Kiss Stress Goodbye With A Little Mindfulness
With the hectic lives we lead, we’ve all experienced stress in one form or another. It’s something you can’t avoid and irrespective of where you are in life (think student, mother or business woman), you’ll come across stress levels based on the life scenarios you are in. But, it’s important to find a way around the crazy in your life through, travel, exercise, mindfulness or a bit of it all.
The lowdown on stress
People deal with stress in different ways. They can become irritable, stress eat, and adolescents may overcompensate with risk taking behavior. Bottom line: you manifest stress in different ways, while a neuro-physical response also takes place. “When you perceive something as a stress or stressor, your brain responds to it in a specific way that is very automatic that you don’t have control over,” explains Chrishara Paranawithana, Consultant Resident Clinical Psychologist at Asiri Hospitals. “Your body secretes stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, noradrenaline.
The moment you perceive something as a stress, stressor or threat, the chemical response comes out and your body secretes it. This gives you the initial energy to react like shouting, running or working towards addressing the situation. During these moments, heart rate increases and blood vessels dilate, increasing blood pressure. Furthermore, chronic stress (emotional pressure suffered for a prolonged period of time) exposes one to unhealthy, persistently elevated levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This in turn links stress to changes in the way blood clots, which increases the risk of diseases such as cardio-vascular and many other health compromising conditions.”
According to Chrishara, what most people don’t know is how to change the stress response in your body to break bad patterns. How you respond to stress gets conditioned in your brain. “The basal ganglia (found deep within the cerebral hemispheres
of your brain) is observing you and your patterns,” says Chrishara. “For example, when you’re stressed, you may not put out your frustration on a superior or stranger, but you may come home and vent it out on your child, partner or family members. So you create a different pattern for your home life and likewise in other situations. These patterns get conditioned over time, and when repeated often, the brain takes over making it an automatic response. This in turn creates your personality, traits that ultimately define you.” What’s worse is that once you’ve been conditioned, it’ll be very difficult to change.
Dealing with Stress
It’s pretty simple on paper: you just need to become more mindful. Research shows that the best approach is being aware and training the brain to live in the present non-judgmentally. This is a key approach integrated in mindful-based cognitive and mindfullness-based stress management therapies which shows evidence for treating stress. Basically, mindfulness is all about being present in this very moment with non-judgemental awareness.
In most instances, the brain runs on autopilot, where you’re here but not really in the moment, and your attention is divided. But, with mindfulness, you’re merely an observer in your own brain, not identifying yourself with any one thought or perceptual pattern. “When you train your mind to be mindful, you remove the internal dialogue you invariably have with yourself whenever a thought enters your mind. Essentially, you’re creating detachment and training your mind to be more solution focused as opposed to problem focused,” says Chrishara. “When you train yourself to be mindful, things are going to be far more clear. You observe things without reacting to situations and you won’t judge yourself, your situation, thoughts, or surroundings.”
Benefits of Mindfulness
If you successfully train yourself to become mindful, expect decreased stress and psychological distress, experience enhanced mental health and functioning, plus, you’ll be able to regulate your emotions and exert more self-control. You will also notices a decrease (if any) in anxiety, depression and worry. If you frequently like to pick up a drink to ease your stress, you will find that mindful-based stress management will reduce this urge.
Here’s the thing though, if you aren’t used to stepping into a practice of mindfulness, your brain is not going to respond very well to this new challenge. So, what do you do? Chrishara recommends starting small and building gradually over time. “Close your eyes for just 3-5 minutes and sit still and breathe,” she says. “You don’t want to overwhelm the brain by doing this for longer. But, do this every day, roughly around the same time until it becomes a habit. Just simply focus on the breath”.
As the holidays roll in, stress around the office may easily double with the pressure to wrap up all affairs before you jetset. And, if you’re like most Lankan working ladies, you’ll probably be switched on despite being on vacation. This means you’re going to still be stressed and worse, working when you really should not. To ensure things don’t come to a close, here are a few types of mindful-based stress management exercises that you can incorporate when you’re on the go to begin the process of breaking old habits.
Breathing mindfully. By focusing on your breath alone, you will soon learn how to be mindful and present every day.
Eating mindfully. “We run these workshops for mindful-based stress management,” shares Chrishara. “So one of the first things we ask participants to do is smell, taste and feel a plum, experiencing every sensation.”
Experiencing nature mindfully. Travelling is a great time to stop and literally smell the roses. Being acutely aware of your surroundings is key. Take in the fragrance of the flower, feel its petals and observe just how beautiful it is. It’s a complete experience that will keep you grounded.
Walking mindfully. You do the same thing while you walk or workout.
Follow a basic steps
#1 For breath focused mindful practice, Chrishara recommends establishing a routine, and also declutter your environment, be it office or home.
#2 Focus on your posture. Sit with your spine and neck straight, head parallel to the ground, hands in a comfortable position. If you’re lying down, make sure you don’t have pillows and are lying face up.
#3 Close your eyes (ideal if you’re on the plane or at work), and bring your attention and focus to your body. Notice how your body is positioned and then direct your attention to your breath – in and out. You just need to focus on an anchor where you feel the sensation of your breath (this may be your upper lip, chest or stomach).
#4 Become aware of what’s happening around you and ground yourself to the present moment. Even if you have thoughts, just simply label those thoughts passively observing, fielding them without mulling over them and bring your mind back to your breath or focus on body sensations.
With time and regular practice of mindfulness, you will be able to keep stress at bay. Additionally, get in at least 8 hours of sleep each night and be sure to get your cardio on every day. Eventually, you will be able to break your habits, deal with your stress and become mindful.
For further information on the Stress Management Programme Integrating Mindfulness Intervention, please contact 0778 853 457