Using mindfulness reduces stress
We all have stress, whether we are career people or parents at home; in our 20s or our 50s. Each of us goes through stressful situations in our lives – ups and downs are an inevitable part of life.
Luckily there are ways in which we can better manage our responses to the stressful situations in life. Let’s look at how we can use mindfulness to reduce stress by exploring the following topics:
Stress and the effects of stress on the body
In small quantities, stress can be good. It can be motivational and help you to be more productive. We are finely tuned to respond protectively during periods of stress and then recover. This is acute stress or sometimes known as ‘good stress’ – it is essential to life, it helps us to respond to emergencies, and increases the level of performance.
The nature of stress is not as important as the amount of it. When the amount of stress exceeds an individual’s tolerance level, that boost in performance can start to decline. When stress gets too much and becomes out of control it affects our whole being. Stress affects us on a physical, emotional, and mental level.
We are not meant to be under stress for a prolonged period, this is when damage occurs. Stress acts on the sympathetic nervous system, creating a ‘flight or fight’ response. When this is triggered, the body goes into survival mode. This reaction has its place when there is an occasional threat to our wellbeing, but people who are constantly in a state of stress never give the body a chance to recover. This can result in one becoming burnt-out, unproductive, and completely run down. In the long run, this can take a severe toll on a person’s health.
They don’t call stress the ‘silent killer’ for nothing!
The good news is that we can shape our stress response. We can be more aware in the moment, and we can rethink it. ‘I am going to use the extra surge of adrenalin to boost my performance’ rather than ‘I’m getting stressed, this is bad’. This change in thought pattern and response can be difficult to choose in the moment and is where the practice of mindfulness comes into play when dealing with stress.
The mind and stress
Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or anxious.
Have you ever reacted in an excessive way to an event that is out of proportion when you think of your reaction later on? Usually, this happens when we are under pressure and feel anxious or vulnerable. At other times, when feeling calm, we can manage major stressors without too much effort. Often, the stress is unnecessary.
What would be considered unnecessary stress?
- Worrying about something before it has happened.
- Reacting to a situation rather than responding.
- Putting yourself under unnecessary pressure.
- Repeated negative and self-critical thoughts.
Day after day, our thoughts and emotions are driving changes in our bodies. If you think of an initial negative thought persistently, it becomes a belief.
If we can build up our inner resources, we can be more resilient and capable of responding.
Using mindfulness to assist in reducing stress
- Bring awareness to your thoughts, allowing you to analyse them before stressing about them, eliminating a stress response.
- Avoid an immediate reaction. By using mindfulness, you allow yourself the time to process a situation, bringing about the best response.
- Mindfulness changes your mode of thinking. It switches the mind from a doing mode, which is associated with a stress response, to a being mode, which induces relaxation.
- Mindfulness brings about emotional awareness, care, and compassion for the needs of others, resulting in fewer clashes of personalities, therefore less chance of conflict.
- In the brain, the amygdala is the part of the brain responsible for the stress response. When practising mindfulness, the activity of the amygdala is reduced.
- By using mindful practice techniques in times of stress, you are better able to focus on the task at home that might be causing the stressor.
A mindful practise tool for stress reduction
Stress can have a significant and unhealthy impact on our whole beings. We can change our relationship with stress by changing the way we perceive it. As we form adaptive ways to address stress, we become responsive rather than reactive in overwhelming and challenging situations.
A helpful mindful practice tool is affirmations – choosing to think and speak truthful positive thoughts. As you repeatedly affirm these positive thoughts and beliefs, these qualities will come through in your everyday life and in everything you do. You will begin to find these attitudes influencing your thoughts and experiences.
The words we speak and think hold great sway over the kind of life that we create for ourselves. Many people might have a stream of negative thoughts in their minds. The subconscious tends to accept these statements. But similarly, it is also equipped to instantly accept the accuracy of our affirmations.
An affirmation is a conscious thought which tends to be positive and powerful and aims to support you in some way. Affirmations are statements chosen and spoken consciously. Once they enter the realm of consciousness, they also enter our subconscious mind where they have the power to change our lives.
Using affirmations can be a great way to tap into your strengths, focus on the good in your life, uplift your mood and create a more positive reality. When we are stuck in a particular situation that provides challenges to our mental and emotional selves, finding an authentic healing affirmation can be a great way of reminding ourselves of any or all the foundations of mindfulness.
Importantly, there needs to be an element of truth when creating and using affirmations. It needs to resonate with you and feel right. You need to be honest with yourself and know which affirmations you genuinely believe in.
It is important to create affirmations that genuinely reflect who you are and what your strengths are, then you can build on those affirmations from there. Your reality will begin to reflect your affirmations. We consciously and subconsciously invite opportunity into our lives when we say affirmations.
How do we go about it?
- Word it positively – try to focus on what you have or want, not what you don’t have or don’t want. You are affirming what is already true. For example, use an affirmation like “I feel compassion and kindness towards myself during difficult times” rather than “I don’t engage in negative self-talk during difficult times.” Try to identify what you want and create your affirmation based on that.
- Speak in the present tense – create affirmations based on the present moment. For example, “I am self-compassionate” rather than “I will be self-compassionate”. Or, if there’s something you want for your future, see if you can find a way to relate it to the present moment; so rather than “one day, I will be kind to myself” try “every day, I am finding new ways to be kinder towards myself.”
- Be specific.
- Form the affirmation in complete sentences but do not make it too long.
- Repeat it daily.
Simple tips for incorporating affirmations into everyday life:
- Write your favourite affirmation on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere you will see it regularly.
- Use an encouraging affirmation during exercise to help you keep going.
- When you look in the mirror, use a self-compassionate affirmation.
- Save your affirmation as a screensaver on your phone or computer.
- Think about your affirmation before you go to sleep at night.
- Choose one or two simple affirmations to support you during times of stress or overwhelm.
We are so powerful when it comes to our thoughts. What we bring to a situation in terms of our backgrounds, our past experiences, and our beliefs influence the present moment. When you focus your thoughts on a particular outcome you begin to pave the way for the desired result.
The way we perceive and evaluate our problems will determine how we respond to them and how much distress we will experience. While there will always be many potential stressors in our environment, by changing the way we see ourselves in relation to them, we can change our experience of the relationship with stress and therefore modify the extent to which it affects us.
Keen to learn how to use mindfulness to reduce stress? Take our Mindfulness Practice Course.