“Collect moments not things”
Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. We react to these changes with physical, mental and emotional responses. It is a normal part of life and we experience stress from the environment, our bodies and our thoughts.
Stress isn’t always a bad thing as it keeps us alert and ready in order to avoid danger. It also helps for a burst of extra energy and focus – when you’re playing a competitive sport or speaking in public.
Stress becomes negative when it is continuous, without relief or relaxation. When stress builds up you can become overwhelmed, it might feel like your attention keeps being kidnapped by emotions and thoughts. Worrying thoughts can lead to a vicious cycle of stress and anxiety from which it is difficult to escape. This can lead to tension, headaches, and lack of concentration, fatigue and other health issues.
So, how can mindfulness help?
We spend a significant part of our lives operating on autopilot including the way we think. Most of the time we are not aware of what is happening, our subconscious brain makes the decisions. We stop thinking about what we are doing. This can be helpful, walking to work or home, making a drink, driving, but it can also be unhelpful and can cause stress especially when our thoughts start running away and our inner critical voice takes over – dragging us down or worrying.
Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of what we are doing, giving us a choice rather than letting the subconscious brain take over. This includes how we think, allowing us to take control of our thoughts.
“Mindfulness is being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, and not being trapped in the past or worrying about the future.” – Danny Penman (Mindfulness for Creativity).
When our mind is focused in the present moment it makes it difficult for the mind to do anything else. Therefore integrating mindfulness into your daily activities i.e. what is our experience at that moment, provides us with a short break from negative/worrying thoughts and allows stress levels to fall, enabling clearer thinking. Here are a few techniques that might help you to introduce mindfulness into your daily life thus reducing stress and tension.
Do something mindfully
Pick something that you normally do every day, such as brushing your teeth, showering, making a drink, opening/closing doors. Just do it mindfully which doesn’t mean slowly, it simply means paying attention to whatever you are doing.
So if we take brushing your teeth, firstly do nothing else. Notice what it feels like to clean your teeth: the feeling of the brush on your teeth and gums, the taste and texture of the toothpaste in your mouth, maybe the smell. How does it feel to wash your mouth with water the end?
Whatever activity you use to be mindful with make sure you…
- Just do that activity and nothing else
- Bring your attention to the physical sensations
- If your mind wanders, bring it back to what you are doing.
“Give yourself permission to do nothing for a few minutes”
Take a break
How many times in a day do you stop and do nothing? Most of us go from one thing to another not even stopping for a cup of coffee. While waiting for the kettle to boil we tend to do other things. Even drinking the coffee whilst doing something else emails, cleaning etc.
Having no breaks, even for a minute, is not good for us and is one of the causes of stress as we are continuously on the go. Our minds become tired, we can find it hard to concentrate and pay attention to what we are doing.
“How many times in a day do you stop and do nothing?”
If you are thinking ‘I am too busy’, have you thought how much more efficient you would be if you were paying attention to what you were doing and thinking clearly? Several times throughout the day give yourself permission to do nothing for a few minutes. Stop what you have been doing and rest for a few moments.
Get away from technology for a few minutes
Simply move away from technology, take a brief walk and don’t answer the phone. You may find this liberating as we tend to be at the beck and call of phones, social media and emails.
Taking lots of micro breaks throughout the day also reduces stress. Close your eyes and follow your breathing for three breaths. Perhaps look out of the window, noticing what you can see. If you have been sitting, stand up or sit down if you have been on your feet for a while.
Become aware of your body
This is especially useful if you have been doing some mental work, problem solving or working at a screen. Close your eyes and become aware of any sensations in your body, where your feet make contact with the floor, your bottom on a chair, or your arms resting in your lap or on the desk. You may feel gravity pulling you down slightly and the movement of your breath flowing in and out as your abdomen expands with the in breath and falls back with the out breath.
This may help you to remember this three STAGE breathing space.
- Awareness – What am I aware of right now? Thoughts, feelings and body sensations. Acknowledging and registering your experience
- Gathering – Now gathering in your awareness to the breath, following each in breath and each out breath
- Expanding – Expanding your awareness around your breath, including a sense of your body as a whole.
By Donna Brown,
Breathworks Associate & Accredited Teacher Breathworks Mindfulness are a leading UK based social enterprise who’s mission is to help those living with pain, stress and illness to live happier and healthier lives through mindfulness regardless of circumstances. They run two signature eight-week courses; the award winning Mindfulness for Health course (For pain and long-term health conditions and Mindfulness for Stress (For stress and anxiety). The courses are run at central venues in Manchester as well as delivered by over 200 accredited teachers throughout the UK. These courses are also accessible through online courses and books with accompanying audio. Breathworks