Stress is an unavoidable part of life. From time to time, everyone experiences increased levels of stress. However, if left unaddressed, stress can continue to build and affect your health and ability to cope with life. This process can occur with chronic stress that builds gradually over time, or with acute stress that suddenly overwhelms your ability to cope.
Studies show that mindfulness can be an effective way to manage stress. Exercises that help people achieve a state of mindfulness reduce ruminations over things that cause stress, keep people dwelling on negative thoughts and decrease anxiety over the future. By providing a temporary break from stressful thoughts, mindfulness allows you to pause and gain a wider perspective before reacting automatically.
Mindfulness is most commonly achieved through meditation, and the regular practice of mindfulness meditation has benefits for your physical health, as well as your emotional health.
Basic Meditation for Stress Management
- Get into a comfortable position that allows you to completely relax, while still staying awake.
- Close your eyes.
- Clear your mind. This takes practice. When a thought enters your mind, simply notice it and then let it go. Don’t judge it. Then turn your attention back to the present moment.
- Continue to notice and then let go of any thoughts that enter your mind. As you continue to practice, the quiet spaces between thoughts will become longer and more frequent.
- Be patient and don’t strive for perfection. Meditation is called ‘practice’ for a reason.
- Start with short sessions (5 minutes) and work your way up to longer sessions.
- If you are having trouble, try another mindfulness exercise, such as the Mindful Breath.
For those who feel they do not have enough time or patience to dedicate to meditation, there are other ways to ease into mindfulness and begin to experience some of its benefits. Gardening, listening to music, driving and even housecleaning can become a practice in mindfulness if you take the right approach: focusing on the present, and quietening the inner voice that offers a running commentary on what you’re doing, what you’ve done, and what you will (or should) be doing.
5 Steps to Wellbeing
These five steps have been created to promote good wellbeing and are promoted by the NHS.
- Connect – Talk & listen, be present, feel connected;
- Give – your time, your words, your presence;
- Take Notice – remember the simple things that give you joy;
- Keep Learning – embrace new experiences, seek opportunities, surprise yourself;
- Be Active – do what you can, enjoy what you do, move your mood!
Reference NHS image / NHS Youtube video
Lao Tzu said: At the centre of your being you have the answer.
People are often out of touch with their body. They respond to pain or discomfort by trying to distract themselves or numb the pain. They fear their body does not live up to some impossible ideal. In a mindfulness body scan exercise, you can learn to accept and notice with gentle curiosity your body in its comfort and discomfort, in its perfection and imperfection. The goal is not to relax your body or relieve pain – although relaxation, self acceptance and an ability to face pain may result. The body scan is used simply to become aware of your body as it is, without judgement, in the moment.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, loosen any tight clothing and close your eyes.
- Notice your breathing, and the natural rising and falling of your belly.
- Take a moment to feel your body as a whole, from head to toe.
- Starting with your feet, begin to notice your physical feelings, including any pain, discomfort, coolness, warmth, tension or tightness. Simply pay attention to the physical feelings and sensations. Don’t judge the feelings as either good or bad, and don’t try to change them. Simply become aware of them.
- Slowly let your awareness drift further up your body, doing the same gentle noticing for all of the parts of your body – your upper legs, hips, pelvic region, stomach, chest, your lower back, upper back, fingers and hands, lower arms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, head, forehead, temples and face – eyes, checks, nose, mouth, jaw line.
- Then let your awareness drift gently and slowly back down your body, noticing any other places where there is pain, discomfort or tension and simply notice this, until your awareness settles back at your feet.
- You can start by doing this exercise for just 5 minutes, and work up to 20 or 30 minutes. Don’t worry about how long it takes – just allow yourself to pay attention to the sensations in your body.
- If thoughts intrude while doing this exercise, that’s okay – just notice the thoughts and then gently guide your awareness back to your body.
- With practice, you can begin to imagine directing your breath into each part of your body, as if you were breathing into your toes, and out from your toes (legs, chest, shoulders, head, etc.).
- Don’t use the body scan to replace conventional medical care or as a reason to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.