Mindfulness helps you direct your attention to where you want to focus, instead of having the brain take you off to situations you cannot control in present moment. It can also help you sustain attention when you wish to do so. Just like physical exercise, reading or talking about it doesn’t help; you have to do it!
When you notice you are stressed, you can engage your parasympathetic nervous system of rest and digest. Two quick ways to engage this system are:
- Take long, slow, deep breaths. Sit in an upright, stable, and focused position. Then, focus on your breathing. Take 3-6 long, slow deep belly breaths, bringing refreshing air into the body. A good practice is to breathe in through your nose for the count of 3, hold for 2, and out of your nose or mouth for the count of 6, emptying all the old, stale air. Do this often during your day whenever you feel your mind straying or stress creeping in. Whether at work, at your computer, or while driving, this practice should give you a quick hit of relaxation, lower your blood pressure, facilitate your digestion, and bring alpha waves of calm to the brain.
- Visualize a person, place, or pet with whom you have felt safe, calm, and nurtured. The memory can be as simple as playing with a childhood playmate, petting your dog, holding your partner or child, or walking on a beach. Bring the memory fully to mind, remembering it as if it is happening now. Allow your mind to experience the full range of feelings and experiences that come from this memory, remembering faces, shapes, colors, smells, textures, and tastes. Then, notice how your mind and body feel as you let yourself dwell in a relaxing moment, remembering that not every moment in your life is challenging.
Three more tips for staying mindful and managing overall stress better are:
- Learn to say no. Through mindfulness, we back up and observe our thoughts, which allows us to have choice. What we allow our minds to believe has an impact on our overall mental health and ability to respond to stress. Are you doing the activities you want to do because you truly want to do them, or out of expectations to please or perform for someone else? What are you believing in the moment? Is your mind telling you that you will lose the friendship, someone will get mad, or that you should do the activity to be a good person? Start paying attention to when you say yes and evaluate if it best serves you and your health. When we say no, it also allows others to do so.
How can we learn to be our authentic selves? Don’t respond immediately when asked to do something that you are uncertain you want to do. Tell the other person that you will get back with them later in the day. Sit quietly and notice how it feels in your body to say yes to the request. Then, notice how it feels to say no. Would it be a relief to say no? Now, notice what you are needing in this situation—perhaps ease because you already have a full schedule. Perhaps you are imagining the other person is needing support. You can learn to say, I can see you are needing support, but I am currently overscheduled and wanting relief. Have you thought about asking Cathy? OR, I cannot do this, but I am willing to do ____ to be of assistance. Mindful communication teaches us to learn to speak the language of needs, allowing for clarity and a win-win for everyone.
- Let go of your inner critic. Do you have an inner critic that sometimes feels like a baseball bat coming down on your head? Mindfulness teaches us to let go of that inner critic, who sabotages us. Learn to take step back from your negative thoughts, release them, and trade them for more realistic thinking – “I am perfectly, imperfect like everyone else on this planet.” “I am doing the best I can and that’s all I can do.” “I will make mistakes; everyone does.” “Mistakes are opportunities for growth.” “All situations and relationships can be difficult at times – this is normal.” “Millions of people on this planet are experiencing the same feeling I am for the exact same reason. I’m not alone.” Just because thoughts creep into your mind that try to bring you down, doesn’t mean they have to stay there. Be mindful of what your mind is telling you!
- Get some exercise. Did you know that taking an outdoor walk daily has a long list of stress-relieving benefits? Not only is the movement good physical exercise, but it improves your mood, relieves stress, boosts vitamin D, and helps you have more efficient breathing! By choosing to take a walk outside, even for just 10-15 minutes a day, you are increasing your vitamin D exposure which has been linked to boosting your immune system, improving mood, and reducing inflammation – all of which play a role in our physical response to stress. So, next time you need an instant stress reliever hit the front door and take a walk around the block.
Although stress seems to be a natural part of our everyday lives, it doesn’t have to be our response to life. Mindfulness teaches us to learn to ride the waves, not be knocked down by them. By creating daily habits to reduce stress, you will be more in control of how you respond when stressful situations arise. For more practice on managing stress, or for information on participating in workshops to help better practice mindfulness contact us and start feeling relief today.