It seems you can’t escape stress these days. While you used to be able to leave the office or go on lunch, smart phones keep us hooked into a constant stream of texts, emails and updates from social media. This constant stream of input may increase productivity, but it also magnifies the stress of adult life. Mindfulness exercises provide us with a way to help reduce this stress. While the world pulls us in a lot of directions at the same time, dividing our attention and triggering the fight-or-flight response, mindfulness exercises call on us to devote our complete attention to a single task. Here are three mindfulness exercises you can use to get that stress in check.
One of the first things we do after we’re born is take a breath. That this is one of our firsts acts when entering the world ought to highlight the importance of breathing. When stressed, though, our breathing becomes shallow or erratic. Have you ever found yourself holding your breath when you’re angry? Mindful breathing, the simplest and most direct kind of mindfulness exercise there is, lets you counteract this tendency and you do it anywhere.
Begin by closing your eyes. This limits visual distractions that might encourage you to abandon your breathing exercise. As you breathe in, try to keep your attention focused fully on the act of breathing. Don’t let the breathing happen by itself. Make breathing in and then out, slowly and fully, a conscious decision each time. Allow the simple act of breathing to fill your mind. While even one minute of mindful breathing is beneficial, three to five minutes is ideal. It will help to lower your blood pressure and increase the oxygen flow throughout your body.
The speed at which life moves encourages us to focus largely on what we have to say next, often to the detriment of actually hearing what is being said to us. Have you ever found yourself making a comment or asking a question, just to find out it’s already been discussed? Mindful listening helps you to stay present in the moment and capture more of what’s being said.
When having a conversation or listening to a presentation, try to stay focused on all of the words the other party is saying. Make a choice to listen to every word and not just try to “catch the gist” of what is being said. Don’t get caught up in trying to work out what you’re going to say back or why you think the other person is mistaken. Fretting over your own response before the other person finishes pushes up your own stress level, while reducing your overall retention. This type of listening helps you to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding, which is stressful and embarrassing. It also allows you to walk away from the conversation with confidence that you didn’t miss something important.
Walking is second-nature to most of us. In fact, it’s what psychologists call an over-learned behavior, which is a behavior or process repeated so many times that it calls for little or no conscious thought. How often have you decided to get a glass a water and walked to the kitchen without once giving any thought to how got between point A and B?
Mindful walking seeks to bring the simple act of walking back into the realm of considered behavior. Before you begin, take stock of your surroundings. Where are you? Are there other people around? Is it overcast or sunny? Taking stock helps to bring your attention to the immediate area and, by proxy, to the present moment. It’s harder to worry about a doctor’s appointment next week when you are paying attention to trees and bystanders. Make a decision to set your body in motion before you start walking. Remain aware of how your body feels as it moves, the uneven ground beneath your feet, and world around you. If you find your thoughts drifting onto unrelated matters, refocus your attention back on the act of walking. Remember, the idea is not to speed walk or power walk, but to walk with your attention completely in the present and on the act of walking. As with mindful breathing, mindful walking should ideally take around three to five minutes.
These three mindfulness exercises are simple, require no special equipment, and you can do them almost anywhere. Just as importantly, all three will help you to reduce your overall stress without forcing you to make a big time commitment. Go try a little mindful breathing for a few minutes right now and see how much better you feel!
View my video titled “Relaxation Technique for Stress and Anxiety” on Youtube and leave a comment!