By Wendy Salazar, MFT, Stress Topic Expert Contributor
Stress is a daily concern for many of us. From the moment we wake up until the time we go to bed, we are constantly rushing to get from place to place, fighting with traffic, struggling to meet deadlines, and attempting to complete everything on our to-do lists. This continual battle takes its toll on both our physical and mental health and can lead to numerous ailments and diseases.
Being in a state of stress signals the body to go into fight-or-flight mode—which is the response we need when we are running away from a charging lion, but inappropriate on an ongoing basis. This type of pressure causes stress hormones to be released that are designed to assist us in responding quickly to a difficult situation, but can lead to illness when the tension continues over a long period of time.
One of the easiest and most effective methods proven to successfully reduce stress levels is mindfulness meditation. Just a few minutes each day can drastically improve our overall health; however, many people are concerned about their ability to learn to meditate effectively. The following are some simple steps for achieving stress relief through mindfulness meditation techniques:
- Pick a time when you will not be interrupted.The best times tend to be first thing after waking up or right before going to bed.
- Be consistent. Meditation is most beneficial when done on a regular basis, so try to dedicate some time every day to your practice.
- Start with just five to 10 minutes a day. Mindfulness meditation can be very effective, even when you have only a few minutes to practice. As time goes on, however, you may want to try to build up to 20 to 30 minutes a day, which will make your practice even more beneficial.
- Sit in a comfortable position. Sitting either cross-legged on a cushion on the floor or on a straight-backed chair with legs uncrossed and feet flat on the floor is best. Keeping your back straight is important.
- Start by tuning into your breath. Take several deep breaths to settle in. Follow your inhale as your breath flows into your chest and then all the way down into your abdomen. Allow all the tension to leave your body as you exhale.
- Do a scan of your body. Start with your toes, feet, and legs, and slowly work your way up your body until you reach the crown of your head. Pay attention to any sensations that you feel and just soften into them, allowing them to be present.
- Remain focused on your breath. After becoming mindful of any sensations in your body, continue to focus on each breath you take. Counting each inhale and exhale can help you to remain present, rather than becoming lost in your thoughts. If any thoughts do arise, try to remain an outside observer instead of getting caught up in them. This may require more of an effort initially, but will become easier as time progresses. Whenever you do catch yourself wandering off in a daydream, simply bring your awareness back to counting your breath again.
- Become aware of your surroundings. Notice any sounds in your environment. Can you hear the hum of the air conditioner or heater in the room? Are there cars driving by outside or any birds chirping nearby? Really tune into all of the sensations in your body, the rise and fall of your breath, and the sounds all around you.
- Maintain present moment awareness. Our stress levels are linked to our fears and anxiety about the future, as well as our ruminations about the past. When we are able to focus on radically accepting what is arising in this moment, rather than worrying about the past or future, we can drastically reduce our stress and become more centered and at peace.
- Practice short periods of mindfulness throughout the day. Take short breaks during the day whenever you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, and bring your attention inward to your breath and the inner sensations of your body. Closing your eyes for a few moments at your desk can be helpful for clearing your mind and gaining a different perspective.
So often, we spend our lives anxiously focused on reliving the past or worried about the future, rather than being truly aware of the beauty of the present moment. Learning to live from a more mindful perspective can be extremely beneficial in decreasing our stress levels, improving our physical and mental health, and helping us to become more appreciative of the simple pleasures in life.
If you would like a little more help getting started, you may want to look into joining a meditation group in your area, or you could choose to work with a therapist who has experience with mindfulness-based techniques.
© Copyright 2015 by Wendy Salazar, MFT