In this hectic world of ours it’s easy for thoughts and emotions to be scattered, and we often spend too much time thinking negative or random thoughts, which can be draining. It can also make you more likely to experience stress and anxiety. Practicing mindfulness exercises, on the other hand, can help you direct your attention away from this kind of thinking and engage with the world around you.
What is mindfulness?
The basic idea of mindfulness is that you bring (on purpose) your awareness to the present moment: your thoughts and your body – without interpretation or judgment. Thinking about the past, blaming and judging yourself or worrying about the future can generate stress. But by staying calm and focused on the ‘here and now’, you can bring your nervous system back into balance.
Try these mindfulness exercises, provided by Lloyd Wells – a long-time practicer of the methods, and an aspiring psychotherapy commentator for UK-based CBT, Counselling and Life-Coaching specialist Klear Minds – to get you on your way to relieving stress and learning to live in the present.
The act of breathing sounds so basic and automatic it hardly sounds like a mindful exercise for stress relief. But when feeling stressed or anxious, we tend to take lots of shallow chest breaths, which actually signal your mind and body to feel more anxious. Slow down and take a deep focused breath. Let it out slowly. The simple act of taking a conscious deep belly breath and letting it out slowly has a profound effect on mind and body. It sends a message to the nervous system to calm down. It is a wonderful mindfulness based stress reduction exercise that can be done anywhere at any time for immediate stress relief.
Mindfulness meditation involves increased awareness of the present moment. With practice, it can be utilized anywhere, and can bring lasting stress relief benefits. This simple meditation technique can be learned quickly and easily. Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra. By concentrating on a certain word, your mind is able to shut out any overbearing thoughts that cause you to think too much about certain things. Focus on your breathing throughout, and you will find your mind is able to quiet and enter a more peaceful place.
- Mindful Movements
In addition to all the benefits of mindful meditation, mindful movements, like those found in yoga or tai chi, add a physical element that provides a boost of energy and positive chemicals in the brain and can be a helpful way to reduce stress. Follow along with a guided video or attend a class in your area. Instead of treating your practice like a session at the gym, treat it like a meditation where you bring your full awareness to both your physical and emotional sensations as you move through the poses.
- Body Scan Exercise
Body scan exercise encourages self-awareness of sensations in your body you might otherwise ignore. When you notice excessive tension in your body, you can consciously relax the muscles in that area. You may not even realize how tense you are until you intentionally bring awareness to your whole body. Here’s how it works: Lie down, or sit comfortably. Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and start to ‘scan’ your body. Bring your awareness to your toes. If you notice any tension, let it go. Then, continue the exercise by bringing your awareness gradually to every part of your body until you reach the very top of your head. By practicing this exercise every day, you can help to reduce tension and stress in the body.
- Mindful Awareness
This exercise is designed to cultivate a heightened awareness and appreciation of simple daily tasks and the results they achieve. Think of something that happens often; something you take for granted, like the moment you open your computer to start work. Take a moment to appreciate the hands that enable this process and the brain that facilitates your understanding of how to use the computer. Or, perhaps each time you smell food, you take a moment to stop and appreciate how lucky you are to have good food to eat and share with your family and friends. Instead of going through your daily motions on autopilot, take occasional moments to stop and cultivate purposeful awareness of what you are doing and the blessings it brings your life.
Mindfulness exercises can help you ease daily stress by bringing you back to the present moment. When you are mindful and present, it is not possible to fret about the past or the future, and you are more able to deal constructively with whatever is troubling you. The above exercises may seem simple, but do not let that fool you. Sometimes simple things are the most powerful and beneficial, especially when done with intention and focus.