Work is hard, stressful, and anxiety-inducing. Sometimes, trying to get through the week can feel like a full-time job in and of itself. The effects of this stress and mental anguish can have very real impacts on your health that shouldn’t be ignored. That’s where mindfulness comes into play.
Mindfulness can be explained as the ‘awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally in the service of self-understanding and wisdom,’ according to leading mindfulness expert and professor Jon Kabat-Zinn. But mindfulness can mean a lot of different things to different people.
‘In essence, practicing mindfulness is a process of learning to trust and stay with feelings of discomfort rather than trying to escape from or analyse them,’ says Bob Stahl, PhD, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and founder of multiple MBSR programs. ‘This often leads to a remarkable shift; time and again your feelings will show you everything you need to know about them – and something you need to know for your own well-being.’
Mindfulness may seem like an unreachable goal to the uninitiated, but practicing doesn’t need to be a difficult process. Most people already have all the tools they need to get in on the action. So unplug and take a break from the craziness of the office with these mindfulness techniques to help ease your anxiety.
How it helps
Mindfulness is the ability to feel fully present and aware of what we are doing without being overwhelmed or reactive. You simply check in with your body and let your mind be clear of things that are outside of your control. Mindfulness helps you change your response to your situation.
Research shows that practicing mindfulness can help your anxiety by creating a distance between you and it. The distance helps you see the anxiety for what it is; a passing emotion that is not attached to you and who you are as a person. Mindfulness helps you break the habit of being anxious.
Just 10-minutes of mindfulness a day helps focus and performance as it trains the user to focus on what is happening in the moment instead of focusing on their worries. Some stress and anxiety will always be there, but broadening your perspective can help you manage it.
All about the breath
‘Connecting yourself to your breath is the most important part of mindfulness,’ says Jeff Goodwin, Sr. director of performance marketing and e-commerce at Orgain. ‘It helps to connect you to the present moment. This is what your body is feeling right now. The in and out of your breathing.’
When you focus on your breath, it takes your mind off the anxiety you may be experiencing by turning your attention on one thing. ‘You aren’t thinking about the future or the past, just your breath,’ says Bradley Hall, CEO of SONU. ‘Simply observe your breath and focus on the body instead of the anxious thoughts you might be experiencing. Give your mind the chance to relax for a moment.’
To do this, follow the movement of your body as you inhale and exhale, the up and down of your chest or stomach. Connect to the movement alone and nothing else. If your mind is still wandering, count the breaths. ‘I count one on the inhale and two on the exhale. Then three, then four, and so on until I get to ten. At that point, I start again,’ says Phillip Montalvo, director of marketing at Azuna, adding: ‘Tune in to any sensations and be open to everything you feel in that moment. Channel your attention on the weight of your body, the sounds in the room, the temperature, anything that is happening in the here and now. Appreciate the feeling of allowing your mind to rest in the present moment.’
The focus on the breath is part of the practice of non-reactivity. ‘We jump to conclusions all of the time, meaning we react to things that have not yet happened,’ says Jason Reposa, founder and CEO of GoodFeels. ‘This is why we tend to get anxious. Mindfulness teaches us how to not react to those feelings.’
It’s natural for you to play out scenarios and predict situations that have yet to happen in order to try and anticipate that which is unknown. Instead of falling into the cycle of doing so, try to pause and identify these thoughts for what they are – thoughts!
‘Thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky,’ says Reece Kresser, co-founder of Zizi. ‘That is why mindfulness methods instruct people to think of their thoughts as clouds passing freely in the sky above. Let them come and go and don’t lose sight of the blue skies behind them.’
If you lose sight of the sky due to the clouds, simply check back in with your breathing and focus back on the blue skies. The goal is to allow the thoughts to come and go without reacting to them as you might normally.
Allowing yourself to recognise the thoughts without reacting trains your brain to not get caught up in anxieties.
Leo Livshetz, founder and CEO of UnHide implores people to pause often, saying you should ‘pause when you notice anxiety is arising.’ He continues, saying ‘Find the small gap between anxiety starting and when you react to it. Pausing for even a second before you get caught up in it will help you change your response.’
Pausing is an effective way to deal with stress. We tend to see anxiety coming and run the other direction, but this allows it to have more control since it is dictating what you do. It takes a lot of practice, so try to incorporate pausing the next time you feel anxious to start getting better at it.
‘Just pause the next time you feel anxious and take a few deep breaths. This will help you create space and observe what is happening. From here, you are able to ask questions like “why am I feeling this way and ‘is this the proper response?”‘
Use the pause to gain clarity on the situation and de-escalate.
‘So much of mindfulness revolves around us taking a step back and labelling our feelings as what they are,’ says Rachel Jones, head of PR at Hope Health. ‘We get carried away by our emotions without even realising it.’ Practising mindfulness allows you to note each feeling so you can recognise when they are trying to control you.
To master noting, start by noting each thought that comes into your mind and categorising it. It can be hard to do so without getting pulled into them, but starting to recognise what each one is will build out our ability to fight the pull.
‘If you have an angry thought, breathe and label it as anger,’ says Melissa Rhodes, CEO of Psychics 1on1. ‘If it’s a sad thought, call it sadness, and so on. Create the room for thoughts to happen instead of trying to get away from them.’ In other words, take back control.
Treat all of your emotions the same and allow them to come and go. The more you note feelings of anxiousness, the quicker they will dissipate and allow you to get back to focusing on what is right in front of you.
Any amount of mindfulness you can fit into your day will pay off in the long run in your battle against stress. Allowing your mind to wander is a good thing, just try not to let it fixate on the negative.
Ellen Diamond did her degree in psychology at the University of Herfordshire. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.
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