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5 Ways to Ease Stress with Mindfulness

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Each April, we acknowledge Stress Awareness Month as an opportunity to reflect on the stress we experience, and the tools we can use to ease it from our lives. One of the simplest, most effective, and most accessible stress reducers at our disposal is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is present moment awareness, without judgment. You might notice sadness, anger, or grief arising, and mindfulness allows you a little distance to feel the feelings. Then, you may choose to focus your attention somewhere else in order to ground yourself in a more wholesome state so that you feel less suffering and more ease. You can direct this mindful awareness toward anything! The key is that you are choosing what to focus your mind on, rather than allowing unbridled thoughts and emotions to take over and dominate your attention.

With life’s usual stresses compounded by the ongoing pandemic, many of us feel just plain overwhelmed at any given moment. We can relieve some of that pressure and return to a more calm and peaceful state using mindfulness. It’s easier than you think to start practicing, and the more you practice, the easier it gets to defuse emotional states that might otherwise boil over. If you can learn this practice now, amid all the challenges of a pandemic, just think how much calmer and more peaceful you’ll be after we make it through! Here are some mindfulness exercises you can use to get started.

Beat Stress With Mindfulness: 5 Easy-to-Follow Tips

1. PAUSE. Put the brakes on reactivity: A fun and easy way to choose mindfulness over reactivity is to place a sticker that you can direct your attention to. Those colored dot stickers work perfectly, and you can get them at almost any corner drugstore, craft store, big box retailer, or order them online.

Do you find yourself triggered while driving? Place a sticker on your dashboard. At work? Place one on the corner of your computer monitor. At home? Place one on the bathroom mirror, or on the corner of the fridge. When you look at the sticker, let it remind you to pause and take a few conscious breaths. Just that brief pause will break you out of the cycle of ruminating and worrying. If you exhale longer than you inhale, your blood pressure and heart rate will decrease. Try breathing in for a count of four, then breathing out for a count of six.

BONUS: You can even attach a happy memory to the sticker. That way, when you pause and look at it, you think of the happy memory and install a positive mental state. Take a breath or two and push that positive state into a neural trait to boost your happiness and resilience even further.

2. Practice mindful transitions: Use mindfulness to transition more smoothly between the different areas of your life, such as from the office to home — or from work mode to family mode if you’re working remotely. Taking 5 – 10 minutes to get grounded and centered after work before you interact with your family, for example, can make a huge difference in how you show up for them.

And you can do this practice for any transition: between running errands and returning home, between weaving through traffic and meeting a friend for dinner, between dropping the kids off at school (or setting them up for remote learning) and starting your day. Tapping into mindfulness for even a few minutes as you go from one thing to the next can reduce stress and increase feelings of calm and clarity — which benefits you and everyone around you!

3. Get good at letting go: People and situations disappoint or annoy us sometimes. That’s just a part of life — but it doesn’t have to be a part of life that ruins our whole day when it happens. Practicing forgiveness and letting go is a wonderful way to reduce stress and increase your access to calm.

There are some wonderful meditations available on these topics. I enjoy the Insight Timer meditation app, and they have a whole category on forgiveness, with meditations and talks from some wonderful teachers. Here’s a free meditation of mine called “Loving Kindness & Letting Go” to get you started.

4. Practice mindfulness in nature: Take a few loops on a nearby walking path, or take a drive to your closest forest, mountain, or waterside and take a walk there. You could even sit by an open window, or sit in your yard! Put your mindful attention on everything going on in the natural world around you: the plants that are growing, the leaves rustling in the breeze, the sounds of birds, or even the stillness and quiet depending where you are. Use all your senses, focusing on each one by one, and become mindfully aware of your surroundings. If your mind wanders back to stressful thoughts, gently bring your attention back to any aspect of nature you choose, and focus mindfully on it once again.

5. Start a gratitude journal: Each night before you go to bed, answer these two questions: 1) What did I enjoy today? 2) What am I grateful for today? Your answers don’t have to be monumental. You can be grateful that the sun was shining, grateful for the tasty cup of coffee you enjoyed that morning, or grateful to have a comfy bed to go to sleep in. Anything!

And just like the “bonus” listed in #1, as you write down your gratitudes, really take a moment to let that gratitude sink in. Breathe into it, and allow yourself to feel it deeply, turning that positive state into a neural trait. With practice, you’ll begin to hardwire yourself for more joy and happiness — a resilient path to less stress!

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