While many people get so used to living in a constant state of worry that they come to think it’s just part of modern life, we’re here to say that living with long-term stress is neither normal nor healthy. One popular, science-backed method for reducing stress is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)—or more commonly just mindfulness. However, some people can get put off this method because it means learning a new skill. The good news is that, unlike that 6 am run you keep really meaning to go on, mindfulness for stress is one habit that is easy to fit into your daily routine.
What is Mindfulness?
Have you ever found yourself caught in a negative thought spiral, with one worry just leading to another and another? Maybe it’s stress about the future, or feelings of preoccupation about the past—whatever it is, it can be easy to get so carried away that you end up feeling completely helpless.
That’s where mindfulness comes in. At its core, mindfulness is simply the practice of redirecting the thoughts to the present moment—what the body is doing, feeling, seeing, and so on. While this might sound simple, it can actually be a powerful tool in managing conditions like anxiety, depression, and trauma. However, refocusing your thoughts in this way can be difficult at first, especially when you’re already stressed or unhappy. That’s why the best way to practice mindfulness is to incorporate it into your everyday life until it becomes routine.
The Physical Side of Stress
To understand how mindfulness can help stress, we first need to look at what happens to our bodies when we’re stressed.
If you’ve ever felt jittery, had a racing heart, or started sweating in a stressful situation, you have experienced a “fight or flight” response. Our ancient ancestors developed this physical stress reaction thousands of years ago as an evolutionary response to danger: the body is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, a hormone that shuts down non-essential functions (like immunity) to make more energy available to either face the danger or run away from it.
However, while our bodies nowadays still respond the same way to perceived dangers, the dangers themselves have changed dramatically. Clearly, an appropriate reaction when you’re facing a saber-toothed tiger is not so suitable when your boss is shouting at you. What’s more, many of us live with stress over long periods of time, meaning that our bodies are constantly reacting as if we are in danger, but unable to escape it.
Mindfulness for Stress
As we’ve seen, stress can have a very tangible physical effect on both our minds and our bodies. However, many people try to destress while only focusing on one side of things. They might get a massage to relax their tense muscles, or try to analyze their thought patterns closely. However, these approaches rarely work as well because they’re only looking at one side of the equation.
When mindfulness is done right, however, it targets both the physical and the mental aspects of the stress reaction.
5 Habits for Everyday Mindfulness
As with so many things, little and often is key when it comes to mindfulness for stress. Here are 5 simple and effective ways to bring a little more clarity to your day.
1. Mindful Moments
There are many, many quick exercises to help us check in with ourselves, and different techniques work for different people. Some people swear by tapping, for example, which involves tapping your fingers on certain pressure points for a few minutes at a time while focusing on the sensation.
Guided meditation apps are popular too, as they take people through the process step-by-step, and can even give daily reminders to meditate. If neither of these appeals, a quick internet search for 1-minute mindfulness techniques will bring up countless results, so have a look for something that works for you.
The point is to find a quick and easy exercise, ideally one which you can do anywhere, that will help you to stop and focus inwards. By practicing this technique daily, you will have it to hand as soon as your stress levels begin to rise.
2. Mindful hobbies
Any hobby that you do with your hands can become a mindfulness exercise if you put your mind to it… pun intended. Gardening, cooking, crafting, woodwork—all these can be mindful activities if you focus on the sounds, smells, sensations, tastes, and feelings involved. If you lose focus and your mind starts wandering, just gently refocus on what you’re doing and feeling in that moment.
3. Make mindfulness a habit
Practicing mindfulness is all about getting into a good routine. One way to build a habit is to tack it onto something you already do, like cleaning your teeth or taking a shower. It could be something as simple as taking those few minutes out of your day to check in with yourself and notice the taste of the toothpaste, the sensation of the toothbrush, and how you’re feeling in that moment. Learn more about creating healthy habits that stick here.
When you’re feeling stressed or in a low mood, you might feel as if you’ve always felt that way and always will. However, everything passes, and journaling can help you to remember this. A good way to get into the habit can be to start small and use simple prompts. Draw or write down 3 things you can see. Write down 1 thing you are grateful for. Jot down any sensations you’re experiencing, without judgment. If it helps, get yourself a specific mindfulness journal that you save just for that purpose.
5. Move Mindfully
Exercising regularly can play a huge part in reducing stress, especially when we do so mindfully. While some workouts can be a great way to take your mind off things and let your thoughts wander, a mindful workout helps you to feel more in touch with your body. Any workout can be done mindfully if you focus on the sensations of moving your body and pay close attention to your breath. If you’re looking for more detail, we have a whole post about mindful workouts.