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5 Areas Mindfulness Can Help Relieve Stress & Anxiety

Mindfulness

It is a busy world and most of our lives are full. So full, in fact, that we barely have time to notice how we are living as life hurries by. This sense of disconnected rushing leads to stress and, in time, pervasive anxiety. Mindfulness, or the act of bringing awareness to our thoughts, bodies, and the present moment, is a powerful practice for reducing stress. Many of us experience different kinds of stress as we move through our days, be it at school, work, home, on the road, at the health club, in the dentist's office, or when we are laying in bed at night. The following tips give you mindfulness practices that can support you in various areas of life so that you can spend more time focusing on who you really are and

  1. Mindfulness for Work Stress
    Most people have a list of stressors that play out at work. Whether your tension comes from deadlines, grumpy coworkers, or the sheer volume of tasks, there are ways to bring mindfulness into your everyday at-work situations and by extension your own heart and mind.

    A simple but powerful mindfulness practice for work stress is to pay attention to the task at hand. Instead of spacing out, complaining, or avoiding the task, align your breath, focus, and thoughts with the action that you are performing. It is counterintuitive; however, the awareness and acceptance of mindful action actually make intolerable jobs more palatable. You may even select an intention for your work, such as cleanliness, strength, efficiency, or accuracy, to center your attention. As you perform the task, continually bring your awareness back to your personal intention, thoughts, and breath.

    You may notice that attention to the task at hand takes the resistance out of it, so you relax as you accept and observe the nature of the job. In other words, mindfulness at work takes the sting out of even the "dirty jobs."

  2. Mindfulness for Social Stress
    I am certain that you love your friends and genuinely enjoy your time together. That said, mild social anxiety is becoming ever more common. People are feeling the pressure of showing up well-dressed and accessorised, on time, and often at the sacrifice of other pressing tasks or private time. Once we are socializing, we may be continually aware of the need to be charming, empathetic, or funny. It can be hard to know what to say or how to respond. Some of us may even feel like others are talking about us, laughing at us, or filing away our comments or appearance so they can pull factoids out later and gossip about us.

    While mindfulness can't help you if your friends actually are gossips, what it can do is help you remain calm and get the most out of your social time. As mammals, we humans do well with interaction. Simply being in the presence of another person typically relaxes our nervous systems and creates a greater sense of security and well-being. However, if the thoughts are jumpy and self-critical, there is no way you can benefit from social time!

    Instead of listening to the tirade of fears that may be causing your social stress, become more aware of what it is like to be in your friend's presence. What color are her eyes today? How is his body language? Notice not only what your friend is talking about but also the feelings and message behind the words. By listening deeply, you are attuning yourself to the present moment and your friend's authentic presence. This, in turn, tunes you in to your own presence as well. Remember, you don't have to do or say anything! These are your friends—people who care about you and want you around. As you become more mindful of your buddies and your own experience of shared time, you can relax into the meeting and have a good time.

  3. Mindfulness for the Commute
    Some people do not like driving. Most people do not like traffic! If you find yourself road-weary or agitated during high traffic times, try the following mindfulness practice: broaden your view.

    Let me be very clear here. Your attention remains on the road; be attuned to what the other drivers are doing or might do next. Check your rear view, side mirrors and blind spots regularly. If traffic is moving, monitor your speed. Within all of these important awarenesses, notice what you are noticing. There are so many details, including who else is driving around you, what is the predominant color of the cars on the road, and how often people are changing lanes. In addition to these shifts outside of yourself, also be mindful of your internal responses. The quality and content of your thoughts may surprise you. For example, if there is a voice in your head cussing out other drivers, no wonder your commute is unpleasant—you are driving with a grump!

    Each passing car, winking light, and honking horn is a new experience, in its own way unlike any that has come before or ever will again. Be mindful of the moments—internal and external—as they occur and your commute will seem to pass quickly and with much more pleasantness.

  4. Mindfulness for Relationship Stress
    It is normal to squabble with the people you care about. Coworkers snap at one another, spouses disagree, roommates get irked, siblings compete, and so on. In these situations, we have the habit of defending ourselves and our position. Often these attempts at being self-protective actually lead to more stress. Instead of engaging in fruitless arguments and streams of defensiveness, become mindful of your own reactions when someone you love challenges you.

    When you observe your thoughts, feelings, breath, and body, you are less likely to react to a stressful situation and more likely to choose an appropriate response. Awareness of your own inner realm builds self-compassion and can actually help you understand the roots of your reactions, which likely have more to do with old pain and little to do with the situation at hand. This deeper self-understanding brings greater clarity about the other's point of view, as well. Mindfulness can create a shell of compassion for the entire situation, in which stress dissolves and honest, caring responses can arise.

  5. Mindfulness for a Bad Day
    You spill your tea on your laptop, back your car into a pole, and drop your mobile phone in a puddle—all on the same rainy Monday! This is a bad day. While the habit may to "check out" as much as possible—distancing yourself from the painful events and floating through life without a strong connection to them or yourself—this is not an effective way of diminishing stress. The impacts on your nervous system continue, even after you stop consciously thinking about your Bad Day List.

    Mindfulness might not be the expected tool, but it is one of the best ways to break patterns in a bad day. Notice the words in your mind when things go wrong. Do words help? Observe your breathing pattern. Does the depth and pace of your inhales and exhales soothe you? Is it possible that the first stress upset you so much that other things went wrong because you were off-kilter? Rebalance yourself through awareness.

Each of these five common situations gets better when we become mindful. Mindfulness is an excellent stress-relief tool: some studies of mindfulness mental health groups show measurable change after only four weeks! The power of intentional awareness is something that is always with you and can be applied at any time to support your wellbeing, physical health, and overall satisfaction and happiness in life. Notice yourself in each moment as it passes and appreciate the wonderful life that you have, on the outside and especially through your inner world.

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About Erin Byron MA

Erin Byron, MA, is a psychotherapist who has studied yoga psychology and expressive arts for twenty years. She is one of the founders of Comprehensive Yoga Therapist Training, specializing in mental health, and author of ...

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