By Miranda Massie on September 13, 2016
My two-week personal meditation challenge got off to a great start last month: on day 1, I forgot to meditate.
I know that no one’s perfect, but I can’t say that I was feeling particularly confident about my prospects when I couldn’t even remember to start.
This summer was a difficult one for me. I lost a very dear loved one after a year-long battle with cancer. The grief I felt, not only in grappling with the diagnosis but after his passing, was suffocating. I came face to face with aspects of myself that I never knew existed, and my normally joyful heart was filled with anger and pain. After the difficult realization that denial was not going to get me through, I looked for other (positive) coping mechanisms, one of which was meditation.
So here I was, embarking on a two-week challenge with the goal of meditating for 5-10 minutes each day, hoping that it would help me.
I picked a free app called Stop, Breathe & Think. It’s very simple and offers meditation lessons, a variety of meditations to choose from, and a progress tracker. I like it because you can chose the theme of your guided meditation (falling asleep, engaging your senses, change, kindness) and each one ranges between 4 and 7 minutes. Easy, right?
Day 2…I forgot again.
At this point, I could see the humour in my situation: I was not even mindful enough to remember to complete my daily meditation. But then, most mindfulness and meditation practices encourage you to accept your faults and foibles and to try again. So I did.
I managed to complete 6 out of the 14 days of formal meditation, which is not even a passing grade, but I learned to laugh at myself without judging, for which I give myself an A+.
I know that meditation is not a cure-all, but it had the ability to help soften the hard edges that life threw at me, if by no other way than strengthening my resolve while softening the soul.
It was challenging to get into a habit of daily meditation, particularly because my schedule varies so much each day. After week 1, I started to set reminders in my calendar, which helped.
I also noticed that once I was doing it, though sporadically, that I started to incorporate more informal ways of meditation and mindfulness into my day such as deep breathing, taking five, and being more present in my surroundings.
This month, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and your colleagues. September can be a busy and stressful time on campus and we can sometimes forget to be patient, kind, and forgiving.
And if meditation and mindfulness isn’t for you, I hope that you discover coping strategies that will bring you strength throughout the year. Feel free to share some of your favourite strategies below.
All my best,
By Guest Contributor on September 9, 2014
Guest Contribution from Dr. Thara Vayali
Stress burnout occurs when coping mechanisms have been tapped for too long or when rejuvenating resources are lacking. We often react by either collapsing with fatigue on downtime, or else veering away from challenging situations. “Why was I able to handle the same stressors X years ago?” or “Why is this so difficult for me, and not X?” These are often the questions that arise when we are in burnout mode. The resilient nature we may have had earlier in life wanes as we unconsciously slide into lifestyle habits and thought patterns over time. In the classic work-life-play balance, we sometimes forget to tend to what makes us resilient.
Simply put, resilience is the ability to bounce back from damaging or stressful situations. Resilience is not a trait, it is the culmination of four habits; each part equally important:
- Sense of Purpose;
- Social Support; and
There is a focus in popular health media on such topics as finding your purpose/passion, discovering the purpose of your life, and uncovering the true meaning of your life. What I am speaking to is distinct from these attempts at purpose building. Putting time and energy toward a singular pressure of THE, YOUR or TRUE purpose is overwhelming, alienating and occasionally misguided. Though it is valuable to sit with your personal philosophy and reflect on humanity’s place in the universe, it is not efficient resilience training.
The fundamental search for resilience is not intended to send anyone into an existential crisis. A sense of purpose within a resilience framework has to do with:
Dropping it: Let go of the idea that there is a better choice and begin to see choices as consequences that we are either willing to work with, or not.
Making it up: Create personalized (as opposed to absolute) reasons for likes/dislikes, actions/inactions, values/ethics.
Working it out: Start with lightweight, high repetitions.Exercise the muscle of self-governance and personal reasoning when making decisions in daily life.
Beneath these actions there are elements of reflection as to why you get up in the morning; beyond finances, beyond obligations, beyond achievement – what drives you? Yes, this is the bigger question – but we do not need to dwell or even search there. It serves us better to focus on accepting and being secure with why & how we’ve chosen the life we already have, and changing it if we choose to.
The Stability Stickie Exercise (10 mins):
This is a what, when, where, why, how activity.
Preparing for your next day each evening, grab a stickie note (or any small piece of paper) and use this as a representation for your sense of purpose for your next 24 hours. It is important to remember, this is not a “To-Do” list for the day. It is a Stability Stickie – a note that reminds you what is important to you. It will change every evening.
It bears repeating that this exercise is not to carve out daily affirmations nor to wonder if there were some absolute reason you exist, but to help you cultivate the ability to wake up each morning and have choice and meaning surrounding your actions.
Choose three main objectives for the next day – Clear and succinct, achievable within the day and relevant to your day’s requirements.
It may be time-engulfing productivity based goals, or it could be something as simple as eat breakfast, read the paper, walk to the beach. Either of these options could exist on a task-oriented or wide-open day. It is based on what you deem to be personally valuable on that day.
What is key here is that your stickie has three achievable goals; No more, no less. Often careers or a course of study require more than three tasks in a day; or days off slip away without feeling rejuvenating. To balance the swinging pendulum of overworked to apathetic, what I recommend is to allow “To-Do” lists to exist elsewhere, as well as putting purposeful energy into choosing personal goals on “task-less” days.
In essence, the Stability Stickie is today’s “Sense-of-Purpose” list. On a “Sense-of-Purpose” list, too many tasks will overwhelm, and too few will foster aimlessness. The goal is to allow you to create meaning each day anew and feel a sense of commitment to achieving those personally chosen goals. Don’t cloud your personal choices with excess to-do’s or dismiss the simpler activities. There is no one judging this list, so pick whichever three achievable goals that are important for you, on that particular day.
The rest of the activity is to further clarify details to help you in your day’s purpose. If the Stability Stickie is new to you, making sure to clarify these details is a crucial part of finding a sense of purpose and stability.
When: When will I put energy toward that objective in the day?
Where: What location will I be in when accomplishing this goal?
Why: What category of life does this goal fall into? What part of your life are you putting energy toward?
How: Does this goal require more time or energy? Reflection or action? Self-directed or interaction with others? Creative or methodical?
Take this list with you everywhere and cross your three goals off within the next 24 hours. At the end of your day, throw the list away. Let it go.
This is for the days when there is so much to do that it feels like nothing gets done. This is for the days when you are so exhausted that you can’t get out of bed. This is for the days in between.
In all cases, the Stability Stickie is a beacon, a guiding light, a preventative habit you can build, so that each day you wake up with a sustainable drive. Resilience is built slowly in complementary layers of strength. Train your body and mind to harness choice whenever possible and accept the consequences of self-governance. Build a strong resilient nature with confidence, support and a sense of purpose.
Previously, we had the expertise of Dr. Geoffrey Soloway as the author of our Mindful Moments column. This new column continues to explore mindfulness through the lens of a new guest contributor, Dr. Thara Vayali.
Thara Vayali is a Naturopathic Doctor & Yoga Teacher in Vancouver and is also a UBC alumnus. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones, and pain-free bodies. She is the creator of Change Natural Medicine: Budget conscious, membership based health consulting.
By Miranda Massie on September 3, 2013
Our long time readers may notice that our newsletter looks a bit different this month. Our Health Promotions team has been hard at work this summer renewing and refreshing the content and design. We feel that it is important for this newsletter to grow and develop in order to continue to bring the most up-to-date, relevant and accurate health information to UBC staff and faculty.
Summer is typically a quieter time for those of us working on campus; however, this summer has gone by in a flash and I expect things to continue picking up as September begins.
In working to put together this newsletter, and in planning our staff and faculty programming for the year, we thought it was a good reminder to ourselves to prepare for what awaits as the new school year begins. As staff and faculty on campus, we work daily to support others and to facilitate learning, teaching, administration, maintenance and more. However, we can be of no help to others if we do not first look after ourselves.
For a lot of us whose workload will increase this week with the influx of energetic students on campus, it might be valuable to put some healthy habits into practice before our work gets too hectic. Building up our capacity for resiliency before we experience stress can enable us to manage our stressors in more productive and successful ways.
Factors involved in building resiliency and managing stress: *
Appraisal of the situation: How we perceive a stressful situation and how well prepared we are for the situation will affect how well we deal with stress. Managing our thoughts and preparing for potential stress leads to more successful coping.
Acting vs. Reacting: Being proactive in managing stress leads to more resiliency in difficult situations. Levels of stress can increase if we are consistently reacting instead of acting proactively.
Normalizing challenges: It is normal for everyone to experience challenges; working to overcome these challenges can build self-esteem and self-efficacy. This increase in self-confidence will serve as a protective factor when faced with future stressors.
Recently, the Canadian Mental Health Association released a free e-course aimed at helping people better recognize signs of stress in themselves and others, and to provide strategies to address and cope with stress in the workplace. This quick course is a great resource that can serve as a way of preparing for the school year ahead.
Seeking out support through relationships and resources is also another great option for managing stress. UBC has a wealth of support for staff and faculty on campus and in the community.
Wishing everyone a healthy and happy September!
*Rutter, Michael. (1985). Resilience in the face of adversity: Protective factors and resistance to psychiatric disorder. British Journal of Psychiatry, 147: 598-611.
Steinhardt, M., & Dolbier, C. (2010). Evaluation of a Resilience Intervention to Enhance Coping Strategies and Protective Factors and Decrease Symptomatology. Journal of American College Health, 56:4, 445-453.