Coping With Stress By Being More Mindful
We all feel stressed at times. Stress is part of life. There´s good stress and there´s bad stress. There are good ways of dealing with it and there are ways that are just not effective. When it comes to coping with stress, incorporating more mindfulness into your day can be a real game-changer.
How Mindfulness Helps You Cope With Stress
Mindfulness has to do with tapping into what you are feeling and thinking in the moment without judgement or expectation. When you´re feeling stressed or anxious, register that feeling. Acknowledge it. Do what you can to keep your mind from taking over and spinning out of control.
Being mindful means…
- accepting what you feel
- noticing what´s going on in your body
- recognizing the thoughts and stories swirling around in your head
- noticing the pace of your breathing
Becoming aware of what´s happening in the moment is the first step to effectively coping with the stress you feel.
In fact, the practice of mindfulness can change the structure of your brain. Research shows that, after practising mindfulness, the grey matter in your brain’s amygdala – a region known for its role in stress – can become smaller. As the center for fear in the brain shrinks, the areas responsible for memory grows..
Coping With Stress Starts Here
Quite often stress increases as negative recurring thoughts, worry and brooding take hold. The more we mull over challenges or try to anticipate problems, the more stressed we feel. Believe it or not, 50% of the stress we feel comes from wondering, worrying and obsessing.
Practicing mindfulness has a tremendously positive effect on the brain. It helps you become more aware of what´s going on inside and keeps your thoughts from succumbing to a negative downward spiral. It has also been shown to change hormone levels, which leads to a lowering of stress-levels as well.
Four Tips For More Mindfulness Throughout Your Day
If you´re like most people, you´re phone is with you in bed, in the bathroom, at the dinner table and at work – It´s your radio, your alarm clock, your personal secretary and your connection to the outside world.
It can be really stressful being “on the grid” 24/7.
Becoming more mindful is an excellent way of coping with that stress. And it doesn´t have to be complicated. All you need is a little focus and a few minutes a day to practice.
The results are SO worth it!
Consciousness In The Moment
This is a key element of mindfulness which needs to be practiced to be effective. Next time you take a shower, try this:
As you shower, use all your senses to fully engage.
Pay Attention to your body. Do a body scan: Feel the warmth of the water on your body and the individual drops on your skin.
Feel the smooth, luxurious glide of soap over warm skin. Smell the scent of your shampoo and the softness of the bubbles as you massage it into your hair.
Breathe and visualize…
Express gratitude for the experience.
Put Your Phone Away
In order to keep your relationship with your phone balanced and healthy, it´s important to do a quick check-in from time to time. Here´s a short exercise to help you be more mindful with your phone:
- Pull out your phone – unless, of course, you´re already holding it =)
- Don´t turn it on.
- Simply notice the feel of it in your hand.
- How does it feel? Is it “pulling” you to do something? What´s your body´s response to holding it?
- Notice the shape of it, its size, it´s weight and how it fits in your hand.
- Turn on your phone and notice how you feel as the screen lights up.
- Now, turn off your phone, stand up and walk over to a desk or chest of drawers. Open the drawer and place your phone inside. Close the drawer, walk back over and sit down.
- Ask yourself these questions and be honest with your answers:
- How did it feel when you were asked turn off your phone and put it away?
- What did you feel as you placed it inside the drawer, closed it and walked away?
- How exactly does it feel to hold your phone in your hand?
- Now take a moment to reflect on this exercise. What happened for you, and why do you think it did? (You may want to explore your thoughts further in your journal, if you have one.)
The goal here isn´t to turn away from technology – it´s to make technology your ally.
One Way Your Phone Can Help You Be More Mindful
One nice and convenient aspect of your phone is that you can use it to help become more mindful. Add a background wallpaper with a reminder to breathe or check in. If you type a lot of passwords into your phone, consider creating new passwords as gentle reminders using variations of words like: breathe, pause, mindful or presence.
This may sound too easy but it´s way more effective than you might think. Just focus on your breathing a few times a day.
For whatever reason, my mind works in threes…so I like to breathe in for the count of three, hold for the count of three and breathe out for the count of three. I do this three times a day – stretching up over my head with hands clasped, then out behind me and out in front.
The key is to relax, breathe consciously and stretch gently. It´s a great revitalizer when I´ve been sitting too long or when I´m out in the woods with my little dog, Cinni.
Listen To Your Body
When coping with stress, this is one of the best exercises you can do. It´s called the body scan and involves “mentally” scanning your body from head to foot. The body scan trains your focus, relaxes you and helps break the cycle of physical and psychological tension that often feeds on itself.
Here´s how to do it:
- Get comfortable. Ideally, you want to do this lying down but if that´s not possible where you are, then sitting in a comfortable position will work, too.
- Breathe deeply from your abdomen instead of your chest. Notice how your abdomen expands and contracts with each breath. If you notice your shoulders rising and falling as you breathe, imagine a balloon in your abdomen inflating and deflating with each breath. The more you practice, the easier this becomes.
- Bring awareness to your feet. Notice any uncomfortable sensations in your feet. Focus your attention on them. Breathe into them and see what happens. Visualize the tension leaving your body with each breath you take. Imagine it disappearing into thin air.
- When you´re ready, continue this process with each area of your body, gradually moving up from your feet, to your legs, your abdomen, etc. until you reach the top of your head.
- Notice how you feel and where you´re holding your stress. If there´s any tightness, pain or pressure, continue breathing into that sensation. Visualize the tension leaving your body with each breath you take. Imagine it disappearing into thin air.
If you can, do this daily. It´s an excellent way of becoming more aware of where you hold tension in your body and can help you learn to release it.
Meditate In The Moment
Not everyone is into meditation and you don´t have to be. I rarely have the patience to devote 20 minutes a day to just sitting still. When it comes to coping with stress, what I´ve found works for me is finding small moments of time throughout the day when I can focus on being mindful:
Mindfulness In Nature
I have a little dog and she likes to walk. =) Thankfully, we live in a small town at the foot of the Black Forest where the woods are literally 5 minutes away. And because that´s so, walking in nature has become one of my absolute favorite mindfulness activities.
Whether you´re walking your dog, strolling through your neighbourhood or taking a hike, choose one thing to focus your attention on. It might be the wind in the trees, the feel of the ground beneath your feet or the vibrant colors all around you. Explore that focus using as many of your senses as you can.
And, if you´re mind starts to wander, just give it a tug and bring it back to your main focus for that outing.
Mindfulness At The Wheel
This is one you can do in your car while stopped at a red light. Just turn off your radio and focus on taking deep, even breaths. If your mind starts to wander, gently pull it back to your breathing.
One of the easiest ways to practice mindfulness is using your breathing because it´s always with you and it exists only in the moment.
Mindfulness At The Table
This mindfulness exercise is all about savouring what you have in the moment…
As you eat or drink, focus on the textures, the flavors, the colors and the sensations of what you are putting in your mouth. Each food has distinct properties and very individual associations based on our past experiences.
Have you ever slowed down enough to figure out what those are for you?
We all have to wait sometimes and being mindful is a perfect way to be productive with your time.
While waiting (in line, at the doctors, in your car), you can choose to observe either your breath or what´s going on around you. Use the time to do a quick body scan…are your shoulders tense or is there a headache working its way to the back of your head?
If you choose to observe others in the supermarket checkout line, though, do it without judging them for what they have (or don´t have) in their shopping carts. Practice being as neutral as you can in your observations.
And, finally, practice bringing more mindfulness to your daily activities as well. Everything from writing a blog post and scheduling social media to taking a shower and washing dishes can serve as an opportunity to practice being more mindful.
When you´re coping with stress, focusing on the task at hand can pull you out of the tumultuous river of thoughts that are threatening to drown you. The benefit of practicing mindfulness throughout your day is that, when something comes up that stresses you, you´re much better at redirecting your thoughts away from the raging currents and into calmer waters ahead.
How do you practice mindfulness throughout your day? Share your tips with me below. I really would love to hear!