Finding a little zen during stressful times

September 10, 2019


A big welcome to Jo Castro for today’s ZTT.  I’ve known Jo via the blogosphere for a few years now but we haven’t met in person, yet!  Jo lives on the opposite side of Australia to me over in Western Australia, but originally comes from the UK.  Jo blogs at Lifestyle Fifty about all facets of life including travel and fashion and also at ZigaZag – all about Western Australia.  You can learn more about Jo and where to connect with her in her Bio at the end of this post.

As many of us in midlife would know, this is a stage of life where our parents become elderly and often need care and assistance.  Imagine how hard it would be living on the opposite side of the world to them when they are unwell.  Today Jo very generously shares with us how she manages to find some little pockets of zen in her days during times of stress and worry.  

If you would like to contribute your very own ‘Gem of Zen’ as part of the Zen Tip Tuesday series please go here to find out how (you might also like to visit all the Gems of Zen we have so far). I would love to hear from you!

Finding a sense of calm or zen during stressful and worrying times doesn’t come easily for me. I’ve recently returned from an extended visit to England helping to care for my 90 year old mother and her 97 year old partner.

I learnt a lot about selflessness, some not-so-nice things about myself too, but mostly I learnt how to cope on an emotional level when things were escalating beyond my control.

Now I’m back in Australia, I’m fortunate to be finding a sense of calm in my days, although in reality my head and heart are not fully present, and I wish fervently I didn’t live so far away from my Mum in the UK.

During the time there, my world was turned upside down. I felt as if I was losing Mum. I wasn’t mistress of my own household or decision making, and I didn’t have my own family support network close by to support me.

Here’s how I found a little Zen in my days …


I found I had to focus on the small things. Helping Mum feel comfortable, and making her genuinely smile about something was paramount to my day and offered fulfilment. Marvelling at the silly antics of the chicken when I fed them made me laugh. Picking fresh mint to put with boiled potatoes and rolling a leaf in my hand to deeply inhale its gorgeous aroma was something like a guilty, stolen moment of delight.


I was so wound up in everyone else’s problems that I forgot about myself entirely. After a while I realised I had to create mini moments for myself – silly I know, but this took the form of everyday things like remembering to moisturise my face at night, and rubbing body cream on my legs after a shower. They were tiny pleasures, small minutes of pampering, but I was being kind to myself, and reaping the benefits of more positive energy which in turn helped everyone else around me too.


Meditating forces you to slow down physically and mentally.

But, wait! I don’t meditate!

I do walk though, and when I was seeking release from stress, I would walk along the beach. I would do the same walk repetitively every day, and not think about the route. During that time, I’d essentially meditate, and at least go into a zone where I didn’t think about any problems.

They say meditating makes you slow down, and do nothing but think and learn from simply thinking and realising. It requires that you are alone with your thoughts, and helps you connect with yourself.

Yup, walking, one foot after the other, on my own, does that for me.


There were a couple of big decisions back home that I needed to focus on, but my mind would swirl and I’d get in a tizzy. So I told myself that it was okay to just sit on the sofa with a cup of tea when I had a few minutes spare, and that I didn’t have to fill every minute of my personal down time with decision making or pro-active work engagement. So I excused myself from those tasks for that time being. I think decision making at times of stress is a very bad idea, as you’ll most likely act from an emotive angle rather than from your head and a more logical standpoint.


My daily beach walk was not only therapy for me but it also helped keep me fit. I walked fast, striding out, arms bent, walking heel to toe through my foot and leg, but I was mindful not to exhaust myself either. When you are trying to lessen stressful times it’s important that you find enjoyable and also incidental ways to increase physical activities that strengthen and support your body. There’s no point in stressing yourself further with an exercise routine that takes forethought and discipline and in the process wears you out. Especially if it makes you feel guilty because you haven’t got around to doing it!

Do something that brings you joy, rather than joining a gym (if it doesn’t do it for you, don’t do it – a gym certainly doesn’t do it for me!)I also found myself making excuses to often walk down to the village store for milk, or fruit, or whatever, and relishing in the chance to get out of the house, be active and see the world at large as well as get some fresh air for a few stolen minutes – minutes which wouldn’t impact on anyone else.In the house I was happy to charge up and down the stairs, taking washing up or down, fetching things from bedrooms, running upstairs to the bathroom for a pee rather than using the downstairs loo. Even vacuuming! I’m sure that these moments of movement woven into my day made a difference to my fitness levels too.


Gosh sleep. I don’t know about you but as I get older I seem to be a much lighter sleeper and the slightest sound wakes me up. I definitely suffer from the fear of the unknown dread at the dead of night!In England I was on constant alert that I might be needed in the middle of the night and slept very lightly. But good sleep is imperative for good physical and mental health. Now I’m home I make sure to do everything necessary to try and get a good night’s sleep. I don’t have my phone or computer in the bedroom, I don’t check my phone or computer before bed, I try to read for half an hour, and not drink tea (definitely not coffee) for a few hours before bedtime. And these days I wear earplugs at night, which help me enormously. (Please let me know in the comments if you’d like to know the absolute best earplugs I’ve found!)


As Eckhart Tolle so rightly says in ‘The Power of Now’ … A pain-free existence is possible by living fully in the present.

Accessing the deepest self, the true self, can be learned by freeing ourselves from the conflicting, unreasonable demands of the mind and living present, fully and intensely, in the Now.

Yup – most of all, when I’m having to cope with or recover, from stress, that’s what I’m learning to do.

A gypsy heart and a geologist husband brought travel writer Johanna Castro from Cape Town to Bunbury (South West Australia) in 2008. Exploring the South West region soon became a passion which led on to writing for The West Australian, Fodor’s Travel Guide and various tourism agencies prior to creating her blogs, ZigaZag and Lifestyle Fifty. Jo’s originally from England, has lived in 11 different countries, contributed to around 50 print and online publications, and written a children’s novel in support of an orphanage in The Philippines. Constantly seeking a sense of calm in a busy world, Jo values family, friends, and tranquil places above all else.

You can connect with Jo here:  BLOG  |  FACEBOOK  |  INSTAGRAM  |  PINTEREST


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  • Reply Michele September 11, 2019 at 8:18 am

    Caring for elderly parents takes a physical and especially a mental toll. I’m glad you were able to find ways to decompress. I am jealous of being able to walk on a beach! I use swimming as my form of meditation. There are no phones, no music, no company and 45 minutes of silence with me in the water. It is my way of meditating!

    • Reply Jo September 11, 2019 at 10:51 am

      Hi Michele, swimming is a great form of meditation. Although I live near a beach in SW Australia and also when I visit Mum in England, I’m not a great sea swimmer! Prefer a pool without all the things that swim in the sea 😉

      • Reply Life images by Jill September 12, 2019 at 4:29 pm

        Fabulous tips Jo for all of us when we have stress. I know what it is like to have aging parents. It must be so stressful when they are half a world away.

        • Reply Min September 12, 2019 at 7:15 pm

          It would be incredibly hard to have your parents on the other side of the world wouldn’t it?

        • Reply Jo September 25, 2019 at 1:17 pm

          Hi Jill, yes aging parents on the other side of the world is really really hard. But it’s hard too when they are close I’m sure of that. I hope you are doing okay x

    • Reply Min September 11, 2019 at 3:15 pm

      I’m very lucky to have a pool which I love to use for relaxation during the summer months. Swimming and floating work wonders for my nervous system!

  • Reply Theresa Muth September 11, 2019 at 8:21 am

    I love that you mentioned meditating-I just started on my meditation journey in August. I have the Headspace app and it really has made a difference in my life. I’m always thinking about what’s next and it really helps keep my mind in the here and now.
    Thanks, Jo, for the great article-I really enjoyed it!
    Visiting from #MSTL

    • Reply Jo September 11, 2019 at 10:53 am

      Hi Theresa, thank you for your lovely compliment 🙂 And yes, I know of other people too who have the Headspace app and they love it – and it’s definitely something I’d like to try. I’m really glad that it’s made a difference to your life and keeping you in the here and now.

    • Reply Min September 11, 2019 at 3:17 pm

      I’ve heard so much about the Headspace app. I’ve held off I think to avoid costs. But I need to do something proactive to get meditation and mindfulness back into my life and more of a regular practice, as at this stage of life it’s so easy for anxiety and stress to creep up on you!

  • Reply Jennifer September 11, 2019 at 10:30 am

    So important when taking care of others to find some time to take care of yourself. I learned that lesson when taking care of my mom. Even a simple 5-minute meditation could do wonders.

    • Reply Jo September 11, 2019 at 10:54 am

      Hi Jennifer, it really is important isn’t it. We can whizz through our days being super busy, doing the very best for others, but if we don’t fill our own tanks then there’s no energy for others anyway. I think this is something we learn at our peril although at the time it seems self indulgent.

    • Reply Min September 11, 2019 at 3:19 pm

      I learned that lesson too Jennifer during the 6 weeks my Dad was in hospital before he passed away. It was basically a trauma I went through and I most definitely felt the emotional, physical, and mental toll. xo

  • Reply Jo September 11, 2019 at 10:56 am

    Hi Min, Thank you for featuring me in your Zen Tips series. Writing this post made me think about lots of things (in a good way) and has prompted me to take stock too. I’m loving the replies that are coming in, and they have already inspired me to learn how to meditate. #MLSTL and Shared on SM

    • Reply Min September 11, 2019 at 3:21 pm

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write this post and be part of my ZTT series Jo. It’s very much appreciated and it’s been lovely to have you! The topic on which you wrote is a very important one too and relevant to all of us in midlife. I’m so glad you’re inspired to learn more about meditating. It’s so beneficial. I’ve been reminded I need to get back into the practice and do it regularly. xo

  • Reply Patrick Weseman September 11, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Such great tips. Very nice. Thanks for sharing them. #MLSTL

    • Reply Min September 11, 2019 at 3:19 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Patrick!

  • Reply Leanne | September 11, 2019 at 11:52 am

    Hi Jo – lovely to see you over here visiting Min. Your time with your Mum (and her partner) must have encompassed both ends of the spectrum from love to frustration to despair at times and I imagine it would have drained you dry. Getting outside and walking (especially with some sunshine – a rarity in England!) would definitely have made a big difference, I know it does for me. When I’m stressed I find walking really helpful – following the same route to zone out works for me too.
    BTW nobody has asked about the earplugs – I’m yet to find any that don’t hurt my ears after a short wearing – you’ll have to let me know what you use – I’ve tried foam, wax, specifically fitted ones, and none work for a full night – sigh….the joys of a snoring husband!
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

    • Reply Min September 11, 2019 at 3:24 pm

      I think you’ve summed up the gamut of emotions that Jo must’ve felt during her time in the UK very well Leanne. Not sure what your earplug discussion is about but on that topic – I too have yet to find some earplugs that 1) are not too big for my little ear holes, and 2) don’t hurt!

      • Reply Leanne | September 11, 2019 at 7:50 pm

        Hi Min – Jo mentioned that she knew what the best ear plugs were at the end of her post and so I thought I’d ask.

        • Reply Min September 12, 2019 at 7:12 pm

          Of course! I feel like a dill now. I’ll be interested to hear too! xo

        • Reply Jo September 25, 2019 at 1:20 pm

          Hi Leanne and Min, the earplugs I use are from ‘Aussie Earplugs.’ They are not cheap, but they are multi use. Anyway, they work a treat for me. They ship in Australia.

          • Min September 26, 2019 at 10:33 am

            Thanks Jo – I must investigate! xo

  • Reply Christine September 11, 2019 at 1:34 pm

    Hi Jo, I can really identify with so many of the things you shared from caring for your Mum and knowing you had to leave her, to finding peace walking on the beach. For me walking alone along the shoreline, listening to the sound of the waves rolling in and collecting some beautiful shells along the way seems to unwind me in a way that releases and relaxes more than anything. I also have long suffered that dread in the dead of night and having to talk and pray my way through it.
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post.
    Christine x

    • Reply Min September 11, 2019 at 3:25 pm

      Hi Christine, I too find walking – particularly in beautiful nature (the beach, rainforest, somewhere pretty) calms me and brings me some peace when I’m feeling troubled or stressed. xo

  • Reply Denyse Whelan September 11, 2019 at 9:15 pm

    Oh Jo, how hard that must have been eventually leaving but home was where you had to be. I too find a time out by myself is the best way to refresh me. Sometimes its my solo coffee date with my art journal and it’s the way I process what is happening in my life. Walking IS indeed meditative and I look forward to more of it when the magpies season is over here.
    Thanks Min for hosting Jo!
    Thank you for linking up for Life This Week. Next week’s optional prompt is 37/51 What Is Love? 16/9/19. Do hope you join in. Denyse.

    • Reply Min September 12, 2019 at 7:13 pm

      I absolutely need time to myself too or I am not a nice person. It’s my recharge time works wonders. xo

    • Reply Jo September 25, 2019 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks Denyse, yes it’s a tough and emotional time right now. I think I’ll be heading back again soon. I need to learn to meditate for sure. I’m glad you have some stress busting activities – yes, I too am wary of those darn magpies!!

  • Reply Pamela Perrault September 11, 2019 at 10:31 pm

    This is a very thought-provoking post and thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. “Be kind to yourself.” is a stumbling block for so many of us but you’re advice is spot-on. Meditation is what always saves me. A Buddhist monk (fellow dialysis patient) taught me Metta Bhavana to help me with pain management. It is a practice I continue daily and is how I am kind to myself.

    May you be safe from all harm.
    May you be happy and have everything you need.
    May you be filled with loving kindness.
    May you live in peace and harmony.

    • Reply Min September 12, 2019 at 7:14 pm

      Pamela that verse you’ve quoted there is just beautiful!

  • Reply Donna McNicol September 12, 2019 at 3:52 am

    Excellent tips….thank you for sharing!

    #MLSTL shared on SM

    • Reply Min September 12, 2019 at 7:14 pm

      So glad you enjoyed – thanks Donna!

  • Reply Natalie September 12, 2019 at 8:38 am

    Hi Jo – Eldercare is hard emotionally and physically. I’m glad you found ways to take care of yourself while taking care of your mum and her partner. Thanks, Min, for hosting Jo. #MLSTL

    • Reply Min September 12, 2019 at 7:18 pm

      I agree Natalie – it’s tough – in all ways, and it’s so important to look after ourselves during these times in order to be able to look after them! xo

  • Reply Nancy Dobbins September 13, 2019 at 2:50 am

    Thanks Jo (and Min!) I enjoyed this greatly. I don’t meditate, either, Jo – but I do walk as you do as well as do some breathing exercies (there’s an app for that!) daily to help reduce stress.
    The sleep thing is a challenge…trying to do the things the experts recommend, but the unplugging part is the hardest as it seems our whole lives on on electronic devices of some sort or another.

    • Reply Min September 13, 2019 at 9:24 am

      I agree that we all seem to be switched on and connected far too much for it to be healthy these days. It’s a challenge isn’t it? Like both of you – I love to walk too and totally believe in the calming, restorative powers of nature! 🙂

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