Mindful Stress Management
Being mindful of the things that are happening and the world around you can help you cope with many things in life, including stress and anxiety. By being in the moment and embracing it, you can reduce or relieve stress and anxiety. In fact, mindfulness can work so well for some that it becomes a way of life, one that leads to a much better day-to-day existence.
What is Stress?
Stress is the body’s reaction to a challenge. Though stress is often perceived as bad, it can actually be good in some respects. The right kind of stress can sharpen the mind and reflexes. It might be able to help the body perform better, or help you escape a dangerous situation.
Stress produces a physiological reaction in your body. Hormones are released, which results in physical manifestations of stress. These can include slowed digestion, shaking, tunnel vision, accelerated breathing and heart rate, dilation of pupils and flushed skin.
How Mindfulness Helps Stress
Mindfulness has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety, and in some cases, actually prevent it from happening in the first place. Not only does mindfulness pull you out of your own head and help you see the bigger picture, it can reduce physical stressors that might make your mental state feel even worse. By focusing on the present, you are not dwelling on the mistakes of the past, nor are you overwhelmed by thoughts of the future. You are focused on the here and now, and that can allow your subconscious to work on the things that are bothering you.
9 Ways Mindfulness Reduces Stress
- You become more aware of your thoughts. You can then step back from them and not take them so literally. That way, your stress response is not initiated in the first place.
- You don’t immediately react to a situation. Instead, you have 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. In being mode, the mind has nothing to do, nowhere to go and can focus fully on moment-by-moment experience, allowing us to be fully present and aware of whatever is here, right now. 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 pains earlier and can then 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 practice reduces activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is central to switching on your stress response, so effectively, your background level of stress is reduced.
- You are better able to focus. So you complete your work more efficiently, you have a greater sense of well-being, and this reduces the stress response. You are more likely to get into the zone.
- You can switch your attitude to the stress. Rather than just seeing the negative consequences of feeling stressed, mindfulness offers you the space to think differently about the stress itself. Observing how the increased pressure helps energize you has a positive effect on your body and mind.
Mindful Tips to Manage Stress
Each person has different types of stressors. What bothers one person might not bother another. What seems overwhelming to one might be perfectly manageable to another. But when it comes to your particular kind of stress, you know when you feel it – and you know when it’s becoming serious.
These stress reduction techniques can help anyone, no matter the situation. These tips can ease the worry you are dealing with and help you face the next hurdle with a more centered, calm mind.
Write it Down
Make a list of every last frustration, no matter how small, that’s weighing on your mind. Acknowledge your feelings and keep a journal. Break it down into pieces. Set realistic and manageable goals. The idea is to interrupt the negative and repetitive thought cycle that you’ve been focusing on. Be honest. After you’ve looked over the list, take a few deep breaths and let go of all of the negative feelings that are associated with it. For journaling tips, check out the Goal Setting page.
Let your thoughts go where they may, but don’t pay much attention to them. The goal is to listen to the quiet inside you. When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress. Some of the most common features in meditation include:
- Focused attention. Focusing your attention is what helps free your mind from the many distractions that cause stress and worry.
- Relaxed breathing. This technique involves deep, even-paced breathing. The purpose is to slow your breathing, take in more oxygen, and reduce the use of shoulder, neck and upper chest muscles.
- A quiet setting. If you’re a beginner, practicing meditation may be easier if you’re in a quiet spot with few distractions, including no television, radios or cellphones.
- A comfortable position. You can practice meditation whether you’re sitting, lying down, walking, or in other positions or activities. Just try to be comfortable so that you can get the most out of your meditation.
- Open attitude. Let thoughts pass through your mind without judgment.
Take a Breather
In stressful situations, take a minute, or a few minutes if you can, to breathe mindfully. Deep, mindful breathing can be a simple but very effective tool to help calm your mind and refresh your perspective. Focus all of your attention on your breath while you take slow, deep inhalations and exhalations. Consider this exercise in stress management your natural “reset” button.
Go for a walk. Get some fresh air. Gain a new point of view. The point is to stimulate your senses and shift your awareness to something other than the stressor. A little break from your current environment and some fresh air and sunlight might be just what you need to refresh your mindset.
Burn off Some Steam
Exercise! Running, yoga, lifting weights, and playing sports are all great ways to get your mind off of the things that you find stressful and do something healthy for your mind and body. Exercise decreases stress hormones and increases endorphins, which are often referred to as the body’s “feel-good chemicals.” Physical activity releases endorphins and can help boost your mood and energy.
Employ the power of positive thinking. Rather than incessantly worrying about the same things over and over, break the cycle and train your brain to think in a way that is positive and uplifting. One way to do this is to envision the results that you want, rather than thinking about the results that you’re afraid of. Imagine everything working out. Sometimes, just the very thought of things unfolding in your favor can be truly inspiring. Another approach is to practice positive affirmations. Scarlett shared a few examples of positive affirmations to practice with:
- I can let go.
- I embrace this challenge.
- I can overcome this obstacle.
- I can handle whatever comes my way.
- I can find balance.
Say these affirmations aloud if the situation permits, or silently if you must. Repeat several times.