Fairfield County Edition

Mindfulness for Stress Relief

Mindfulness. Does the word bring up an image of someone sitting in the lotus position meditating for hours? Does it leave a feeling that we have a life to live and no time for such luxury? Yet we can put mindfulness, responsibilities and stress in the same sentence and create harmony from them. To do that, we first we need to understand what mindfulness is. Ideas about mindfulness abound; for someone new to the practice, it may seem like a challenge to even get started, let alone do it consistently.

Mindfulness is not just meditation

Mindfulness is “living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment,” according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. That immediately debunks the idea that mindfulness is meditation in the formal sense. On the contrary, it is a habit that we can practice under any circumstance, including – most especially – when we are stressed.

Our modern lifestyle is often so busy and pressured that we either see stress as normal — therefore something we have to live with—or we desire a better way of living but have little idea of how to make it possible. There are, however, ways to use mindfulness to reduce stress so that we can create a more meaningful life.

Recognize

Recognize the triggers that lead us to feeling stressed. These could be related to work, unsatisfying relationships, parenting challenges, health concerns, societal expectations or issues related to personal growth and development. Having identified the triggers, we then pay attention to the negative thoughts and emotions we have about them and can decide on advantageous actions to take to deal with the situation. These steps help us realize that whatever we think and feel can change in each moment. They help us see that those thoughts and feelings do not define who we are; they are just thoughts and emotions. As such, we are free to choose a more positive thought to lead us to a better feeling and, ultimately, a more satisfying action. Taking the time to do this process is a form of mindfulness.

Express

Express in a manner that promotes awareness of our challenges and represents a deliberate effort to find relief. Many times we experience conflict between doing what our heart truly wants and living up to societal expectations. Consider being in an unhappy relationship and not wanting to get out of it because of fear of what others may think or say. Although we are the expert on our lives, it is sometimes stressful to take the next step toward our happiness. However, we can use mindfulness to support us in the form of expressive writing.

1. Find a quiet place.

2. Choose an emotional challenge that can be handled now (not a recent traumatic event).

3. Write down deep thoughts and emotions about this challenge. Do not be concerned about grammar or spelling; just let thoughts flow.

4. Write continuously for five to no more than 20 minutes.

5. Do this two to three times per week.

This exercise will help us to explore how the event has affected us; it enables us to choose different thoughts and ways of relating to others and the world. That is mindfulness at work.

Laughter

We can do it at any moment; it lightens our hearts and brings levity to a situation. When we laugh at ourselves, we feel energized and inspired to take life less seriously. We also connect to others through laughter. Looking for a way to do that? Try it during the upcoming holidays. Instead of rushing around doing preparations, let’s slow down and laugh at ourselves and with others. That is an effective way of practicing mindfulness.

Acceptance

As we interact with others, we face situations that affect us so strongly that we often struggle for control over our lives. We try to control how our children behave, what our politicians do, what is happening globally; the list is endless. Our constant effort to control leaves us stressed. However, practicing acceptance is one mindful way of dealing with such stress. We all have different opinions and priorities, and our experiences, ideals and desires vary. Therefore, it’s helpful to accept that we will not always agree on everything and things will not always go the way we want them to go. In addition, accepting that situations continually change, as do our responses to them, helps us to focus on a given issue with more interest and openness and with less desire to control it. This mindfulness technique will make a world of difference in our lives.

eXercise

We know exercise helps to lower stress, but exercising mindfully can be deeply beneficial. Sometimes we jog with ear buds on as we talk on the phone or listen to music. Sometimes we read the paper while on the treadmill without paying attention to the movement of our bodies. We can become mindful of our workout by focusing on how our muscles work, how our feet hit the pavement and the flexibility—or lack thereof—of our limbs in addition to our form and posture. This type of awareness can prevent injuries and help us to monitor our progress deliberately rather than exercising out of a sense of obligation. We also forget about what is stressing us and appreciate living in the moment while witnessing what is happening in our bodies.

The uppercase letters above spell RELAX; it’s an easy way to remember how to practice mindfulness. When we do it with a relaxed attitude and with the intention of being nonjudgmental, we will find our stress levels decreasing considerably. As we develop the habit, we learn to decide and act with awareness even in the most stressful situations.

Jasmin Hepburn is a stress-management coach specializing in helping women rid their lives of unhealthy stress. She also uses energy healing to help her clients remove emotional blocks. Connect at NoNeedtoStress.com.

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