How Mindfulness can help with stress
How Mindfulness can help with stress In my previous blog on Mindfulness, I spoke about how Mindfulness can help us with many aspects of our physical and psychological health; one of which is managing stress. Mindfulness may not be as main-stream as some practices; many people are practicing it and noticing a reduction in stress-related […]
How Mindfulness can help with stress
In my previous blog on Mindfulness, I spoke about how Mindfulness can help us with many aspects of our physical and psychological health; one of which is managing stress. Mindfulness may not be as main-stream as some practices; many people are practicing it and noticing a reduction in stress-related problems. All of us at some time in our lives will be faced with painful, stressful, and difficult experiences. You may find yourself in such a situation right now, and have heard that mindfulness practice can help but you’re not sure where to start. How can you maintain calmness in stressful and difficult situations? I know that mindfulness practice has supported me with many difficult changes that have occurred in my life. Firstly, let’s have a look at a brief description of mindfulness practice.
What is Mindfulness Practice?
- Paying attention fully to the moment you are in
- Noticing what is going on in your mind, your body, and around you
- Awareness of your surroundings
- Non-judgemental stance – not judging your thoughts or feelings but just noticing them
- A state of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’
- Acceptance of your thoughts and feelings just as they are.
There are many different ways of practicing mindfulness. You can practice formally, picking a time and place each day when you sit or lie down. You can be mindful in the moment whilst walking or watching an ant crawling along the pavement for example. You can practice mindful eating, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, driving the car. How often do you get in the car and drive somewhere, and realise that you never even noticed how you got there?
Understanding stress and the practice of mindfulness
Stress is an instinctive expression of our survival mechanism otherwise known as the “fight or flight” response. The response is basically getting us ready to either confront a particular danger, or to run away from it. Whilst this response is helpful if we are in danger, it also gets triggered at times of tension such as normal conflict, traffic jams, or other tense situations. There are two types of stress:
- Acute which is getting us ready for “fight or flight” and is usually a short term response
- Chronic which is long term and can contribute to health problems due to the stress inducing chemicals in the body.
None of us like the feelings of stress. They can be extremely uncomfortable and unpleasant, and can trigger hormones that produce changes in our body such as pounding heart, feeling out of breath, excessive sweating, dry mouth, stomach problems, and many more. Stress and anxiety can also be about thoughts and feelings that are overwhelming or distracting. It makes sense to be able to practice mindfulness because mindfulness teaches us how to recognise that we are just having thoughts, and that they are not part of our true selves. Scientists have discovered that there is a quarter of a second space between an intention and an action, and mindfulness:
- Can help us to recognise when emotions or thoughts are being aroused by our “fight or flight” responses;
- Gives us the space in between our immediate response, and what comes next;
- Helps us to become familiar with the quiet space in our minds;
- Helps us to notice our emotions as they arise;
- Help us to catch our thoughts and act more wisely;
- Teaches us to see our thoughts and feelings without judgement;
- Helps us to be kind to ourselves and more accepting of our minds.
How to get started with Mindfulness for stress
- Pick a specific place and time and practice the techniques when you’re not feeling too stressed;
- Notice what you are actually experiencing at this moment right now;
- Notice what you are feeling;
- Notice what thoughts you are having;
- Notice the sensations you are having in your body;
- Breathe normally and pay attention to your breathing, noticing each inhalation and each exhalation;
- As you exhale, see if you can expand your noticing experience to include your whole body;
- Notice what is going on around you such as the sounds you can hear, sights you can see, aromas you can smell. You may find that the more you practice, the more you will notice, such as different birdsongs;
- Thoughts will carry you off somewhere else, but just notice that you are having thoughts, and come back to your breathing and awareness of yourself without telling yourself that you can’t do this, or you’re not doing it correctly;
- Be open to what you are experiencing at this moment.
What to do with those difficult emotions
- First of all notice yourself breathing in and out.
- Notice what you are actually feeling. What is the emotion? Can you name it?
- Don’t try and distract yourself from the emotion, or try and push it away.
- You are feeling this emotion for a reason.
- It is a normal reaction.
- Think about how this emotion came about. What were the circumstances surrounding the emotion?
- Accept that you are having this emotion right now.
- Notice how you are breathing when you have this emotion.
- Ask yourself questions about the emotion. Can I feel it in a particular part of my body? Is my breathing changing? Is any part of my body tenser than other parts? How big does this emotion feel? Do I feel like I want to make the emotion go away? If I do, can I just notice that this is what is happening?
You may notice that your default programming is to try and push the feeling or emotion away. Just notice that your mind will have many thoughts, and you may have many different ways of avoiding. This is perfectly normal. Notice that this is happening and keep bringing yourself back to noticing your breathing each time. As you build up your mindfulness practice, you can use this technique each time you find that you have a ‘difficult’ thought or emotion.
I know when I started to practice mindfulness, I thought I would have to take extra time out of my day, but what I have found is that it gives me more time in the present, and that I can actually manage my time more efficiently because my mind is not getting caught up in the ‘small stuff’ and the hundreds of thoughts that come into my head each day. I still have painful events and experience difficult thoughts and emotions, but I am able to simply notice them and allow them to just be there without having to change or avoid them. I am finding that I am able to live more fully in the moments each day, and with mindfulness, the days are so much more meaningful.
If you are interested in finding out how mindfulness can help you with the everyday or overwhelming stresses in life, you can contact me via the contact page or on 0403 848 398.