Mindfulness & Stress

Mindfulness & Stress:

Small instances can put pressure on us. It is sufficient that something happens, that we don’t expect, that doesn’t fit in our fast paced day, or something that evokes fears regarding the future. Being stressed often feels like losing our balance:  Our heart rate is getting faster, our chest feels tensed, our hands are getting cold.  We often are not aware of our body sensations and the turbulent thought stream that is making us blind.

Hyperarousal can become a chronic state of body and mind, with higher blood pressure, muscle tensions, headache, fatigue and more.

We respond to stress in a way that derives from ancient times: The Automatic Stress Response, the so called Freeze- Fight- or- Flight response. None of these are options in modern times, although we tend to freeze under stress to some extent, but usually we don’t rush out of the door at work or start a fight with a colleague.

We remain stuck in our body with stress hormones as Cortisol and Adrenalin running wild. Responsible for that is the Amygdala, a part of the brain that functions as radar for stress.

During Mindfulness practice the Amygdala activity is significantly lower (Goleman/Davidson: Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body, New York 2012). In Mindfulness we respond to stress with self compassion:
Take a few deep breaths. Observe if your body is signaling stress: Tensions, higher heart rate, stomach sensations…
Allow some softening of contractions. Relax your facial muscles, stomach, neck, jaws, hands.

Allow yourself to feel precisely they way you feel right now. Say to yourself:  It’s OK.This too will pass.I can handle this.

If you cannot handle the moment, this is OK as well, see if you can bring some Kindness and Self Compassion to yourself. Shift your attention to your breath rhythm. Breathing in a bit deeper and Breathing out a bit slower calms body & mind.

Place a hand on your belly & focus on the Rising and Falling of the breath. Repeating in silence: Rising- when Breathing in and Falling- when Breathing out.

If you have the possibility to move, sports, going for a walk, stretching, Yoga, do it. Movement helps getting rid of the stress hormones.

Let go of getting scared by thoughts again and again. Notice the stories our mind is creating, observe how one thought creates a rat tail of thoughts driving us deeper and deeper in fear or frustration. By Clinging we create our own prison. By Letting go we explore feeling free. Notice how it would feel like to let go for some minutes. Thoughts, sensations & emotions are like energy waves running through.They won’t stay for long.

One single thought or emotion is not you. You are much more than that. Be aware of the feeling of uneasiness that drives us to act immediately to get rid of it.

Mindfulness cannot eliminate stress in life or our normal reaction in these situations, but it is essential for recovering from stress much faster. The following steps are important to rebalance faster:

See change as opportunity, not as a thread. Being afraid of new beginnings is blocking us. Life is constantly changing and renewing. 

As Thich Naht Hanh said: Life is continuation. It’s like a garden, always the same, but at the same time always new.

Make a list of persons and things that exhaust you.Take time out from these stress sources. Make a list of things and persons that nourish you. Take your time for them. Ask yourself what you need. Sometimes we need protection in a different way we think. Take care of your need for feeling safe. Make a list of what gives you  sense of being protected.

When under pressure we tend to broom about the negative things. We should embrace the positive things in life as well. There is shadow & light. Shift your attention to the light.

Our mind is connected with our body. That means that everything we think can have an effect on our bodily sensations and vice versa: Body sensations have an impact on our mind and feelings. Depressed mind- depressed body.

Our approach to life can be altered by tiny little shifts.The pure act of Smiling gives us a feeling of hope and happiness. Altering your posture can have an influence on your mood as well: Prof. Mark Williams: Finding Peace in a Frantic World 2011.

More about Mindful Breathing here.

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