We all deal with stressors on a daily basis. They’re unavoidable and have a significant effect on our health and wellness if we don’t address them. Stress can cause headaches, nausea, pain, insomnia, and low energy — among other challenges. It may make you feel overwhelmed and unable to focus, forgetful, emotional and irritable.
While stress has a negative impact on us physically and mentally, we can work to reduce these negative symptoms. Learning how to cope with stress can help us reduce these effects and change our outlook into a positive one.
One of the most effective ways to manage stress is through mindfulness. In the 1970s, professor of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn began applying scientific principles to Buddhist principles of mindfulness and meditation. His program was originally developed for hospital patients struggling with physical and mental illness. The basic tenet is to be fully present and aware, noticing each thought and feeling without judgment. Thoughts are acknowledged with openness and curiosity, then let go.
Now practiced and taught outside of hospitals, mindfulness is used widely for the treatment of anxiety, chronic illness, depression, grief, PTSD and more. It is now more flexible and individualized, with participants practicing from a few minutes to a few hours a day. One of the best aspects of mindfulness is that it is accessible to nearly everyone.
When stress overwhelms us, our nervous system is flooded with chemicals that trigger our “fight or flight” response. By learning how to engage our relaxation response, we can bring our bodies and minds back into a state of calm.
The relaxation response counteracts the stress response, increasing energy and focus, combating illness and pain, and boosting mood and motivation. It’s not enough to simply rest, however. In order to reap the physical and mental benefits of the relaxation response, we must practice a relaxation technique.
While it is easy to think of mindfulness as a certain state of mind, there are many ways to practice mindfulness. Let’s look at some common and easy ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine.
Each of these mindfulness activities can be practiced anywhere, even for just a few moments. Taking a few breaks throughout the day to engage the relaxation response is a great way to reset and rebalance.
Sit back comfortably in a chair, resting your hands comfortably on your lap or armrests. Take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing your stomach to rise. Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as possible. Continue for as long as you can, or until you start to feel relaxed. Even practicing for one minute is a great start, and you can slowly build from there.
There are many methods of counting breaths, such as the box method, alternate-nostril breathing, the Wim Hof method, etc. Ultimately, find a method that works best for you.
Body scan meditation is a process in which you focus on relaxing each muscle of the body. Starting with your toes and working your way up, scan each area of the body for tension and relax each muscle. Breathe deeply and consistently as you do this. As your body relaxes, so will your mind. Body scans can be practiced sitting or lying down, whichever you prefer. After relaxing the whole body, relax for a moment in silence, noting the stillness in your body. Slowly open your eyes and stretch if necessary.
There are a few basics to practicing meditation. First, ensure your spine is upright and relaxed. Your shoulders should be rolled back and down your back. Your hands should be supported in a comfortable position. Your face should be relaxed with your tongue just touching the back of your teeth. From there, prepare your breath and begin to inhale and exhale on a count that is comfortable for you.
Tune in to what is happening in the present moment. Pay attention to the here and now, gently nudging your mind back to the present when it tries to wander. Let thoughts float past you without judgment, meeting each thought with curiosity and then letting it go. Observe how you feel without reacting to it, recognizing that each thought or sensation is temporary.
This exercise is multitasking at its finest. When it feels like you can’t possibly squeeze in time to meditate, you still have to eat. Whether it is a quick snack or a full meal, take the time to deliberately and slowly eat without distractions. Pay attention to the sensations of eating. Hold the item, noticing how it looks and smells. Think about where the food comes from, the hands that prepared it. Focus then on thoroughly chewing the food, noticing how it tastes, the texture and temperature. Finally, swallow and continue with each bite. Stop when you notice you are satisfied.
We’ve all heard the phrase “go to your happy place.” Guided imagery is just that. Imagine a scene in which you feel peaceful, calm and free of any tension or anxiety. This could be a forest, beach or memorable place you have visited. There are also apps that guide you through a visualization if that helps you to focus.
Notice all the sensory details of where you are. What does it look like? What do you hear? How does it smell and taste? Do you feel anything around you? Enjoy the feeling of your stress and worries floating away. When you are ready, open your eyes and come back to reality.
Mindfulness reshapes our understanding and experience of physical and mental stressors. It can lead to lower stress, greater connection, and improved mood and motivation. Practicing mindfulness may promote a great sense of relaxation and mental tranquility. All in all, the more you practice mindfulness, the more beneficial it will be to your life, so start today.
Jacquelyn Nause is a contributing writer with specialties in cannabis, real estate and wellness. She enjoys traveling with her husband, being a doting mother to her two incredible kids and enjoying the beautiful Pacific Northwest playground.