Are you stressed? From commuting in rush-hour traffic to the sudden onset of an illness, stress appears in a variety of shapes and sizes. While you can’t stop stress from occurring, you can train your mind to be less of a victim to stress through mindfulness.
Mindfulness is about paying attention. Not an easy task considering the array of shiny objects competing for your attention each moment. Mindfulness trains you to notice impulses to reach for shiny objects while equipping you with the self-control to not act. Mindfulness is kind attention. It doesn’t scowl at stressful experiences or consider happiness the only state worthy of experience. Instead, it welcomes the full array of emotional experiences. Mindfulness can be a helpful ally under stress by freeing you from knee-jerk reactions and creating space for you to respond with balance and intention.
How so, you may be wondering?
Mindfulness makes us aware. Halfway through my lunch the other day, I noticed myself inhaling my sandwich the same way a wild animal chomps its prey. The moment I recognized my actions, I had a choice: to either continue eating as if I hadn’t seen food in 12 days, or slow down and taste my lunch. Choices present themselves all day, every day, but only if we first become aware of our behaviors. Maybe, like me, you eat quickly to move on to the next “important” thing. Or maybe, you work yourself to exhaustion each day, purely out of habit. Regardless, it’s important to turn our attention to habits keeping us stuck in a stressed state. Only then will they loosen the grip over our lives.
Mindfulness helps us feel less alone. Stress is already tough to manage. Coupled with the feeling of isolation, it’s ten times worse. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m the only one who struggles at this.” Or, “This comes easily to everyone but me.” Knowing all of us bump into similar challenges reduces the toll stress takes on you. I love teaching mindfulness because it gives people a safe space to talk about what’s real without worrying about saying what’s right. Did you ever notice how conditioned we are to say the “right” thing? When we have a chance to express real challenges in a group setting, we quickly recognize suffering and stress as a shared human experience, not something only “I” experience.
Mindfulness helps us acknowledge and accept stress. As much as we may love the idea of stress, many of us hate how stress feels. Instead of relating to stress with openness and kindness, we often frustratingly push it aside and quickly move on to the next thing. Resisting stress, however, causes it to grow and manifest in all sorts of interesting ways: taking out your frustration on an innocent bystander, eating a bag of salty chips, or over-indulging in all things online. Distraction is always available as a coping strategy, but, in the end, if we really want to have more peace of mind, we must recognize and greet stress with more warmth and friendliness.
Stress is inevitable. How we relate to stress presents a real opportunity for getting unstuck. Learning to recognize stress when it hits, is a huge step in the right direction.
- Start by attending to parts of your body where you hold tension. Scan your shoulders, neck and jaw area as well as your stomach. Sometimes I find myself gripping my toes when I’m stressed. Bringing kind attention to stressed areas is a pathway to getting un-stuck.
- Also, starting or re-starting a mindfulness practice trains your mind to notice stress without condemning or pushing it away.
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