Special Event: An Afternoon of Wellness

Have you been feeling tired and worn out from making phone calls, writing letters and going to marches? You are not alone! Last Sunday, STAND CNJ invited speakers Jasmine Ueng-McHale and Stefanie Lachenauer to discuss the importance of self-care for concerned citizens.

Jasmine Ueng-McHale, and our “brick road”

“Many of us…have felt called to show up in our communities in a new way” since 2016, says, Ueng-McHale, a psychologist who practices in Princeton and Pennington. To commemorate all this new activity, Ueng-McHale guided participants to create a “brick road” of notecards describing every action they had taken in the last 2 years. An impressive array of civic engagement soon made its way across the floor: making phone calls, going to marches, attending town halls, canvassing for candidates, donating money, meeting with elected officials, researching legislation, learning about important issues at STAND CNJ meetings! While these new experiences of engagement have been exciting and meaningful, we’re also encountering new stressors, says Ueng-McHale: revved up news cycles, friends and family who don’t seem to care, and the feeling that we are “surrounded by messages that nothing matters…people don’t matter, facts don’t matter.” With all this activity and frustration, we risk burning out if we don’t remember self-care.

Practicing self-care does not come easy to most of us. In our culture, “we don’t have a norm of self-care. We have a norm of achieving and doing. We might want to question that,” suggested Ueng-McHale. We also tend to think that self-care is not only separate from the work we want to do in the world, but that the time we spend taking care of ourselves is a drain on how much of this work we can do. Ueng-McHale urges us to stop seeing our own wholeness as separate from the world’s wholeness; in fact, you take care of both yourself and the world when you leave time for self-care. She recommends that we remind ourselves of this important message: “Even when there’s so much work to be done in the world, your well-being is so important.”

How can we preserve that well-being? According to Ueng-McHale, we need to find self-care practices that incorporate one or more of the following activities: maintaining connections and relationships; being outside in nature; creating moments for stillness and reflection; playing and laughing; creating. It can also be helpful to find a friend who’d like to do these activities with you.

Stefanie Lachenauer

Practicing mindfulness is a perfect example of an effective self-care technique. Stefanie Lachenauer, a local teacher with the Healthy Mind Healthy Body Initiative who combines instruction in active citizenship and mindfulness in her work, provided a mindfulness tutorial for attendees. It’s a simple technique – “paying attention on purpose” – that has deep benefits. Lachenauer uses the analogy of a glitter jar to explain how mindfulness works and how it helps. As a jar is shaken up, glitter floats all around, making it hard to see through the water, just like our thoughts when we are agitated and busy. As we calm ourselves and still our minds, our thoughts slowly settle, allowing us to see clearly, just as glitter in a still bottle slowly floats to the bottom of the bottle, leaving clear water.

Lachenauer recommends finding a comfortable spot in your home where you can sit undisturbed. Start with just 5 minutes of mindfulness. You can also practice mindfulness in other situations, like waiting in line. Sunday’s attendees had the chance to practice a variety of mindfulness exercises that can be used at home in your own practice too:

  • Listening to all the sounds you can hear. Start with the sounds you can hear from far away, then the sounds you can hear in the room, then the sounds you can hear inside your own body.
  • Heart and Belly Breathing meditation. Put one hand over your heart and another over your belly. As you breathe pay attention to the movements of your chest and belly. Think of the air you inhale filling your chest and belly. Think of the air you exhale emptying your belly and chest.
  • Shades of a Color Game. Look around the room and count how many shades of a particular color you can find.
  • The Body Scan Exercise. Direct your attention to the sensation in your toes. Then your feet. Then your ankles. Then your calves, and so on. Work your way slowly up to the top of your body.

As we approach the crucial 2018 mid-term elections, its more important than ever to keep ourselves healthy. Remember to take care of yourself, so that you can help take care of your community in the days ahead!

If you missed our Afternoon of Wellness, you can watch the FB Live recording here.