“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
Anxiety is the body’s way of saying that it is experiencing more stress than it can handle. But when that feeling of anxiousness becomes chronic, it is time to gain control over it before it controls you.
Mindfulness exercises are gaining popularity in both the mental and physical health community because they can help you manage the anxiety that might be taking hold of you. When you practice mindfulness, it allows you to be at peace with your world because you are merely watching what is going on, not judging or reacting to it.
Mindfulness is About Sitting Back and Being an Observer
Envision an extremely stressful situation that you have recently dealt with. Perhaps it is an infuriating boss, balancing work and home life, or an unruly teenager. What is the one thing that brings you the most stress in life?
Then ask yourself if it is the situation itself that is bringing you stress. Or, is it your judgment and reaction to the circumstance that is stress-provoking? It might be difficult for you to decipher the difference right now. But if you sit back and introspectively examine what is really going on, you might find that the stress you experience is coming from an internal source, not an uncontrollable external one.
In reality, it isn’t the things in life that you can’t control that are the source of your stress and anxiety; it is how you cope with what you aren’t able to control that is producing your stress.
Mindful Exercises for Stress Reduction
When you practice mindfulness, you can see that no matter what happens in any situation, you are merely an observer. And, therefore, you are free from judging it. And when you can step back and away, you will find peace from it.
Peace can be realized because you recognize that your energy is better spent on things that you can control. And the only things that you can control are your actions and your thoughts. For centuries mindfulness has been used to gain peace and to manage stress. In 1970, Jon Kabat-Zinn devised a concrete mindfulness technique in his book titled “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR). And it quickly became a useful tool to reduce stress and anxiety.
Studies have revealed that practicing mindfulness meditation for just twenty minutes a day decreased stress an average of 11%. And although that might not seem earth-shattering, the additional benefits that it provided are. Mindfulness meditation also helped to improve immune system functioning, stabilize mood, reduce anxiety, reduce symptoms of chronic pain, and increase optimism and self-control. It also helped to reduce binge eating and overall had life-altering positive effects for those who engaged.
Exercises to Relieve Stress
Traditional MBSR programs require a commitment of 8 weeks in a group setting. But most of us have time constraints that do not make it possible for us to immerse ourselves so deeply. The good news is that by practicing the exercises below, you can start to live a mindful life. A conscious life will help to bring peace to your world and override your feelings of anxiety and stress.
By being more mindful of your thoughts and actions, you will experience less stress. Instead of living in the previous moment or what could happen, you live in the moment of what is.
It is best to choose the exercise that speaks to you personally and seems simple enough to follow. If you choose an activity that is too difficult or one that doesn’t feel natural, you might be inadvertently setting yourself up to fail.
The good news is that there is no way that you can fail. Although your mind might try to trick you into thinking that failure is possible, it isn’t. Choosing the most natural exercise for you will calm the portion of your brain that is always waiting on standby for the next horrible thing around the corner.
Exercise One: A Simple Mantra
When you focus on thoughts, the brain is excellent at presenting you with all the many things going on in life that appear to be significant. But it isn’t real, it is a creation of your mind. Nothing is more important than the moment you are living right now. To calm the internal voices that are stressing you out, practice this meditation exercise daily for five or ten minutes. The more you engage, the more it will become second nature. And the more you will see how it can transform your life.
- Sit somewhere comfortable with your eyes closed – Don’t allow yourself to get into a position where you will fall asleep instead of staying mindful. Once you are situated, relax by releasing any tension.
- Repeat a mantra that you would like your mind to affirm – Although you can choose any statement, make sure that it is positive. For example, instead of choosing “I am not stressed out,” say, “I am peaceful.”
- Ignore the inner voices – Your mind will try to distract you with inner voices, and that is okay. Instead of trying to push them away, acknowledge them, and then move forward by bringing your focus back to your mantra. The distraction is natural and normal, so let it be without judging yourself.
- Repeat the mantra for at least five to ten minutes – Give yourself praise for engaging in the exercise once you are finished.
Exercise Two: Don’t Be Controlled by Your Emotions, Be Aware of Them
Although they are powerful, your emotions are not in control, you are. And as such, you can choose how you react to them, despite how they make you feel. Stress and anxiety result from letting ourselves feel things like disappointment, anger, and fear. The trick is to become aware of your emotions and simply allow them to exist. Once we allow them to be, we can gain control over our reactions and actions to them and how to choose to respond to stressors in our life.
When you are experiencing intense emotions, this is the best exercise to gain control. Try to practice this exercise after you have felt an intense feeling instead of while you are in the turmoil of it.
- Sit somewhere comfortable with your eyes closed – Don’t allow yourself to get into a position where you will fall asleep instead of staying mindful. Once you are situated, relax by releasing any tension. Focus your attention on your emotions – Allow yourself to feel the intensity of the emotions and then just wait for them to dissipate.
- Label the emotions as they appear – “Hurt.” “Disappointment.” “Fear.” Allow them to surface, but do not judge them. Label them and allow yourself to experience them. Don’t try to calm them or stop them, instead feel how your body experiences them and then allow them to subside naturally.
- Now that you have learned to accept emotions and run their natural course without judging or reacting, you can allow them to fade after you have dismissed them.
Exercise Three: Practice Controlling Yourself Through Urges
This exercise is meant to produce positivity through neurotransmitter boosting. When you practice more mindful thinking, you can actually increase brain chemicals that allow you to let a situation happen without reacting. This exercise is an immediate stress reducer.
- Get hold of your favorite snack or treat – You can choose anything, just make sure it is something that you really desire.
- Place that snack directly in front of you, but do not touch it – Stop to examine what is physically happening inside of you. You can feel saliva building in anticipation, warmth in your feet and hands, and perhaps you even feel a little fluttering in your chest.
- Examine how your body is reacting – Your brain is releasing neurotransmitters that are pushing you to act. Take specific notice of how your body is responding and what it is doing in preparation for eating your treat.
- Focus intensely on your body’s reactions – Your feelings will come in waves, they will strength, peak, and there will come a point where you feel as if you can no longer control yourself. And then, your feelings will dissipate.
- Put the snack away – Whatever it takes to remove the temptation, do it. The point is to make a statement that you are not going to respond to your body’s request or cravings. Prove to yourself that your mind is in control of your reactions, not your body.
- Examine how it felt to control yourself through the craving – Even though your body was pushing you to react in a particular way, you were able to overcome it both mentally and emotionally. You could observe what was happening, acknowledge it, and then move past it. Once you feel the powerful nature of override your body’s response, you can do the same when experiencing stress. Your mind is in control, not your body’s reaction to it.
Mindfulness Reminds us That Stress Comes From Within
Mindfulness is a way to help recognize that stress does not come externally, it is created internally. It isn’t a situation that brings on your stress, it is your reaction and actions to it. If you start to learn how to be in the moment, merely observing, not judging, you will find peace in your life. And that peace can forever transform the way that you handle the day-to-day.
Mindfulness is the key to controlling stress instead of letting it control you. And if you practice these relaxation techniques daily, you will soon see how they will help you better cope with stress and anxiety and lead to a more positive and healthy you.