Feeling stressed is something we all experience at different periods of our lives. Feeling a little bit of stress at certain times isn’t something we have to worry too much about and can sometimes help us to do things to resolve a particular stress. However, we do want to avoid situations where we start to feel chronically stressed for longer periods of time and start to notice physical and/or mental symptoms.
Recent studies show that mindfulness meditation practices are able to reduce stress. An area of the brain known as the amygdala is responsible for coordinating the way we process and respond to stress. While stress can result in the increase of the amygdala, it has been shown that practicing mindfulness meditation can reduce the amygdala.
The 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course and accompanying practices have been shown to improve employees mental health by reducing emotional exhaustion (a sign of burnout), overall stress levels, depression, anxiety, and occupational stress. As well as improving employees sense of personal achievement (a measure of burnout), occupational self-compassion, quality of sleep, and relaxation.
We’ll therefore explore three simple mindfulness techniques from the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that can be used to help mitigate and reduce stress. Each of these practices are simple to remember and easy to integrate into a busy day.
If you want to be guided through these three mindfulness techniques to reduce stress you can watch my online YouTube video.
Mindfulness Practice 1: Breath Awareness Meditation
I would suggest to do this practice in a comfortable seated position on a chair or cushion on the floor. But if you do prefer to stand up or to lie down that's absolutely fine.
Once you've found your chosen position you can start to softly close through your eyes. Just taking a moment to observe your posture. Noticing maybe which areas of the body are directly connected to the ground and also which areas of the body are off and away from the ground.
If there are certain areas of your body where you feel tension—particularly around the eyes or around the mouth—see if you can soften there. If you have the tendency (like many of us) that when you're feeling stressed you lift your shoulders up, see if you can allow your shoulders to relax and to drop down.
In this first mindfulness technique we're going to be observing the breath.
So you can start to notice the fact that you're breathing. Observe your inhale and your exhale. See if you can become really curious about the quality of your breath. You might start to notice how fast or slow your breathing is.
Noticing if your breath feels a little deeper, maybe your breath is moving down towards the belly. Or if the breath feels a little shallower, maybe your breath is a little more present around the chest.
And particularly if you are trying this technique at a moment when you're feeling stressed, you'll probably notice that it is pretty challenging to keep your focus on observing the breath.
So see if you can just do your best, every time that your thoughts wander elsewhere, to see if you can shift your focus back to watching your breath.
Often if your mind is pretty busy when doing this technique it can help to intellectually tell yourself, "I'm breathing in, I'm breathing out."
And during this practice, you're not trying to change the breath. It's not about seeing if you can have the best and most perfect breathing. Instead, you're just seeing, can you keep observing and noticing your breath as it is?
Mindfulness Practice 2: Focusing on Body Sensations Meditation
For this second technique you can choose again to either come to a seated position, standing or lying down on your back. And then you're going to once more close your eyes.
This time we're focusing a little bit more on sensations that you can feel in your body.
So you might start to notice that sensation of your hips and legs connecting with the ground. Maybe feeling your clothes against your skin or feeling of air against the skin.
As well as zooming into specific areas of your body you can also play with observing your body as one whole area. Seeing if you can observe your entire body and feeling the body as a whole. You can also notice the feeling of the air on your skin around your entire body. Noticing the general position and temperature of the body.
And then you can alternate this feeling of your whole body with focusing more specifically on specific areas.
So maybe just observing for a moment how your shoulders are. Noticing what's happening around the face. Feeling your legs and feeling your torso.
Realizing that while you’re doing this practice of observing sensations in your body that it’s quite common for your mind to wander away many times. And you're trying your best to remember that every time that your mind wanders away you're trying to notice that and then bring your focus back to the body again.
You might also notice that certain areas of the body are calling more of your attention. Maybe slight tingling, feelings of tightness or space.
Again if stress or anxiety comes into your focus or certain feelings or thoughts, see if you can redirect your focus back to your body.
Finally when you're ready you can bring your awareness back to the room you're in. And if the eyes were closed start to open through the eyes again.
Mindfulness Practice 3: Creating Mindful Moments
This third mindfulness technique is all about creating and observing mindful moments. This involves choosing specific regular activities during your day that you intentionally use to help bring yourself into the present moment.
One nice example of this is choosing to be more mindful while brushing your teeth. And then every time that you brush your teeth you’re seeing if you can be more aware during the activity. So while you’re brushing your teeth you might try and notice how you feel. From subtle sensations in your mouth to broader thoughts and feelings.
To help you remember to be mindful during the action of brushing your teeth you could put a little sticker on your toothbrush. And then every time that you're brushing your teeth you're also experimenting with bring a little bit more awareness there.
And you could try this with a few other kinds of regular habits that we don't normally focus on. So other mindful moments might include the time when you’re locking your door, bike, or car. Or perhaps when you’re making a cup of tea or coffee.
So yeah try to experiment with this and perhaps using small stickers around your house close to the activities that you want to make more mindful. Helping you to use an everyday action to bring a little bit more mindfulness and peace to your day.
Mindfulness Meditation Tips for Beginners
You can try any of these techniques for just 1 – 5 minutes during a busy work day when you might be feeling stressed. Or spend a bit longer on one practice at the beginning or end of your day.
If you’re completely new to mindfulness I would suggest starting with just one of these techniques for a period of time until you get comfortable and familiar with it. After this you could experiment adding or switching to another of the practices.
Each of these practices are quite simple to understand and do. But the real skill and challenge really comes from persisting through the practice with a wandering mind. So learning how to notice when your mind wanders away from the technique and how you can bring your attention back again to the practice.
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