When you feel close to freaking out or breaking down, try one of these simple mindfulness exercises to calm your nerves, reduce stress and settle your thoughts.
You can feel it building.
One of three things is going to happen. You are either going to drop everything and go hide alone on your car, scream frantically at no one in particular, or buy a plane ticket to a remote place that leaves an hour from now.
Physically, you can feel your shoulders start to rise toward your ears, full of tension. Your jaw clenches and your face wrinkles up like a shirt thats been sitting at the bottom of your teenagers hamper for two weeks.
Its overwhelming stress and if you don't intervene immediately you just might lose it.
Stress levels are rising in America and can have a dramatic impact on your health and wellbeing. According to a recent study The American Psychiatric Association, "This added stress is already affecting the health of Americans. In August, 71 percent of participants said they suffered from at least one stress symptom in the prior month. That rose to 80 percent last month. Stress can manifest as both physical and emotional symptoms, according to Vaile Wright, a licensed psychologist from the American Psychological Association who was involved with the survey. About one-third of Americans reported symptoms like headaches (34 percent) or feeling nervous or anxious (33 percent)."
The good news is that there are things that you can do to limit the impact that stress has on your life. Recognizing the symptoms of stress and intervening early are important keys to success.
Relieving Stress with mindfulness exercises
Enter mindfulness. Mindfulness is a simple, yet very effective practice that you can do anywhere, at anytime, with no special equipment or environment required. Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to physically change the way that your brain works, reduce stress and enable to you handle life's stressors in a healthy way. Many Fortune 500 companies, senior executives, and celebrities are using mindfulness to lead better lives. Hell, if it works for 50 Cent - its worth a try right?
Here are seven quick and powerful ways to practice mindfulness in your daily life to regain control over emotions and focus on the present.
- Observe Your Breath - like the old song says, "Breathe, just breathe." Well breathe but also pay attention to those breaths, focus specifically on the feelings, sensations, movements associated with those breathes. Does your nose feel cold when you breathe in? How does your stomach move? Observe. But don't judge or change your natural breath. Stay focused on your breath and the sensations that come with it - being mindful or in the moment. If your mind wanders thats okay. Just bring your attention back to your breath.
- Pay Attention To The Details - Whatever you are doing pay SUPER close attention to the sensory details of it. Driving? run your fingers over the steering wheel and really notice what the leather feels like on your finger tips. Washing dishes? Look at the dish soap notice the texture of the bubbles and how they fizz. Shopping with your kiddo? Look at how the wind is hitting his hair and moving the ends slightly or how soft his skin is when you hold his hand. The idea is to become so mindful of the details in the the present moment that you lose touch with the thoughts and emotions that you were just stuck on.
- Observe Your Thoughts and Emotions - Observe your thoughts in the same manner that a scientist might observe the stars, as a third party. They are different from one another but they aren't good or bad they are just stars. By removing judgment and attachment from your thought patterns you are able to separate yourself from your thoughts and feelings. You can think of them as dark clouds in the sky that are moved away quickly by the wind.
- Conduct A Body Scan - Focus your attention on the top of your head, notice any uncomfortable sensations or feelings of tension that you that you may have. Then bring your attention to softening and calming those feelings. Slowly move through each section of your body from head to toe repeating this exercise. Wrap up by scanning your body for sensations of comfort and focus on how relaxed you now feel. This is one of my favorite mindful exercises to help relieve stress. It is especially effective at night after a long, tough day to help you sleep well. Here is a great guided mindfulness body scan to get you started.
- Take Mindful Bites - Take a break to have a healthy snack. For the first couple of bites, be mindful of the sensory experiences of it, the tastes, smell, texture, sounds and appearance of the food. Be very specific around the details but avoid evaluating the food as this is about the experience not the evaluation.
- Conduct A Compassionate Pause - When you feel yourself tensing up, take a moment to pause and take a deep breath. Acknowledge that you are stressed or anxious and treat yourself with the gentle kindness that you would show someone you love. Use a phrase with yourself such as, "WOW. I am really stressed right now." followed by a compassionate phrase such as, "I will handle this experience as I handle all of the parts of my life. Peace will come." Self-compassion is a powerful tool that you can use to build confidence and resilience. Practice this exercise throughout your day to encourage self-compassion and peacefulness.
Take Back Control
You might not be able to avoid all of the stresses of life, but you can have control of how we react to them and to the impact that they have on your life.
The next time that you feel a wave of stress start to wash over you - your body starting to tense and your heart starting to race hit the pause button.
Take a deep breath and and get mindful.