When you make the choice to cultivate an attitude of mindfulness, you decide to make contact with the present moment with complete openness, acceptance, and curiosity. You let go of the need to alter or change any aspects of the present moment and simply welcome your experience. Life becomes stressful when we feel overwhelmed by worries about the past or future. Mindfulness enables you to release your attachments to stress by bringing your peaceful awareness more fully to the present moment.
Stress can be useful when it is experienced as a motivating impetus for change… “eustress.” On the other hand, stress becomes unhealthy when it acts as a blockage to growth and keeps you stuck… “distress.” Mindfulness allows you to discern between eustress and distress by encouraging you to take a step back from being enmeshed with your thoughts and emotions. When you become mindful, you are transformed into a watchful observer of your experience. This quiet place of observation provides you with the space necessary to make more informed choices of how to best proceed.
5 Ways to Reduce Stress with Mindfulness
The next time you notice yourself experiencing unhealthy stress, try to approach your experience of stress from a place of mindfulness:
1. Notice your bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Take a step back from your experience and mindfully observe where you feel the sensations of stress in your body. Notice any areas of tension and direct deep slow breaths to those areas. Observe your patterns of thought that may be serving to intensify the stress. Mindfully watch them float away as you visualize them as leaves on a stream. Observe your emotions with openness, curiosity, and acceptance. Welcome your emotions just as they are without fighting against them. When you welcome your experience in this way, it creates far less suffering than fighting against it.
2. Pause and take 10 deep slow belly breaths. When you pause in moments of distress to take deep slow breaths, you are stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system. Taking slow and deep breaths from your diaphragm provides your parasympathetic nervous system with the opportunity to “kick in” and provide your system with much needed calm and relaxation. Bring your full awareness to the sensations of your breath filling and leaving your lungs as you notice your heart rate slow down and your muscles relax.
3. Step into “wise mind.” Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) encourages tapping into the inner wellspring of deep intuitive knowing that rests within us all: wise mind. This is essentially the delicate balance between pure reason and pure emotion. Stress often takes us away from the present moment and leads to making hasty decisions based on overuse of logic or emotion. When you feel faced with a stressful decision, actively tap into wise mind and allow your intuition to calmly and mindfully light the way.
4. Become mindful of just one thing at a time. Stress can lead to an internal sense of feeling scattered or confused. When we become overwhelmed by stress, the ability to make decisions can easily become impaired. Mindfulness means focusing on just one thing at a time. Allow yourself to consciously slow down the speed of your thoughts and the rate of your breath. Focus on just one idea at a time with full conscious awareness to avoid become overwhelmed by stress.
5. Actively express gratitude. When we feel stressed, it is easy to become overly focused on problems and simultaneously become blind to the positives. Research strongly suggests that adopting a deliberate attitude and practice of gratitude significantly increases overall well-being. Notice the way stress often leads to negative thinking. Make the choice to counteract your internal negativity and take the time to express gratitude for all of the positives in your life. This can be as simple as consciously noticing and expressing gratitude for the sun warming your face or the kind smile of a stranger.
What to do with this Information
Begin to become more mindful of your personal cues that you may be experiencing stress. As you become more tuned in to your typical signs of stress, you can begin to actively take steps toward reducing your stress with mindfulness. How does your relationship with stress change when you consciously adopt an open and accepting attitude of mindfulness? Slow down and choose to become the mindful observer of your experience. Within this space that mindfulness provides lies the opportunity to make different and healthier choices in the future.