Evolving Through Mindfulness, Anne Costello

Research carried out in recent years suggests that stress can have a profound affect on our health, whether we realise it or not.  The impact of stress can manifest in many forms – from headaches and low mood, to insomnia and reduced concentration. It can effect each of us in its own way, and though it may seem minor at the start, can grow to dominate our lives. From my own personal experience, stress left unchecked can contribute to the most serious health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and TIAs (Trans Ischaemic Attack or Mini Stroke).

The purpose of sharing my experience of relocating my family from Boston to Belfast in 1999, with my husband Frank and the story that ensued, is in the hopes that my story will help others to be able to cope in times of stress.  The lessons to be learnt are:

1. Don’t try to be a martyr – you will burn out

2. Mindfulness really works – I’ve tips for a healthier you

Moving from Boston to Belfast

The reason for moving back home from Boston, where we had lived for 15 years, was to be near my dear ageing mother and my siblings, and have our children close to their cousins in County Clare.  These all seemed like great reasons to make that transatlantic flight, so we didn’t consider other issues like schooling or housing – until we got here!  Little did I know about the “eleven plus” exam when my family and I arrived in Belfast in the summer of 1999.  We had arranged to have our children enrolled in the local Primary school and my eldest boy went into p7.  His two brothers aged 7 and three entered p4 and nursery school where we came up against issues with things like formal writing, since formal writing only begins at the age of 7 in the American school system.   The boys, like us, had no choice but to adjust, and within three months they had lost their American twang and had seriously good Belfast accents!  I am sure you have heard of the phrase “new house, new baby” well, number 4 was already on the way and a big surprise for us all!!

Horrors of 2001

I had a plan to start back into my nursing career as a public health nurse, but I put this on hold until after the arrival of our baby boy in March and we got settled in the house and and into the community.  My husband who is a very positive high energy man was settling into his new job when he found blood in the toilet.  As his best friend had just been diagnosed with bowel cancer,  I advised him to act immediately. To our horror Frank was diagnosed with bowel cancer with a 50/50 chance of survival.

Looking back now, those early years were a bit of a blur, full of worry and unbelievable stress. I underestimated the loss of the “support group” having no relatives in Belfast and only knowing my immediate neighbours to say hello to on the street.  I remember going over to my neighbour who I barely knew but who is now a dear friend the day I got the bad news about Frank, and she lovingly giving me a hot water bottle, rescue remedy, wrapping me up in a blanket and putting me on her rocking chair. I stayed there, rocking over and back like a baby, crying and sobbing until I eventually fell asleep in her kitchen.

Survival and More Grief

That was 2001, Frank survived the cancer, but it returned in 2003 to his thyroid and like a trooper he survived that operation too.  More bad news was to follow with the death of my brother from a motor traffic accident in 2005 and three months later my dear Mom died of a heart attack – more like a broken heart. Frank’s father died the same year on December 23rd in Boston and his mother passed away in 2007.  I don’t know how we survived those early years, but the stress took a toll on me. I ended up taking a TIA and was told by the Cardiologist that I was like a “BMW car running at 120 mph with no water or oil” and that I needed to smarten up and take care of myself.

Mindfulness, Yoga and Camogie

During Frank’s illness I was unable to make the transition back into nursing having let my licence expire.  The cost of babysitting four boys for an hour was as much as I would make on my hourly nursing wage!  This coupled with the support of my neighbour, one of the founding members of the Yoga Fellowship of Northern Ireland, lead me to train as a yoga teacher and teaching soon followed in local community centres.

My next step was to get involved in my local community, so when my youngest son started p1 I volunteered to coach camogie in the local school. Here, I got the opportunity to start a local camogie team and met up with a fantastic group of young children and parents who have been lifelong friends.

A friend brought me to a meditation class in 2008 and my love was so great that in 2010 I completed my 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme and fell in love with the teachings of Jon Kabat Zinn.  By 2012 I had started my formal training with the Centre for Mindfulness, Health Care and Society in Worcester Massachusetts where I met Jon Kabat Zin and world leaders in the Mindfulness field over the years. My passion for understanding the teachings and learning from the best has given me the opportunity to train in centres in Rome, London, Massachusetts and Wicklow as well as attend retreats throughout Ireland and Europe. I also trained in Mindfulness for Children and Teenagers in London as I am a firm believer in teaching children early to self- regulate their emotions.

I know that I now have the skills to handle most stressful situations that come my way. I have found that life is full of problems and suffering, but it’s how I view the problem itself and how I choose to respond to it is the key for me.

My best advice to help you reduce stress in your own life is this:

Lesson 1:
Live in the present moment

The impermanence of life means that there are no guarantees no matter how hard you try.  Life is constantly changing and evolving, so do your best to enjoy the moment you are in as you do not know what is ahead of you.

Lesson 2:
You are stronger than you think

We are all built to survive hardship, but you just need to dig deep and stay strong and roll with the punches.

Lesson 3:
Every cloud has a silver lining

Always count your blessings and look at your cup as being half full.  Opportunities will appear if you follow your passion!

Lesson 4:
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy

Make time for yourself every day outside of your work and have some fun!  Play happy music and surround yourself with positive people.

Lesson 5:
Life is messy and full of uncertainty

Through mindfullness, I have learned that when I feel overwhelmed with negative thoughts, I can choose to drop my attention down to my breathing and into my body sensations.  After a few minutes of breathing the strong emotion has passed and I have survived the eye of the storm without getting pulled into my emotional negative state.  Try that sometime!

My husband is now 63 years young and I am 21! Our boys are 29, 26, 22 and 18 years. All doing well!  If mindfulness is for you or for your child, feel free to contact via email annecostello@w4l.co.uk, through the website www.w4l.co.uk or by phone on 07720841509.

Anne Costello