Mental Body Scans: The Self-Care Tool We Should All Be Using
Words: Anthonia Akitunde
Feeling stressed? Taking the time to address and adjust how your body feels can help.
A Month of Mindfulness is a 30-day program Aetna created to help people experience how mindfulness reduces stress and boosts health.
I'm 11 days in, and I've definitely noticed a difference in how I process stress. For one, I know what my triggers are now: social media, full email inboxes, and noisy surroundings, just to name a few.
Additionally, once I decided to stop viewing stress as this massive, uncontrollable force that was happening to me, I began to understand that the tsunami I was imagining was actually a hodgepodge of small, manageable things I had let pile up to the point of insanity. Practicing mindfulness means I now know what sets me off and can keep things from spiraling out of control—a tactic I hadn't considered in 2015 (a.k.a. one of the most stressful years of my life).
Full-time freelancing while figuring out how to turn my passion into a business is full of stress landmines: Trying to keep up with the content production schedule of websites with teams and budgets beyond my grasp. (Bam!) An email from a client saying the lucrative work they'd needed my help on would actually be done in-house. (Boom!) Those "net-30" invoices that get paid out more like 45 days later, and rent is due today. (Kablooey!)
Stress, no matter where it stems from, can wreak havoc on your mental and physical well-being. During one of my lower periods last year, when I was teetering on the edge of Black Woman Depression (you know, the "it's not really depression because Black women aren't allowed to be depressed, but it's very obviously depression" depression), I felt my entire body shut down. It was like watching a city go through a rolling blackout, with the lights going off neighborhood by neighborhood until there was nothing but darkness. What I was quick to write off as laziness was actually a full-body response to months and months of built-up stress. Enough was enough, and my body was letting me know it.
I never want to feel that out of control and locked up inside of my body again. And I think this tip from Aetna will go a long way in making sure I incorporate mindfulness in a way that's so accessible, it can start to feel like second nature:
2. Check in with your body.
How long does it take to do a quick energy tune up? About as long as it’ll take to read through this tip.
Give yourself five minutes. Begin with your feet. Notice how your toes feel in your shoes. Slowly move your awareness up through your body, checking in with each part. Your legs. Your torso. Your head. Notice any sensations in the body one part at a time. You might be surprised at what you learn and this will help you stay in tune with your body.
Doing the body scan was a little harder than the previous breathing exercise. For some reason, I had a hard time focusing on one body part at a time, and also going slowly. This exercise made me realize that I'm not very aware of my body as anything more than what gets me from point A to point B, and being X pounds shy of a goal weight. I think bringing this type of awareness about how our bodies actually feel may be helpful in processing both the physical and mental effects stress can have on us.
Taking a few moments to really connect with our bodies can also help us recalibrate and get back on track when confronted with one of our stress triggers. Sometimes when I’m stressed out, it can feel like my entire day has been derailed. By taking the time to do this full-body scan, I can address the feelings before they accumulate over the day or week or month—and turn into a tsunami or rolling blackout or any other catastrophic metaphor. There's work to be done, and living, too. We can't afford to spend so much time feeling hemmed in by stress.
How do you practice self-care? Tell us in the comments.
Anthonia Akitunde is the founder of mater mea.
This post was sponsored by Aetna, who believes health is about the body and the mind. Stress can affect emotional and physical health, and reducing stress can boost wellbeing. As part of their #Mindful30 challenge, the views and opinions expressed in my posts on the topic of mindfulness are my own, not Aetna’s. To learn more about mindfulness, visit aetnamindfulness.com.