Mindfulness and Stress

Mindfulness and Stress

How mindfulness helps us to cope when life is challenging

Stress is a factor of modern life, and it seems that many more we are experiencing over-busy and challenging lives. This can lead us feeling like we’re struggling. But there are ways to make things better. Developing a daily mindfulness practice, though not a quick fix to a stress-free life, can slowly and steadily help to reduce our stress and anxiety.

An excellent place to start is to understand stress in more detail.

What is Stress

We sometimes assume that a perfect life would be a life without stress. But in reality, we need some external pressure to motivate and get us going. If the pressure is too low, we end up feeling bored and lethargic. But too much stimulation, stressors, and pressure lead to distress and anxiety, exhaustion, loss of control, and ultimately burnout.
Stress can be internal (thoughts, emotions or attitudes) like include factors like

  • Negative, judgmental thoughts about yourself or others, place or situations

  • Low self-esteem or low self-compassion

  • A tendency toward perfectionism

There can also be external factors. These can include significant life events like coping with illness, death, debt, or relationship issues. But can also be tight deadlines, too many meeting and emails at work, having to manage a family and a full-time job. Sometimes these factors can appear quite small, even trivial, but over prolonged periods of time, they can cause problems.

I like the analogy of holding a glass of water. If you had to hold the glass of water for a minute, that might be fine. If you had to hold the glass for 10 minutes, the task becomes more difficult, but you could manage. But if you had to hold the glass of water all day, then it’s a problem which would cause feelings of tiredness, irritation and even anxiety to arise. In fact, you probably wouldn’t be able to complete the task.

How Does Stress Affect Us Physically?

Stress or more correctly our response can have a considerable influence on your body. It is believed that up to 75% of visits to the doctor are stress related. Stress frequently leads to muscle tension that can result in conditions such as tension headaches and back pain. It affects the circadian rhythm that leads to reduced sleep, which in turn can lead to fatigue. When you are stressed your immune system can be comprised, and you are susceptible to a range of diseases.

Stress: the influence on your mind?

Besides the influence on your physical health, it can also have severe consequences on your psychological wellbeing. For example, stress can cause worrying, which is a sped-up version of thinking in circles. You find yourself getting stuck on the same subject without finding a solution. If this keeps up for a long time, this leads to exhaustion, which in turn can lead to burnout.

Stress often makes it more difficult to focus and remember things, which can cause your work, and life, in general, to be more difficult. If you are stressed, tasks will take more time, which in turn can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and a loss of confidence.

It can affect the quality of your relationship. When your stress levels are high, you’re more likely to become irritated even angry with others. Stress weakens your emotional intelligence, making it difficult to accept things from another’s point of view.

It is a complicated subject, and the ways to solve are not straightforward, but mindfulness can play a role in reducing the stress response.

What is Mindfulness?

In your healthy state of mind, you are living a life of unconscious habits. You don’t give full attention to everything do. And given that we have anything up to 70,000 thoughts a day that’s probably a good thing. Your brain forms habits to help you complete tasks more efficiently.

You don’t require any conscious awareness. Habits have several benefits: Everyday activities are usually unconscious, so you use up less energy in your conscious awareness. Like walking, brushing your teeth or driving a car. Once learned they happen quickly and efficiently.

But there is a downside to habits. As habits are unconscious you can miss out on experiences; you can start to lose choice as you react instead of respond. And persistent patterns that are negative can lead to stress.

Mindfulness is living in the moment, noticing what’s happening and making choices in how you respond rather than being driven by habitual reactions. Mindfulness isn’t an automatic process. You need to choose to be mindful. It requires some effort, a purposeful decision to pay attention in active, participatory way. And it’s also about paying attention with a positive attitude.

How Can Mindfulness Help To Break The Negative Effects of Stress?

As I’ve stated earlier stress is a complicated subject but here a few ways that mindfulness can help to reduce stress.

  • Mindfulness helps us to become more aware of our thoughts. We begin to see that thoughts are just that.. thoughts and not necessarily facts. We can learn to “look at” our thoughts, not from them This stepping back that reduces our stress response. By stepping back we are creating a space in which we can choose how we want to respond or find the best solution.
  • You are better able to focus. This helps you to be more productive which in turns gives you a greater sense of well-being, and this reduces the stress response.
  • As you cultivate your mindfulness practice, you become kinder to yourself. You become more sensitive to the needs of your body and when you feel tired or notice pains you take appropriate action.
  • Mindfulness makes us more aware of the needs of others and our emotional intelligence rises and so we experience less conflict. We begin to develop a compassionate mind that in turn inhibits the stress response.

How To Start Practicing Mindfulness in Daily Life

One of the most common questions I’m asked is “how can I bring more mindfulness into my everyday life. Here are three simple ways to begin to bring mindfulness into your day.

  • Mindful ‘Chores’
    Turn your ordinary household jobs into mindfulness sessions. Housework tends takes up a good part of our lives. And we can make them part of our mindfulness practice. The next time you have to do the laundry or wash up the dishes, focus all of your awareness on the task at hand, be in the present moment. Try to be fully engaged in what you are doing, not rushing to the end of the task or daydreaming.You could try noticing the feel and textures of the fabric, how they smell. Pay attention to the colors.
  • Mindful Walking
    Walking is a simple way to be mindful without having to do anything ‘extra’ in your day. Whether you’re walking to and from the bus, out with the dog or from the car park to the office you can turn it into a mindfulness exercise.Bring your attention to your body. Notice your breath. Begin to move your feet. If possible you can walk slowly and deliberately to aid you in your practice. Notice how the ground feels under your feet, how your clothes feel against your skin. Pay attention to your surroundings, – the buildings, the sky, and plants and the birds singing in the trees.Aim to be present at every step. If you’d like to learn more check out my blog on Mindful Walking
  • One Minute Of Mindfulness
    Make time for short ‘meditations’ throughout your day. One or two minutes at a time when your mind is focused on your breath and nothing else.You choose to do this with your eyes either open or closed. If your mind wanders then you can and you get lost in thought then gently bring your attention back to the breath. There’s no right or wrong way to do this and a short meditation can be wonderful practice for times when stress starts to build.

If you would like to try some more ways to practice mindfulness in your day then you can download my Daily Dose of Mindfulness ebook here

Did this post resonate? If you would like to connect and discuss how I can support you to manage your stress through mindfulness then book a Clarity Call with me

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