5 Ways Mindfulness Can Help You Manage Stress

We are living in a complex, digital age. It's hard to keep up. And somewhere along the way, we lose track of our bodies. I believe our increasing disembodiment is contributing to much of our stress and anxiety. Many people come to our Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago to learn how to practice mindfulness meditation because mindfulness can help you learn to better manage and decrease your stress levels. Because mindfulness is an embodied awareness without judgement it can help you get reconnected and grounded. So I'd like to give you 5 ways to use mindfulness to begin more effectively managing and decreasing your stress levels.

1. Breath

This would seem obvious, but when you are anxious and overwhelmed, you are not usually aware of your breathing at all. You are often preoccupied with some thought pattern. Often that thought pattern has to do with anticipating something or worrying about something that has not yet happened. At such times, your breathing is likely to be shallow and short. So bringing awareness to how you are breathing can help you re-connect with your body and give your over-taxed brain, a rest. When your phone rings, instead of answering after the first ring, take a moment to breath, and then answer it. If you find it hard to remember to do this, tape something on your phone that says, "breath".

2. You Are Analog, Not Digital

I think it's becoming very important these days for us to differentiate between analog and digital. Human beings are analog. We tell stories. It takes us time to know what we are feelings. We need context to make sense out of our lives. Computers on the other hand, are digital. They don't take time. That why we value them so much. They have no context and they don't tell stories. I have nothing against computers. I use them all day long and they are valuable to me in running our Zen Center and even in creating my personal art work. But human beings are not digital. You are not meant to be. So when you don't differentiate the two, you end up much less patience for the time it takes you to know what you are actually feeling. And when you don't have the full contextual experience of yourself, you are easily overwhelmed, and taken over by stress and anxiety.

3. Pause

Pushing for a result can not only increase your stress, but cause your work flow to be less efficient and effective. So learning to pause and step back from your activity can be helpful. You can of course, do this through meditation, but you can also do it by taking a walk, or taking five minutes to sit on a park bench. Your brain has a chalk board area for short-term memory. When you memorize a phone number that's where you put that information. And that chalkboard can gets filled up. It only holds so much information. And when it gets filled up in this way, you are likely to feel tired and much less effective in taking in any more new information. So taking a rest, a walk or a cat nap can be a good way to refresh the chalkboard and give you a renewed energy for continuing with your task.

4. Approach What is Difficult

We generally avoid what is unpleasant or difficult. That's natural. But it often doesn't serve you well. Such avoidant behavior has been shown to increase stress levels. There is an area on the left side of your your brain called "executive functioning" that is strengthened through the practice of mindfulness meditation. When that area is strengthened it actually helps you approach things you would normally avoid. So when difficult things arise during the day, instead of avoiding them, learn to approach them gently. With a regular practice of meditation, what seems problematic in your life will begin to seem more workable.

5. Wake Up Calls

Strong judgments or over-reacting to something are opportunities for you to be mindful. Your strong, negative inner critic can be very toxic. So if you give this voice in your head authority, you will increase your stress levels dramatically. Such moments can be wake up calls. They are opportunities to stop and reflect about what is going on. Re-framing these moments as wake up calls, gives you the opportunity to have a more empathic, embodied experience of yourself. Practicing mindfulness meditation and practicing skills such as nonviolent communication can really help you learn to let go of judgements and replace them with a kinder, embodied experience of yourself.

by Robert Althouse