Contrary to popular belief, stress isn’t always bad. In moderate amounts, stress can make you more productive and efficient. But when you experience chronic stress, it can take a toll on your mental and physical health. The National Institute of Mental Health describes stress as the brain and body’s response to change. During a stressful event, your body is flooded with hormones to confront danger, which is your fight-or-flight response.
How you respond to stress plays a major role in your ability to cope with it. So, even if you ignore stress by distracting yourself, it can end up affecting your health. According to one study, showing present-moment awareness allows adaptive stress responses. This is a key component of mindfulness, so let’s look at a few mindfulness practices that help alleviate stress.
What is mindfulness?
By being mindful, you’re consistently aware of your thoughts, bodily sensations, feelings, and the surrounding environment. You’re aware of where you are and what you’re doing and aren’t overwhelmed by what’s happening to you.
Mindfulness isn’t a skill that you need to develop but a quality you already have – you just have to implement the right practices. That’s why mindfulness is recommended as it leads to coping skills improvement in men and women.
During mindfulness breathing exercises, you pay attention to each breath and steer non-judgmental awareness toward the present moment. Breathing techniques are linked to improved emotional regulation, lower levels of oxidative stress, and reduced anxiety symptoms.
Deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is a common breathing exercise that gives you a sense of calm and reduces stress. Inhale through your nose. You’ll feel your chest rise as your lungs fill up with air. Continue breathing in until your abdomen expands fully. Then, exhale slowly through your mouth or nose, whichever feels more natural.
A unique aspect of mindfulness as a potential treatment is that it doesn’t require a special set-up to implement. You can practice it anywhere – even while taking a walk. To practice walking meditation, start by picking a place where you can walk slowly without any obstacles.
It should be a peaceful location that’s devoid of traffic with a flat surface, so you’re not worried about stumbling. In mindfulness walking, sense how the ground feels under your feet, the movement of your legs, and the motion of your body as it moves forward. You can walk slowly in a circle or back and forth.
Studies show that gardening can reduce levels of cortisol and alleviate stress. Mindful gardening is all about doing simple tasks while connecting with nature. When you practice mindful gardening, whether you’re planting some seeds or watering flowers, pay attention to the sights and smells around you.
Put your hand into the soil and feel the texture – then try defining it. Does it feel dry or damp? Is it packed or loose? If you’re outdoors, focus on the sounds of the birds and the colors of the flowers. Carefully studying the plants and flowers to find small details can bring you back to the present and make you aware of your surroundings.
Body scan meditation
In the body scan method, you become mindful of your bodily sensations, which relieves stress levels. When you perform this mindfulness practice, you reconnect with your physical self by noticing all the sensations you feel without judgement.
To try body scan meditation, start by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position where you can stretch your limbs easily. Close your eyes to block out any distractions and start focusing on your breath. Pay attention to how your lungs fill up when you inhale and how the air leaves your lungs when you exhale.
You can start at any point of your body, like the top of your head. Focus on that part of your body as you continue breathing slowly and deeply. Gradually move to another part of your body and repeat the process. Be mindful of sensations of tension, pain, tingling, or discomfort. If you feel any discomfort, acknowledge the emotions they bring up and accept them.
Float therapy is a form of meditation in which you float in a tank of water to enhance feelings of mindfulness. Floating in water is an effective way to eliminate distractions and enter a deep state of relaxation. You can try this at the pool when there aren’t a lot of people or a float tank, which is designed to reduce sensory input.
As you float, take deep breaths and focus on how your body moves in the water. By floating in the water, you become mindful of the tension in your body. While taking deep breaths, you can focus on specific parts of your body to alleviate tension.
Use your senses
Another effective mindfulness practice is to put your senses to work. It doesn’t require you to access specific equipment. Start by taking a slow, deep breath and paying attention to the sounds around you. Don’t judge the sounds by labeling them as positive or negative; just notice them. At first, you’ll hear the louder sounds, like traffic, but as time passes, you’ll notice the smaller sounds as well.
Then, bring your mind to the scents around you, like perfume, soap, or disinfectant from the floors. Only notice the scents and let them pass instead of judging them as good or bad. If you close your eyes while focusing on the sounds and scents, open them and look around you. Notice shapes, patterns, and colors.
After a minute, focus on the taste of any food or drink you’re having at the moment, whether it’s water, tea, or a breath mint. Even if you’re not eating anything, concentrate on the sensations in your mouth and if you can taste anything from when you last ate. Lastly, use your sense of touch to focus on how your skin feels under your clothes or how the carpet feels under the soles of your shoes.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.