Mindful Methods to Break the Cycle of Stress
Do you ever have moments when you feel like your thoughts have been hijacked by your emotions?
Living through a pandemic, along with the noise and negativity that now dominates our newsfeeds, it’s no surprise that we sometimes experience uncomfortable emotions such as fear, frustration, anger, and worry.
One reason we have survived on this planet for so long is that our brains have adapted to constantly consider “what if” scenarios. But in modern humans, “What if a lion is in this cave?” has been replaced with a never-ending playlist of fears, from worries about COVID-19 to apprehension over global warming and natural and political disasters.
Ages ago, checking to see if a man-eating feline was in the cave before we entered had real benefits for our survival. But today, constantly ruminating on things over which we have little control creates chronic stress that can harm our health and sap our joy in life.
Fortunately, there’s a wonderfully simple tool we can use to break the cycle of stress and refocus our attention on what’s most important to us. That tool is mindfulness.
Any time we pay attention to what we are thinking, feeling, and doing in the moment, we are practicing mindfulness. When we practice being present, observing and accepting our thoughts and feelings without judgment, we give our overworked nervous systems a break. This calms the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for processing fearful or threatening stimuli. By reducing the flow of stress hormones in our bodies, mindfulness also helps reduce inflammation and boosts the immune system.
For October, Emotional Wellness Month, here are some mindful methods you can practice throughout your day to help you stay calm in the chaos:
1. Meditate. Download the Insight Timer app and pick a guided meditation to do every day. Insight Timer now has over 100,000 meditations, but don’t freak out — they are organized and searchable by length, topic, and author. I’ve got a nice collection on there, including ones on Giving and Receiving Compassion and Loving Kindness and Letting Go that are good for emotional wellness. Try a few and pick the ones that speak to you and fit your schedule.
2. Get grounded through the soles of your feet or by rubbing a here-and-now stone.
3. Practice mindfulness while brushing your teeth.
4. Take time out for mindful eating.
5. Stroll with a purpose with mindful walking.
6. Practice taking in the good.
7. Be in the moment with your favorite music. Make a playlist of songs that move you.
8. Practice the Sending-Receiving Meditation.
9. Try calling yourself “sweetheart,” “dear,” or another term of endearment.
10. Engage in Loving Kindness Meditation for yourself and others.
Combining mindfulness with self-compassion is a great way to soothe yourself and strengthen your emotional wellness. Remember the acronym S.N.A.P. and practice it whenever you feel overwhelmed, anxious, triggered exhausted or just plain stressed out:
S: Soothing Touch — When you feel stress, place your hands on your body wherever where you find it soothing. It might be your chest, belly, hugging your upper arms, or cradling your face — experiment to find what works for you. Or put your hands on any area where you feel constriction, and envision a warm compress or warm oil softening the tension. Soothing, supportive touch releases oxytocin and endorphins that help calm your nervous system.
N: Name the Emotion — Name what you are feeling right now. Is it worry? Sadness? Anger? Loneliness? This helps calm your body’s stress response, gives you time to locate it in your body, and puts some perspective between you and your feelings.
A: Act — Ask yourself: “What do I need right now?” Then do it. Perhaps you need to take a few deep breaths, exhaling slowly to lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate. Or choose any of the 10 activities listed above to give yourself a few moments of mindful calm and relaxation.
P: Praise — Give thanks for the things you can do to help manage stress. Thank yourself for showing up day after day, trying to do your best. Thank the universe, or your spirit of choice, for giving you the strength and courage to keep going.
Practicing gratitude is a powerful method to break the cycles of negativity and stress we sometimes find ourselves stuck in, and a comforting way to rewire our brain for happiness. So take some time each day to feel grateful for the blessings in your life, and don’t forget the strategies above when your emotional and mental health needs a boost.
Join Panache Desai each weekday morning for support in reconnecting to the wellspring of calm and peace that lives within you and that has the power to counterbalance all of the fear, panic, and uncertainty that currently engulfs the world.
Designed To Move You From Survival and Fear to Safety and Peace. Available Monday - Friday. Meditation begins at 9 AM. Access early to hear Panache's monologue - around 8:30 AM.
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