In the wake of COVID-19, if someone is asked about having stress and anxiety, the reply generally is ‘yes’. As stress and anxiety are now a part of our lives, either it is unemployment, escalation of prices of commodities, job insecurity, increment in the number of cases or threat to be infected with the virus, etc. Anxiety can mentally exhaust you and have real impacts on your body. But before you get anxious about being anxious, know that research has shown you can reduce your anxiety and stress levels through mindfulness.
People are trying hard to manage their recurring stress and anxiety by involving in different mindfulness activities online and offline. Mindfulness is a great way to reduce anxiety and increase focus.
Mindfulness is a process that leads to a mental state characterised by non-judgemental awareness of the present experiences, such as sensations, thoughts, bodily states, and the environment. It enables us to distance ourselves from our thoughts and feelings without labelling them as good or bad.
Basics of mindfulness
The practice of mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses. Here are some points to consider while practising mindfulness:
- Focus on your breathing
- Notice your surroundings
- Recognise your thoughts and emotions
- Acceptance of thoughts and feelings without being non-judgemental
- Experiences sensations from the five senses
Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor emeritus of medicine launched the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Although since that time, thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in general. In order to develop mindfulness skills one can practice the following exercises used in MBSR.
- Mindful breathing. It involves bringing attention to the physical sensations of the breath as it flows in and out.
- Body scan. This is another common practice where you bring attention to different parts of your body in turn, from head to toe.
- The raisin exercise. This is where you slowly use all of your senses, one after another, to observe a raisin in great detail, from the way it feels in your hand to the way its taste bursts on your tongue. This exercise is intended to help you focus on the present moment, and can be tried with different foods.
- Walking meditation. This is a practice where you focus on the movement of your body as you take step after step, your feet touching and leaving the ground – an everyday activity we usually take for granted.
- Loving-kindness meditation. This involves extending feelings of compassion toward people, starting with yourself then branching out to someone close to you, then to an acquaintance, then to someone giving you a hard time and finally to all beings everywhere.
How does it work?
By focusing our attention on the present moment, mindfulness counteracts rumination and worrying. Worrying about the future and ruminating about the past are generally maladaptive thinking processes. Of course, it is important to learn from our past and plan ahead for the future; however, when we spend too much time outside the present moment, we can get depressed and anxious. In such cases, mindfulness can be an important tool for helping us to better focus on the present moment.
Mindfulness teaches us how to respond to stress with awareness of what is happening in the present moment, rather than simply acting instinctively, unaware of what emotions or motives may be driving that decision. By teaching awareness for one’s physical and mental state in the moment, mindfulness allows for more adaptive reactions to difficult situations.
Mindfulness works through multiple ways, and it encourages us to open up and accept our emotions. As a result we are better able to identify, experience and process our emotions. It also motivates us to see things from different perspectives.
The new normal is full of stress and storm and Mindfulness is very beneficial in managing and regulating the stress and anxiety through the awareness of our inner feelings. Mindfulness is not a one-day task as it needs practice. Every bit of mindfulness practice enhances the understanding and acceptance of our feelings, thoughts and emotions.
Parul Kalia is a PhD researcher at the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Punjab Agricultural University.
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