Beating Stress with Mindfulness
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., ACCESS Media Relations Specialist
October 13, 2017
Some days you’ve just had ENOUGH. You’re feeling overwhelmed with stress from work, family drama or even bad traffic. You feel wound up, hot, tense and close to snapping. This is what happens when we get pulled down by a fast-flowing river of stress-inducing issues. We may feel like we are drowning, and our bodies react as if the danger is real and must be dealt with immediately. There are unhealthy ways to deal with stress (i.e., smoking, drinking, and bingeing on food, acting out on others) and one or all of them might sound like a good solution in the moment.
But stop. Take a breath. This is the moment is where practicing mindfulness can save your relationship, your job or even your life. You are stronger and smarter than those bad feelings and we encourage you to beat them down with mindful moments. Here are 11 simple things you can do:
- Stop what you're doing and do something else. One of the best ways to calm down if you're already feeling stressed is to walk away from what is bothering you. Pick up a different task. Choose a distraction that requires your full attention like working on a car, writing an email to a loved one or playing an online game. If you’re driving, turn on the radio.
- Take some deep breaths. One of the first things that happens when we begin to feel stress is that our breath shortens and the body enters a state of “fight or flight.” Much of our reasoning goes away, and we literally have only two options — resist or flee. This was helpful when we were cavemen, but today it can result in the end of our job or relationship. Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate, so take a five-minute break to just breathe. Close your eyes and put a hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose, as you feel the breath make your stomach rise. Then, exhale that deep breath through your mouth.
- Get some exercise. Just move. Go for a quick walk around the block, take the stairs up and down a few flights, do a few shoulder rolls and neck stretches. Get the tension out of your muscles.
- Take a break. For example, if an argument with someone is getting heated, stop and say something like, “I need to take a 15-minute break before we continue talking about this.” Leave the room or pull off the road for a moment to put things in perspective. Focus on breathing deeply, and recite a calming phrase, such as, “I can handle this. I can do this. I can be calm.”
- Pray or visit your church. Surveys have shown that a major reason people practice religion is for stress relief. And other research suggests religious people are less likely to experience stress-related mental illness. So, take a moment and pray in whatever way you know how.
- Take a nap. Napping hasbeen shown to reduce cortisol levels, which aids in stress relief. Heart rate and breathing slows down when we rest, which counteracts our physical response to stress.
- Meditate. Simply take a moment to tell yourself positive things, take deep breaths and focus on an image in your mind that’s a good memory or a relaxing place.
- Find a connection. Try and find some common ground with the person or group who is stressing you out. Ask yourself, “How is this person just like me?” The obvious similarity is that we all get up each day with our own set of priorities and responsibilities. When you see the other person as more like you than you think, you’re able to forgive them more easily.
- Be grateful. Remember all the things that are good in your life. Your loved ones, your job, your family, and your friends are all so much more important to you than whatever is stressing you out in that moment.
- Talk to a friend or loved one. Talk to others preferably face-to-face, or at least on the phone. Tell them what’s bothering you. Let them tell you what they think of your problem. Just don't turn your talks into all complaining. Ranting will get you worked up again.
- Crank up the tunes. Research shows that listening to soothing music can lower blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety. So, put on whatever makes you happy and turn up the volume!
Keep these tips handy every day. You can also find some additional mindfulness tips here.