We all experience stress. The constant demands of modern life, work responsibilities, commitments to family and friends can pile up quickly leaving us feeling stressed and anxious. The fast pace of modern life can often leave us with very little time to process and deal with the growing stresses that pile up in our brains. Mindfulness is a practice that seeks to address this. In this blog, I’d like us to examine what mindfulness is and how we can practise and implement mindfulness in our day to day lives.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is described as the practice of setting your mind completely on what you are experiencing. In theory, this should be very simple. However with the plethora of distractions, stresses and strains we experience can make it hard to focus on being present and aware of oneself all the time. Mindfulness is about paying attention to your thoughts ,feelings and emotions and taking time to process how you feel about them. This state of awareness can help us to break free from the cycle of rumination and worry that can lead to a build up of stress.
The Science Behind Mindfulness
The science behind mindfulness is still an ongoing subject of research, we are still developing a clear understanding of how mindfulness can affect depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. However studies have shown that mindfulness appears to be effective at lowering blood pressure, which in turn can reduce your feelings of stress or anxiety. Various studies have also shown that mindfulness increases activity in the part of the brain that is responsible for perception, body awareness, emotion regulation, complex thinking and more.
As I’ve said before: we all experience stress in one form or another across the course of our lives. However not all stress is the same. Stress is often categorised into three types: acute, chronic and toxic. Acute stress is our body’s immediate response to a perceived threat or environmental factors. Stress is a normal and sometimes helpful function of the body, ensuring that we are alert and ready to respond to a situation that may harm us physically or emotionally. Chronic stress is when our stress is prolonged past the point of immediate danger, leaving a constant feeling of anxiety and pressure. Toxic stress is a form of chronic stress often associated with adverse childhood experiences, and can have severe and long-lasting effects on health. Learning to recognise your moments of stress and anxiety can let you know what kind of stress you are experiencing.
The Power Of Mindfulness To Combat Stress
Mindfulness centres around being present and aware of how you feel. The awareness that comes with mindfulness can help you detach from past worries or trauma and focus on healing and restoring your mind. The practice of mindfulness encourages a deep connection with our experiences, enabling us to enjoy the simple things and find contentment. Mindfulness has even been employed by organisations such as the NHS as it is recognised as a highly effective way to combat stress that can lead to more complicated health issues.
How To Practise Mindfulness
Incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine doesn’t require hours of mediation. Simple techniques such as deep breathing, conscious walking or simply taking time to observe your surroundings can be a form of mindfulness. These practices can fit seamlessly into your day, allowing you brief moments of respite from the stresses and strings of modern life. Here are a few simple mindfulness exercises that you can try.
Studies have shown that deep and mindful breathing can be beneficial to help combat stress and anxiety. Mindful breathing has been a part of practices such as yoga for centuries. Mindful breathing involves taking in a deep breath and feeling how the breath fills up your lungs. As you exhale, feel the breath release from your body and the tension. Repeat this breathing motion, paying attention to how your body responds to this simple action. This deep and mindful breathing can slow your heart rate and give your mind time to refocus on what is important, forgetting the stresses and strains that plague us.
Body Scan Meditation
Body scan meditation involves sitting or lying in a comfortable position and taking time to register how you feel in every individual part of your body. Start by finding a comfortable position, close your eyes and feel your breath in the same way we do for mindful breathing. Then starting with any bit of the body you choose, take time to acknowledge any pain or discomfort and hope that makes you feel emotionally. Slowly work your way through every part of your body from your head to your feet, taking time to recognise each area of your body. This awareness of self has been shown to calm the mind and decrease stress.
Nutrition and mental health go hand in hand. Eating a well balanced diet can provide your body with all the necessary nutrients and vitamins not just to fight physical illness but to combat the symptoms of stress and anxiety. We can approach our relationship with food with the same mindful practices that we use in mindful breathing and body scan meditation. Take time during your meal to recognise the flavours and textures that you are consuming. Savour each bite, acknowledging what you like or don’t like about the flavours. It’s easy in our fast paced lives to multitask during our food leaving us unconnected from the eating experience. Mindful eating allows us to reconnect with our food and our bodies, which can stimulate a feeling of calm and wellbeing
Constant exposure to digital media, the internet and screen can exacerbate stress and anxiety. If mindfulness is the practice of being present, a mobile phone or computer screen can be a big distraction from thinking about your present self. Make time in the day to turn off your phone or devices, or even consider digital free zones in your house. By restricting your use of technology you leave your mind free to focus on what you are experiencing at the time, rather than getting back to that mound of emails!
Managing our stress is really important for our bodies. Allowing acute stress to become chronic stress can be harmful to your body and mind, so learning to recognise and acknowledge when you are experiencing stress is vital to maintaining positive mental health. Mindfulness can offer us a way of reconnecting with how we truly feel. Recognising our stresses and strains can give us the space we need to begin dealing with what stress we can and not obsess over the things we can’t control.
The great thing about mindfulness is that it’s free and accessible to everyone. You don’t need to be a seasoned yoga veteran or a master of meditation to get started. Even five minutes a day to think about how you feel is a great way to start. So take time to make time for yourself, you might find mindfulness may be the key to a less stressed and calmer you.