Everyone knows stress can be bad for health. It can act as a barrier to adaptation and put undue pressure on the endocrine system. It can fire up the sympathetic nervous system designed only for fight or flight, and keep it fired up for an extended amount of time.
But try telling a stressed, busy, or under-pressure person that they need to relax and you just might find yourself faced with a swag of objections. Winding down just isn’t that easy for all people.
Here’s the thing: regardless of whether winding down is easy for a person, it is a skill that is needed to promote wellbeing.
So what is mindfulness? It’s been a buzzword for the last few years and has been defined by some as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations. It may be impossible to have full control over our lives, but the practice of mindfulness has been touted as a way to learn to live with more appreciation and less anxiety.
It’s been around for decades, but the question for many busy people remains: How do you ease a person into mindfulness when they are putting up the barriers?
There’s an app for that: the Smiling Mind app was developed by a team of psychologists who wanted to put simple, five minute meditations in the hands of consumers. The app has content broken up across six sections. These guided meditations take the thought and research out of it. You simply select one and do what you are told.
Colouring for grown-ups is back in fashion. This is one you should really file under ‘Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it’. It’s a trend that started two years ago in France with books specifically aimed at relieving anxiety. The beauty of this mindfulness trick is that it makes us big people put down the smartphone, switch off to the pile of dishes or dirty laundry begging for attention, and switch on to the calming power of colouring in mandalas.
Breathe, just breathe. This is something we all do without thinking. Take three deep breaths and put your awareness on to it…just your breathing nothing more. Can you feel a sense of stillness and peace even if perhaps subtle for now? Do you sense a shift in awareness and focus, albeit briefly? This is mindfulness. The good news is that it can be practiced anytime, anywhere and extended to how long you feel fits your situation. This particular mindfulness technique is an excellent success tip – especially when you are about to send off a scathing email following a bit of work frustration. Breathe through it, calm down, and then send the email.
Exercise and stretching can be good for more than fitness. We all know we should exercise more, and taking a stretch break in the middle of the day is good for the brain and body. But it can act as an opportunity to fit in a little more mindfulness. The trick is to not fill your exercise space with more noise and distraction. Just enjoy it for what it is.
Journaling can help rid the brain of its baggage. This might be something you haven’t tried since you were an angsty teenager, but it has its merits. Often insomniacs are advised to keep a pen and paper by the bed so they can write down the things they worry over, thus allowing rest and sleep to take the place of worry. However, scheduling in a few minutes at the end of the day to undertake what some call a ‘meditative mind dump’ can be a good place to start.
Mindfulness needn’t be an onerous or complicated practice, but it can also be a little daunting for stressed people who find it difficult to wind down. Using these simple practices, we can help ease them in to a lower stress lifestyle.