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Learn to Manage Stress using Mindfulness Practice

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How do you choose to alleviate stress? 

Some use exercise or listen to music to decompress.  Some use food, alcohol, smoking, or drugs to numb themselves from stress.  Many employ inactive ways to manage stress — watching television, surfing the internet, or playing video games.  Those options seem relaxing, but they may increase your stress over the long term.  What you should be seeking are active ways to manage stress:

Stay Organized.  When you balance many roles (boss, co-worker, parent, volunteer, caregiver, etc.) you frequently lose yourself in the mix.  One easy solution — list making.  Look at the big picture, and prioritize tasks and roles.  When it’s all down on paper, you take the pressure off yourself to react in the moment.

Marshal Resources.  Don’t try to do everything yourself.  Ask for help.  And understand that sometimes getting most of a task done is just as good as getting all of it done.

Cultivate Supportive and Healthy Social Networks.  Weed out toxic friendships.  Eliminate social media.  Focus on the relationships that bring you joy, bring you support, and bring you clarity in times of stress.

Make Time for Self-Care.  You can’t take care of others if you neglect yourself.  Self-care isn’t about “treating” yourself once in a while.  It’s about regularly nurturing your body, mind, and spirit so that you are in a healthy space to make good decisions when faced with stress.  Book yourself a monthly massage.  Sign up for the weekly yoga class.  Regularly talk with a therapist.  Find the self-care practice that resonates with you, and block it out in your calendar.  You are worth it!

Practice Mindfulness.  Mindfulness is mind-body training that uses different exercises and techniques to help you to live in the present.  Mindfulness practices teach you to manage your feelings and thoughts, enabling intentional actions, willpower, and decisions.

How does mindfulness reduce stress?

  • You become more aware of your thoughts, and can step back from them and not take them so literally.
  • You don’t immediately react to a situation. Instead, you take a moment to pause, and then use your “wise mind” to come up with the best solution.
  • Mindfulness switches on your “being” mode of mind, which is associated with relaxation. Your “doing” mode of mind is associated with action and the stress response.
  • You are more aware and sensitive to the needs of your body. You may notice pain and can take appropriate action.
  • You are more aware of the emotions of others. As your emotional intelligence rises, you are less likely to get into conflict.
  • Your level of care and compassion for yourself and others rises. This compassionate mind soothes you and inhibits your stress response.
  • Mindfulness reduces activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is central to switching on your stress response, so mindfulness mutes that response.
  • You are better able to focus. Mindfulness puts you “in the zone” as it is termed in psychology by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  When you complete your work more efficiently you have a greater sense of well-being, and this reduces the stress response.
  • With mindfulness, you can switch your attitude to stress. Stress doesn’t always have to be negative.  Increased pressure can help energize you when viewed positively.

Let’s learn more about three effective mindfulness practices — present-moment awareness, breathing exercises, and meditation.

Present-Moment Awareness

Research published in the Journal of Research in Personality shows that present-moment awareness increases stress resilience and effective coping.  Present-moment awareness involves monitoring and attending to the current experience rather than predicting future events or dwelling on the past.  Overall, staying in the moment improves your mood and sense of well-being.  Being present in the moment when stressed is directly linked to greater perceived ability to handle that stress, and more reliance on core values to navigate the situation.

Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises allow you to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) — the calming response in your body — reducing your heart rate and blood pressure.  One of the most calming breathing exercises you an do is to breathe in (e.g., to a count of four), hold, and then breathe out for up to twice as long (e.g., to a count of six or eight).  You can gently constrict your throat, making a sound like the ocean, which is used in deep relaxation breathing.  Breathing exercises take the focus off the momentary stress, and forces your body and mind to pause.  That pause makes all the difference, and brings you clarity.

Alpha Practice and Meditation

A simple way of to think of meditation is training your attention to achieve a mental state of calm concentration and positive emotions.  In mindfulness meditation, you’re learning how to pay attention to the breath as it goes in and out, notice when the mind wanders from this task, return to the breath, and anchor yourself in the here and now on purpose and without judgment.  The key is to commit to sit every day, even if it’s only for five minutes.  Meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg says: “The most important moment in your meditation practice is the moment you sit down to do it.  Because right then you’re saying to yourself that you believe in change, you believe in caring for yourself, and you’re making it real.”

7 Simple Steps to Mindfulness:

  1. Take a seat. Find a place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.
  2. Set a time limit. Start short, say five or ten minutes.
  3. Notice your body. Choose a place where you feel stable, and in a position you can stay in for a while.
  4. Feel your breath. Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes in and out.
  5. Notice when your mind has wandered. Inevitably, your attention will leave your breath and wander to other places.  When you notice, simply return your attention to the breath.
  6. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself or obsess over the content of the thoughts.  Just come back.
  7. Close with kindness. When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (or if your eyes are closed, open then).  Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment.  Notice how your body feels right now.  Notice your thoughts and emotions.

Overall, managing stress should not be a stressful experience!  Take each moment as it comes, and employ the many stress management techniques and mindfulness practices detailed here to manage your reaction to it.  Be kind to yourself.  You’re doing great!

Our caring staff members are eager to give you all the unconditional support, inspiration, and transformational tools you need to bring your body, mind, and spirit into healthy balance in a serene, peaceful setting. Visit our website at www.optimumhealth.org, and call us at (800) 588-0809 to make your reservation.

Stress Symptoms: Effects On Your Body And Behavior, Stress Management/Healthy Lifestyle, www.mayoclinic.org

Managing Stress Through Mindfulness: A Resiliency Tool, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJ2qnmoMVdo

Mindfulness for Stress Reduction, University of Minnesota, www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu

Mindfulness Meditation: A Research-Proven Way to Reduce Stress, American Psychological Association, October 30, 2019, www.apa.org

How to Meditate, Mindful, www.mindful.org

How to Use Mindfulness to Manage Stress, www.skillsyouneed.com

How to Manage Stress With Mindfulness and Meditation, Mindful, www.mindful.org

Nine Ways Mindfulness Reduces Stress, www.mindful.org