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When Meditation Isn’t Enough

A reader writes:

Hello I’m a fellow Buddhist, I do have a temper and stress problem and always have and have tried to work on it. I have suffered from anxiety since young adulthood, but recently after giving birth to my son have been affected with what doctors think is stress induced IBS. It causes me great pain when under stress (something inevitable with a toddler) and causes a handful of other problems. I can’t just leave to meditate, and I rarely get a minute alone time with the baby, and it’s becoming very confusing, stressful, and devastating to deal with. I know I can not control situations, only my reaction and response to them, but with the daily and constant pain I become unable to cope. I end up yelling or crying, getting upset at my husband when he gets home, or (as I am ashamed to admit) I get upset at my young son, who only does what he does out of pure innocence.

I am very torn, I’ve gone to many doctors, had many surgeries and tests, taken many pills and tried many diet changes. We have found nothing except the guess that it’s stress induced. I’m lost and not sure how to cope with this. I meditate at least once a day, but having to watch a toddler all day means I don’t get much time to relax my body to help with the pain. I was wondering if there is some sort of meditation I can do while still able to watch him, I practice walking meditation when my son is outside walking around, but inside (like cooking for example) I can not cope with tripping over a baby following me, chopping food, handling hot food, watching my feet for toys and brooms he’s gotten out, and trying to get the table set. The accumulative just kills my stomach, causes me to stress more, and gets me upset at someone in the house. I’m not sure how to handle this in an efficient way, and the only thing I really haven’t tried is coping with my sudden stress because I’m not sure how.

Meditation has helped with a lot of issues, but there is no kind that I’m aware of that I can do on the fly, while watching a baby, and doing whatever it is I have to do. I hope maybe you can give me some insight to what to do when this sudden pain causes me to become blind with anger and overwhelmed.

My response to this comes in three parts:

1) The first thing that popped into my mind had nothing to do with Buddhism. When I was little, my parents put me in a thing called a “playpen.” It was essentially a soft, safe “cage” for a child. It seems to me that these have gone out of fashion in modern times, as parents seem to have some aversion to not giving their child infinite freedom. If your son is continually under your feet and leaving toys around while you’re trying to work, then put him in the playpen for a few hours. Once it becomes part of the routine, he’ll come to enjoy it.

2) Another issue I see here is that you are never alone. Everyone needs some “me” time. Maybe it’s used for meditation. Maybe it’s to read a book. Maybe it’s to catch a nap, or a movie, or just to take a walk at the mall. You need time away from your children (and husband too) sometimes. This doesn’t make you a bad mother, it makes you human. The best solution is to get a babysitter to watch your child for a few hours a week. You don’t always have to get a sitter just for special events; get one to watch your child while you go for a walk. If money is tight, try to get a family member to help. You didn’t say anything about your husband trying to help; perhaps he needs to step up a little more. The important thing is to get away.

But since this is a Buddhist site, and not one on parenting advice, I’ll get onto the topic of pain:

3) IBS is a complex condition that has many potential causes and remedies, none of which are perfectly effective. From your letter, I assume you’ve tried various medications without success. That does leave various non-medicinal treatments that may help.

Exercise in general may help with IBS. More specifically to this site, you may want to look into Yoga. I’m told that the various positions, stretches, and exercises have been known to help in the affected areas. Again, this requires some free time on a regular basis.

Personally, I’m not big on pushing meditation as a way to manage pain. Various psychogenic maladies (those caused by the mind or stress) can be reduced through meditation, but for pain caused by actual physical problems, I’d prefer to be under a doctor’s care. The problem with IBS is that the causes are not entirely understood. You say in your letter that you think it’s stress related, so we can work with that.

The first thing I would do is work to get rid of so much stress. Meditation is well and good, but reducing your existing stress is far easier and faster, and probably more important at this stage. My first two points above address that issue to some extent. I get the impression that you want to take up meditation in order to allow you to deal with the growing stress in your life. It seems to me that you’re just trying to dig a bigger hole to fit more stress in. Your goal should be eliminating stress, not enabling yourself to deal with more of it.

8 comments to When Meditation Isn’t Enough

  • Andy Jupp

    But is there a meditation that the young lady can do on the go? I would be interested to know as well.
    Thank you kindly.

  • Philip

    As to meditation on the go to reduce stress may I suggest this (it works for me, but no guarantee for anyone else…you may be able to adapt it to your own words)…when I feel stressed I just repeatedly say to myself these 2 words …” Shakyamuni Buddha.” Simple really! Once the stress dissipates (and it does) I stop saying the words to myself until I get stressed again.

    I also agree and have implemented a strategy to reduce as many stresses in my life as I reasonably can given my personal circumstances. Upon contemplation, there are a lot of stressful activities in which we involve ourselves that we do not have to participate in. This I call “non participation living” which is modeled on the lifestyle of many Buddhist Monks….they don’t seem stressed do they? Give it a go, you have nothing to lose ( except hopefully stress) and Nirvana to gain!

  • Philip

    Thank you.

  • Anshul kawatra

    Try Vipassana

  • Rune

    There is a great mantra to use in all life situations, when walking around
    or just whenever you feel like it:


    It is said to be extremely beneficial, and will clear your mind and cleanse your karma.
    Lots of luck and good wishes:))

  • June

    This note really resonated with me. I am a mom to 3 children (all born within 2 yrs; a singleton and twins). I’m very type A, and the chaos of children has presented numerous challenges to me and everything I want to get done, too. I also have dealt with stress-induced ailments, including debilitating IBS, and have even sustained permanent damage to my eyesight from stress (increased blood pressure from stress caused vessels in my retina to burst). Stress-based sickness stinks, but the good news is that you can turn it around, and often without any meds.

    1. I agree that you need to find solutions to destress rather than figure out how to deal with more stress. You need not be the superhero and take it all on. Relax your housekeeping standards. Turn down volunteer requests. Ask your husband to step up with home and child care. I don’t cook dinner until my husband is there to watch the kids in some other part of the house, there’s no way I could make anything more than a cold sandwich with 3 girls underfoot. If he refuses, hire help – there is no shame in getting a babysitter or part-time nanny, cleaning help, gardener, whatever – and it provides other people with (possibly badly needed) employment, so win-win. If you’re near a community college, perhaps you can find volunteers or student workers from an early childhood development class. Really, get the help you need and stop trying to do it all. Your mental health is important for the sake of your marriage and your son.

    2. Your son sounds quite young. You have a golden opportunity for me-time when he naps in the afternoon. If he doesn’t nap, you can still enforce some quiet time, with him alone in his room every afternoon for 60-90 min. You may feel that nap time is your only opportunity to clean the house, fold laundry, start dinner prep, meal plan, and the other million things that moms do. HOWEVER, be realistic. The housework and errands will all still be there, whether you take 30 min for yourself or not. So take the 30 min for yourself (and then spend the other 60 doing stuff). You are worth it. You need it to stay healthy. The time that children are young and need so much supervision lasts only a few years. You can go back to your stringent standards when he is older.

    3. Following instructions in the “Moody Cow Meditates” children’s book, my daughters and I made meditation jars. They’re essentially homemade snow globes, but we filled spice jars with water and glycerin, added glitter and sequins. When my girls fight or are mad, they take the jar, shake it up, and imagine that their angry thoughts are the glitter swirling around. I practice deep, steady breathing with them as their angry thoughts eventually settle to the bottom of the jar. (The glycerin stops the glitter from settling too fast.) It takes probably about 1-2 min for it all to settle, but it really seems to help them. It sounds ridiculous (hi, I stare at a snowglobe and hyperventilate when I’m mad), but it might help you, too, and it’s fast.

    Good luck to you. Get some support. You are not alone. Rearrange your priorities, make sure to take care of yourself. Remember that Buddha said “Ain’t nobody happy when Mama’s unhappy.” Well, not really, but you get what I mean. 😉

  • Bachelard

    I also have IBS. I’ve had the disorder for over 30 years. I’m male and 64. I also suffer major depression.

    Fortunately for me, medication — Lomotil and dicyclomine in combination — works. I have no idea which variety of the disorder you have. I do know that I learned over time what kinds of triggers I have to avoid. I can actually tell by the way food smells, especially while cooking, if it’s going to trigger me. I’ve also learned that I somatize my stress in this way and have since I was a child.

    As I’m sure you know, the “gut” is now said to be our “second brain.” I set my phone to ring twice a day. I stop whatever I’m doing and take about 20 breaths from there — even less at times. It helps.

    Another point, courtesy of Jon Kabat Zinn: Meditation is all but impossible in an acute state of deep depression and/or anxiety. Meditation is more of a “preventative” practice. What works best for me is exercise. It requires attention and relieves depression and anxiety when done regularly.

  • Shaku Hoyo

    as a mother of four I would suggest constand deep diaphram breathing through out the day. and even look up resources for dharma kids for activities age appropriate to help toddlers learn some techniques and before you know it you and your little yogi or yogini could have some short short contemplative times together. even just five minutes.

    deep breathing is essential to helping the body to relax. I am willing to bet you find yourself holding your breath throughout your day due to stress overload.

    also I am a bodywork therapist. I would suggest foot reflexology. it can help you not only to relax but to manage ibs as well as stress.

    also perhaps doing food prep for thenext days meal the night before while little one is in bed? And nix the idea of setting the table. Delegate that to whomever is going to enjoy the meal.

    Another creative thought. While you are cooking set the tyke up in highchair or at table with his own little cooking set. bowls with water and spoons so he feels like he is helping. There are all sorts of creative solutions.

    Above all else deep breathing. They grow fast.