GOT STRESS? GET MINDFULNESS!

Got stress? Who doesn’t! Maybe you have tried the same old stress management ideas for years – exercising, positive thinking, reading self-help books, or taking medication – but nothing seems to help in the long run. But there is some good news after all for people who struggle with stress and anxiety – and that good news is an approach called Mindfulness. This approach does not just teach ways to decrease stress, but instead focuses on developing a new set of attitudes based upon compassion and acceptance for one’s self and others. Central to mindfulness is the practice of focusing attention on the present moment. Sometimes people can be so stuck in the emotional pain from the past or so preoccupied with worries about tomorrow that they forget to enjoy living today! Like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) teaches, “one day at a time,” – but with mindfulness, it is one moment at a time that is to be experienced and enjoyed. Some people prefer to call mindfulness by the term, awareness, because they are more aware of the day-to-day moments in their lives and the small joys and discoveries that they make each day.

A key aspect of mindfulness involves breathing. When we are stressed, our breathing is usually rapid and shallow, our muscles tightened, and our heart rate and blood pressure increase. If we continue to react to stress in this way, it could result in a panic attack. But if we focus on breathing slowly and deeply from our diaphragms or bellies while at the same time relaxing our muscles, our bodies can let go of the stress and tension. In fact, learning psychology teaches us that we cannot be physiologically nervous and also relaxed at the same time – a classical conditioning principle called reciprocal inhibition. Research shows that deep, slow breathing from the diaphragm can actually prevent a panic attack from occurring, as well as decrease the intensity of a panic attack.

Breathing can help people slow down their own reactive process of anger or stress and help them “let go” of physical tension in their bodies. It can also help individuals better handle their emotions by giving them a few extra moments to think about their choices and the consequences attached to these choices. Fortunately, wherever we go, our lungs go with us – making breathing and mindfulness a possibility at all times.

Other daily mindfulness practices include eating, sitting and also walking awareness or meditation. For example, instead of quickly gulping down a meal and rushing off to the next activity, eating awareness means actually chewing your food and noticing the flavor, texture and temperature of it. With walking meditation, you can focus on the strength of your muscles as you move forward and the various sensations in your feet. Sitting meditation also involves noticing your physical experiences as you sit in a chair – perhaps you may be aware of the power of your spine and feel grounded and secure.

Mindfulness principles are similar in many ways to AA’s philosophy, as it teaches compassion for self and others, developing patience, accepting what cannot be changed and finding the courage to change the things you can, changing judgmental thoughts, and letting go of situations without adding negative commentary.

We invite you to listen to a short mindfulness exercise from our CD: Got Stress? Get Mindfulness! CLICK HERE