majestic panoramic view. We are easily impressed by the glory of nature from a macro perspective, but how often do we marvel at it from a micro perspective? Getting intimate with nature is a great mindfulness exercise.
Today, find something in nature to really examine. Perhaps you find a flower as you walk, or a leaf or blade of grass in your yard, or you can even do this with a house plant. Whatever you choose, spend time to really examine it. What undertones of color do you see? If you hold it up, does light come through it? Are there veins, or bumps? How does it feel? Does it have a smell? If your attention wanders, gently bring it back to your observation. This is a great exercise to do anytime you feel anxious or overwhelmed by your thoughts.
Our emotions greatly impact our bodies. When we are grieving, or sad or stressed in general, this is especially true. You may find that your shoulders are often tight and that you are unconsciously bunching them up toward your ears, many suffer from lower back pain, and women especially may feel soreness in their hips.
Stretching is one of the most effective things we can do to address the ramifications of emotions on the body. You don't need to be an athlete or yogi to benefit from stretching. There are a number of free videos that you can find online for gentle yoga or stretching, or if you are physically limited, you may want to try a seated chair stretching routine - but you can just close your eyes to feel where there is tension and stretch into those places. Don't forget to breathe...
Lately, many of us have been spending a lot of time with electronics. Which is understandable - if we're (mostly) stuck at home, and our access to the things we would often turn to for help coping with powerful emotions or for healthy distraction is limited, spending time binge-watching Netflix or scrolling through Facebook may feel like all that's available to us.
However, spending too much time "plugged-in" ultimately doesn't make us feel very good: the blue light emitted from digital device screens can interrupt our sleep cycles, social media often sparks negative emotions, and, ultimately, too much screen-time lowers our mood and zaps our energy - energy that could be channeled into more productive and self-caring activities.
Today, do a "digital detox." Try to check your phone only after mealtimes, turn off the TV (or limit yourself to one show or movie), and take the day off from social media. It will all be there tomorrow; and you may be surprised by what you discover to do today.
A MINDFUL MEAL
We've written before about how powerful mindfulness can be in our lives, and especially when we are grieving and under stress. One of the things that many of us are guilty of doing mindlessly is eating.
Today, choose at least one meal or snack to use as a mindfulness practice. As you prepare your food, listen to the sounds as you chop vegetables, or watch the color change as you cook your food in the pan. Notice the aromas.
As you eat, take small bites and chew thoroughly, noticing the different flavors and mouthfeel of your food. Savor each bite and try to listen when your stomach is saying it's full. If it feels right, perhaps take a moment to sit in gratitude for the nourishment to your body.
Deep breathing is powerful. In addition to numerous physical benefits, it also helps to reduce anxiety and increase a sense of calm. This is one of the reasons why breath work is the cornerstone of practices like meditation and yoga - and also why it can be so helpful in soothing the difficult and unpredictable emotions of grief.
Square breathing is a great introduction to breath work and can be done at any time, and in any place: you simply inhale to the count of four, hold for the count of four, exhale for four, hold your exhale for four, and repeat. If four feels like to little or too much, you can choose another number that feels right for your body.
To try this, find a comfortable seat, gently close your eyes, and simply count and breathe. Once you have a comfortable rhythm, you may consider adding a mantra like; "(Inhale) I am strong, (exhale) I am calm." Recall this exercise the next time you feel anxious, frightened, or overwhelmed.
READ FOR PLEASURE
Today read something pleasurable - so, not the news, or your insurance policy. It can be anything: maybe there's novel that's been gathering dust on your shelf, or maybe a poem or two is all you have the bandwidth for today, and that's okay.
We also know that reading can be, well, challenging when you're grieving. Your brain kind of ping-pongs everywhere and you find yourself having to reread the the same paragraph over and over again. Try to be patient with yourself - your attention-span will return as you heal. In the meantime, there are TONS of books now available on tape or online, and lots of great podcasts to explore.
Find something that resonates with you today, and give yourself permission to relax and enjoy.
You probably already know that exposure to sunlight can elevate your mood and encourage your body's production of Vitamin D. Sunlight boosts our sense of well-being because it increases the brain's release of the feel-good hormone serotonin, while Vitamin D improves neuromuscular and immune system functioning. Exposure to sunlight can also help to regulate your body's internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep at night.
We all know that grief dramatically impacts our mood, but it also affects our immune system, and definitely can cause insomnia and other sleep disturbances - so a little sunshine can be a powerful benefit to us in times of grief!
Today, find a way to get a little sun. Maybe you have a sunny spot on your porch or patio, or somewhere pleasant to sit in your yard, but you may even just find a patch of sunlight in your home or next to a bright window. Close your eyes and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Offer up gratitude for the sense of comfort and wellness sunlight can bring. And if you're going to spend more than a few minutes soaking up the rays, don't forget sunscreen!
This is a simple mindfulness exercise: fire meditation. Of course this can be done with an actual fire, but for this you can simply light a candle or a stick or incense.
Place it a comfortable distance away from you. Gently rest your gaze upon the flame or ember. Enjoy whatever scent is filling the air as it burns. As you breathe deeply, try to keep your focus on these two things only: the flame/ember and the scent. When thoughts come up, gently return your attention to your fire meditation.
Silence can be frightening, especially when we are grieving and in emotional distress. In silence the feelings and thoughts and memories from which we often try to distract ourselves start shoving their way into focus. We may try to prevent this from happening by talking, working, listening to music, watching television, or seeking out any other available means of diversion.
Yet silence is good for our hearts and minds and can even help to reduce ours bodies' levels of cortisol and adrenaline... but let's be honest: when we are bereaved and in the absence of diversion, our grief is going to ask for our attention, and we need to listen to that.
Today, try to spend at least ten minutes with no sound and no other distraction. If things feel too intense take deep breaths.
Silence might invite calm or crying, depending on where you are today. Either way, try to trust that it is your wisest and deepest self telling you what you need - and that no matter the elicited response it is a genuine act of loving self-care.
A BLESSING FOR YOURSELF
We've talked on here before about how grief can affect self-esteem, but the truth is that most of us could stand to be a little bit kinder to ourselves, grieving or not. The way we talk to ourselves matters and can have big effects on the way we see ourselves and the world around us - as well as faith in our ability to heal from grief.
Today choose kind words to say to yourself. Simple choices include: "May I be well," "May I feel peace," and "I am worthy of joy and love," but it can be whatever feels right to you. Try "blessing" yourself with these words throughout your day - you may be surprised by the way they impact your mood and outlook.
The term "al fresco" comes from Italian and loosely means "in the open air." We most often hear the term used to refer to dining outdoors - as in, "eating al fresco."
In previous posts we've discussed some of the benefits of spending time outside in general, and all of these benefits apply to enjoying a meal out-of-doors as well, but dining al fresco has been shown to have specific benefits, such as increasing our ability to perceive subtle flavors in our food, encouraging mindful eating, and promoting a sense of well-being.
Today, eat a meal al fresco (coffee counts!). If you don't have access to a comfortable outdoor space where you can eat, consider trying to find a place near to an open window. Take time between bites to admire the view and enjoy the fresh air.
When all else feels outside of control, identifying the things we can control can help us create comfort and balance amidst the chaos.
Sleep is one of the most basic human needs and one that is often significantly disrupted during grief. Consider creating a bed-time routine to encourage a good night rest. We suggest avoiding electronics for 2 hours prior to bed, reading something soothing, enjoying a hot cup of chamomile tea, and/or adding lavender oil to your pillow to promote restful sleep.
Find something that is pleasing and comforting to touch. Maybe it's a soft knit blanket, or a cashmere sweater, or a silky pillowcase, or even the fur of your pet. Focus on the sensation of interacting with this texture for at least 30 seconds. Perhaps alternate between feeling it with your fingertips and the back of your hand, or even touching it to your face.
Create a personal mantra and sit for 30 seconds in a comfortable position with your eyes closed slowly repeating it. Your mantra can be original, or a favorite word, phrase, prayer, or fragment of a poem. Choose something uplifting that inspires you and engages your heart. Next time try for 1 minute, then maybe 5, etc.
Research supports the healing qualities of giving back. It has been found that those that participate in altruistic behaviors, or selfless giving, often enjoy better sense of well-being, happiness, health, and longevity. Additionally, the act of volunteering oneself can contribute to a greater sense of interconnectedness, combating feelings of isolation that often persist in grief.
Consider volunteering your time and skills at an organization whose mission you support. This could be as simple as donating food to your local food bank or volunteering your time at a shelter. What are some of the ways that you can give back or support others right now?
Our sense of smell is deeply tied to pleasure, comfort, and memory. Some scents can take us back to our grandmother's kitchen, our first kiss, or our best vacation; while others help to invigorate us, soothe us, or even help us fall asleep.
Today find something with a scent that you enjoy. Perhaps you have some essential oils, or cologne or perfume. Maybe it's the vanilla extract in your kitchen cabinet or the cilantro in your refrigerator; or maybe a flower or the earth in your yard. Whatever you choose, take a few moments to sit in quiet and stillness. Close your eyes and inhale the scent. How does it make you feel? Try to bring your awareness back to the nuances of the odor as you continue to breathe deeply.
Today, if weather permits, go outside to watch the sunset. (If you're more of a morning person, you can do this with the sunrise instead.)
Notice how the colors change intensity as they move away from the sun. Notice the way the light looks on the horizon. Are there clouds? What hues do you see in them? Try to focus on the image before you, gently letting any thoughts pass. Breathe deeply; soak it in.
Consider creating an "image diary" in which you select an image from a magazine each day. Select whichever image most resonates with you, your feelings, and your grief in that moment. After some time, if you reflect back on the images, you may be surprised by the story they tell.