February 6, 2024

Using Mindfulness to Help Stress

Can practicing mindfulness alleviate stress?

You may have come across the term mindfulness in many different contexts and, probably, used in many different ways. Mindfulness can be defined as the “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”, or “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique” (www.dictionary.com).

Perhaps when you hear “mindfulness” you think of someone sitting in the lotus position, palms upright, counting their breaths - and you wouldn’t be wrong! However, it is important to note that there are many different ways to be mindful and to adopt mindful strategies.

Many associate with Eastern Asian teachings, such as Buddhism. In the West, mindfulness has been incorporated into therapeutic practices in order to teach to teach people to cope with issues such as stress or anxiety in a helpful way.

The core of mindfulness is paying attention. Attention to what you are doing, thoughts going through your mind, sensations in your body, feelings experienced and input from your surrounding environment.

When we experience stress, it is not uncommon for us to be anywhere but in the present moment - we worry and fret about the future, the past and things that may or may not go wrong, forgetting to see what is going on right in front of us. With mindfulness we practice accepting our current experience for what it is, without necessarily trying to change or control it.

As we learn to accept our current experiences, we can also become more skilled in other areas of our lives - for instance, at approaching situations that we find frightening but know could benefit us in the long run. It can also help us avoid getting caught in a stream of unhelpful thoughts by accepting the thoughts for what they are - merely thoughts (not truths!).

So how would you go about getting some mindfulness practice into your routine? And how do you know what practice suits you best?

First of all, different things work for different people. For some, sitting on a chair and counting their breaths for five minutes works perfectly, whereas for others practicing mindfulness in a more active way may suit them better. There are plenty of different techniques that you can try - just be mindful that not everything that you find online is evidence-based!

A good place to start is the NHS’s recommendations for different mindfulness practices that you can read about here. There is also some evidence that mindfulness smartphone apps such as Headspace and Smiling Mind can help alleviate some of the symptoms of stress and depression. You can read about the research here.

Just remember to approach your mindfulness practice with a lot of patience and kindness to yourself. Different things work for different people - it is ok for it to take some time to find what suits you and helps you deal with the stressors of everyday life.

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