“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
The world is an increasingly stressful place. It seems every year everything gets faster, louder, busier, and more intense. Technology continues to evolve around us, and the demands of keeping pace (let alone getting ahead) seem endless. Finding ways to reduce your stress levels and manage all that busy noise is essential for your health, wellbeing and happiness. One great way of doing exactly that is to practise mindfulness as part of your everyday routine.
Mindfulness centres your attention on the present by inducing a state of intentional and non-judgemental focus that considers only ‘the now’ and sets aside concerns for the future, or worries over the past.
A versatile practice, mindfulness can be used in isolation or as part of other practices known for their mental and physical health benefits, like meditation and yoga. There are several aspects to mindfulness, but they essentially boil down to four key practices:
- Awareness of the present moment and what is happening in it, in terms of what you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste, as well as other physical sensations that you would usually disregard.
- Focus all of your attention on the now, without concern for the past or future.
- Acceptance of whatever you’re currently thinking or feeling without passing judgement or trying to change how you’re reacting.
- Observation of any unpleasant thoughts, feelings, or sensations in order to recognise that they are fleeting and temporary, so you can observe them without judgement or reaction.
The Benefits Of Mindfulness…
The practice of mindfulness has been studied for many years and research has shown that it is beneficial in several ways for both your mental and physical health. This includes improving your mood, even to the extent of reducing and allowing you to better manage anxiety and depression. In fact, one study has suggested that mindfulness is as effective at alleviating depression and preventing relapse as antidepressants and other medications. Mindfulness has also been shown to help manage physical pain, improve brain function, and aid you in managing your weight.
But one of the greatest benefits of mindfulness is the power it has when it comes to reducing stress. By practising mindfulness you can learn to avoid a lot of the stress that plagues you, and reduce the intensity of stress when you do feel it. There is a physical knock-on benefit here, as this will in turn lower your blood pressure while boosting your immune system.
Beyond this, mindfulness is a very easy practice to slot into your daily routine and, once learned, persists in benefiting you for years to come. If all that sounds too good to be true and you can’t wait to get started, here’s everything you need to know about mindfulness and five easy ways to be mindful for reduced stress…
How Mindfulness Reduces Stress…
There are many ways we try to reduce stress in our lives from an external perspective, from listening to soothing music, to having a hot bath, or tucking into our favourite comfort food. But stress can also be conquered from within. When you’re mindful you’re more aware of your thoughts. That awareness enables you to take a step back from your thoughts and avoid taking them quite so literally. This circumvents the natural stress response and prevents you reacting to the situation instantly.
Intead, you have a chance to pause, consider, and respond to it in a way that is actually constructive to the situation, rather than a simple knee-jerk response.
While this may sound like a simple difference, it’s actually incredibly hard to achieve the ‘wise mind’ state that you reach when you successfully pause and consider before reacting to stressful situations. It’s also incredibly powerful, and simple to achieve through mindful exercises that teach you how to activate your mind’s ‘being’ mode – the state associated with relaxation.
This is the opposite of the mind’s ‘doing’ mode, which is your ‘action’ mode and the mode associated with the stress response.
Beyond enabling you to reduce the impact of stressful situations, mindfulness is also a very effective way of building inner strength, strengthening your mental barriers, and ensuring any future stressors aren’t as impactful on your physical and emotional wellbeing.
There are some additional positive side effects to mindfulness that contribute to a less stressful life. For example, you will become more attuned to your body’s needs, noticing pains and issues sooner, allowing you to get ahead of the problem or take action. Similarly, you become more aware of the emotional needs of others, allowing you to raise your emotional intelligence and avoid conflict.
As an added bonus you also become more compassionate and caring, both to those around you and to yourself. All of this inhibits your stress response, and reduces activity in the amygdala, which is essentially the ‘switch’ for your stress response. When you reduce activity in this part of the brain, you’re lowering the background level of stress you feel throughout the day.
This clears your mind, leaving you better able to focus, more capable of completing your work in an efficient manner, and switching your attitude from constantly being ‘on the verge’ to being generally more relaxed and positive.
As a result, it takes more to stress you out, and your general sense of wellbeing and happiness is greatly improved.
5 Easy Ways To Be Mindful…
So now that you’re clear on how powerful mindfulness is at reducing stress, you’re probably wondering how to achieve that zen-like mindful state. Here are five easy ways you can work a little mindfulness into your life, starting today…
#1 Develop Concentration…
If you’re new to mindfulness it can be a daunting prospect to spend so much time focusing on your own thoughts. Afterall, if you’re stressed or anxious it is those very thoughts causing you such trouble. How can concentrating on the thoughts that are bothering you possibly help?
This is a natural response, and why so many of us instinctively try to distract ourselves from stress. We avoid thinking about it and what’s causing it, believing that distracting the mind will negate the stress.
Unfortunately, we’re wrong. It is only through focus, concentration, and a heightened state of self-awareness that you will effectively learn to avoid and combat stress. Focusing on developing your concentration so that you’re better able to give your full attention to one thing at a time will help you to raise your awareness. It will also ensure you recognise when your mind is wandering at other times, and teach you how to bring yourself back into the present and stop worrying over past or future scenarios.
#2 Just Breathe…
The busier we are the more we react on instinct, and the less able we are to get real perspective or distance on the trials and tribulations of the day. Slowing down and taking a breath is one of the basic tenets of mindfulness, as it allows you to actually engage your brains and act with thought and purpose, rather than simply reacting based on those instincts (which aren’t always right, and aren’t always helpful).
Breathing is an innate skill we all have. There’s no need to think about it, your body just does it for you. As a result it seems like a rather bizarre thing to ascribe such power to – you’re already doing it, why bother thinking about it?
After all, it’s one of the few things in life that happens without any need for thought at all, and when we’re stressed the more we can automate life the better.
But it’s incredibly important to regulate your breathing. You may do it on autopilot without any need to think about it, but when you’re breathing without thought you’ll frequently find you’re doing it wrong.
Or at least, not doing it in the most productive manner possible.
Slowing your breathing and ensuring you’re capable of taking steadying, even breaths in a variety of environments (be it work, home, social events, or waiting for your next doctor’s appointment) is far more powerful than its simplicity would suggest.
It’s also surprisingly difficult.
If you’ve ever suffered a panic attack or anxiety attack you will know how hard it is to control your breathing when you’re in a state of stress.
Simply spending a few minutes each day focusing on your breath and becoming more aware of your own breathing can make a huge difference when it comes to quieting your mind, and switching off from the stresses of the day. Once you’ve perfected a few breathing exercises, you will also find you have an instant form of relief from any stressful situations that crop up.
As soon as you start feeling that stress response kick in, pause, take a breath.
Give yourself a bit of space to think before you react.
#3 Relinquish Control…
One of the most stressful things any of us can feel is the sensation that we are not in control of our lives. When we feel that we lack agency or choice, that the world is simply ‘happening’ to us, rather than that we are taking charge and driving the course of our own destiny, we quickly feel helpless. That helplessness kickstarts our stress response, making it more likely we will feel stressed by our situations and any new developments.
Every new stressor exacerbates the feeling of being out of control, and the cycle continues, as we become ever more stressed from moment to moment.
It’s difficult to feel you’ve lost your personal power (regardless of the reason for it) but if you can let go of that need to be in control, to feel you have control of the world and everything around you, it will help you immeasurably.
Look at it this way, you’re not completely relinquishing control, instead you’re choosing to focus your attention on controlling yourself, rather than the world. And you are taking that control by releasing control of everything else.
Reframe your loss of control as a means of taking control, and your whole perspective will shift to a more positive outlook.
#4 Learn To Simply Be…
Part of all of these methods of mindfulness is learning to simply be with yourself. Whether you’re concentrating, breathing, or bringing your attention to the here and now and letting go of other concerns, you’re going to have to get comfortable being alone with your own thoughts.
With your own self.
Learn to be alone, and be content to be alone, without the distractions of other people and even other things. It’s one thing to be happy sitting alone watching TV, listening to music, or surfing the net, but being alone without any distractions is a very different thing.
Clear your mind, switch off the phone and all your other devices, and remove yourself from any external stressors or stimuli. When you’re first learning to do this it’s helpful to literally sit in a dark, quiet room so you can’t see or hear anything.
Pay attention to yourself, rather than the things around you. What are you thinking and feeling? Focus on one specific part of your body and fully appreciate all its physical sensations, then gradually move around your body paying equal attention to every part of your body. You may find it easiest to start with the soles of your feet and work up to your knees, then your hips, back, stomach, chest, neck, and finally head.
This is known as a ‘body scan’, and it’s important to consider every area of your body without judgement or reaction. You’re not looking for flaws or faults, you’re simply checking in with yourself and getting used to being comfortable in your own skin.
#5 Make Technology Your Friend…
While there are many downsides to the modern age that come with the noise and bustle of technology, if you’re smart about it technology can also be your greatest ally. Try setting simple reminders on your phone that ensure you get into positive daily mindfulness habits. Go one step further and use a mindfulness app to help walk you through clear and simple exercises that increase your focus, and reduce your stress.
Zen Buddy has been specifically designed for busy people who need to take a breath, focus inward, and learn to let go of the stresses and strains of life in favour of a more relaxed and positive outlook. Signup below to be first in line to receive the free trial of our new mindfulness app when it’s released later this year. In the interim we’ll send you more great tips and advice on how to relax and stay zen in the face of a stressful world…