How to Manage Stress with Mindfulness

Stress is a common complaint for most adults. Mindfulness offers some strategies for managing your stress levels. Trying a single strategy one time isn’t enough. You will have to teach your body how to respond, so keep trying!

Breathe out your stress with mindfulness

Your breath is a particularly helpful ally in coping with stress. Many relaxation programs are well aware of the power of the breath in regulating stress and recommend deep breathing to manage stress.

Usually, in mindfulness, you simply need to be aware of your breath and don’t have to change your breathing rate. However, here are some different techniques you can use to help to relieve stress.

  • Diaphragmatic or belly breathing. You can do this lying down, sitting up with your back straight, or in whatever position suits you. Take a natural breath and allow your belly to fill up with air. Allow the breath to release as you normally do. Repeat for as long as you feel necessary. Feel each breath coming in and going out of your body.

  • Counting your breaths. Adopt a comfortable posture and close your eyes if you want to. Feel your breath coming in and out. Each time you breathe out, count. Begin with one, and work your way up to ten. When you reach ten, start again from one. If at any point you lose count, begin again at one.

    You may find it difficult to get past the number two or three before your mind goes off into worries or dreams – no problem. All that matters is that as soon as you notice that your mind has drifted off, you start again at one, without criticising yourself if you can.

  • Deep mindful breathing. Take a deep breath and allow your belly to fill up with air. Hold your breath for a few moments and then slowly release the breath. Repeat for as long as you feel comfortable. As you breathe out, allow yourself to let go of all tension and stress as best you can. If you can’t, you don’t need to worry – just try again later.

  • Mindful breathing with other activities. Mindful breathing while engaging in day-to-day activities provides a calming and nourishing antidote to stress. If you’re doing a simple or repetitive activity, become aware of your breathing as you do it. Simply allow some of your awareness to go to the feeling of your breath.

As you practice, you may become great friends with your own breath. You look forward to being with the breath, and with noticing its calming, rhythmic flow.

Use your mind to manage stress

Stressors don’t cause stress on their own. First, you need to interpret the stress as a problem that may have a negative impact on you. Then the stress reaction occurs. This is a simple but fundamental process. Remembering that you’re the observer of your stress rather than the stress itself helps you to become free, and stress becomes less of a problem.

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Use the following tips to lower your level of stress by becoming aware of how you interpret challenges:

  • Write down the thoughts that are causing you stress. Write whatever comes to your head. Nobody else needs to see it, so be totally honest. The process of writing helps slow your mind down, and enables you to tackle stressful thoughts one at a time. Remember that thoughts are just thoughts. Your stress is caused not so much by the thoughts, but because you believe them to be true.

  • See the big picture. What effect does seeing things from a different angle have on the situation? How would you feel if you were in someone else’s shoes? This may be the person who seems to be causing the stress, or someone else – you choose!

  • Consider what’s the worst that could happen. Sometimes you may imagine the situation to be worse than it actually is. By considering the worst, you may realize things aren’t that bad.

  • Break down the problem. If you have a big problem and can’t face up to the issues, try splitting up the problem into small steps. Then take things one step at a time.

  • See problems in a different way. If you see difficulties in life as challenges, your mind may automatically begin to start searching for helpful solutions. If all you see is problems, you’re more likely to feel drained and stressed by their weight on your shoulders. See challenges as opportunities to discover new things about yourself and your resilience, rather than problems to be avoided or coped with.

  • Discuss the cause of the stress with someone. The process of talking about your issue is likely to help you to see aspects you never even thought of. And even if you don’t, the very act of talking about the issues you’re facing helps to dissipate their potency.

  • Let go of perfectionism. Perfectionism is a common reason for high levels of stress. Understand that being perfect is impossible to reach. Adjust your standards by lowering them a little. You can try aiming for 80 per cent perfection and see if that helps.

  • Appreciate what’s going well. Think of all the things that are going well for you at the moment, and write them down. They don’t need to be big things – anything you’re even slightly grateful for will suffice. Doing so encourages you to feel less stress.

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