In today’s world, especially now, no one is immune to feeling stressed. Eustress or positive stress can help motivate us to do well and get things accomplished. However, according to University of Illinois Extension educators, if stress accumulates and is not managed effectively or there is no outlet for it – stress can become chronic and have adverse effects on our minds and bodie
Chronic stress has potentially harmful effects across the lifespan on the brain, on one’s behavior, and our physical health and cognitive (thinking) abilities. It has even been shown to speed up biological aging at the cellular level, which can shorten the life span.
There are many ways to relieve or reduce stress. Some examples include exercise, laughter, reading, listening to music, getting outside in nature, talking with a friend, and deep breathing. Stress reducers just need to be something that helps us relax, are soothing and pleasurable, make us feel good, and are something we can build in our lives regularly.
Mindfulness is also a technique that can be used to ease the effects of stress. Mindfulness, according to researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn is “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” Basically - mindfulness is paying purposeful attention to the present moment.
Although mindfulness originates in ancient Buddhist and Hindu traditions, it is not about spirituality or religion but is about concentration. The ultimate goal of mindfulness is to help quiet busy minds so you can effectively deal with stress by giving your full attention to what you’re doing.
Research has found that being mindful can:
- Give people more appreciation for life
- Assist with focus and attention
- Combat multitasking
- Reduce stress levels
- Improve working memory, emotional regulation, and well-being
- Enhance coping with distress and disability
- Reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and chronic pain
- Lower cortisol levels and blood pressure
- Increase immune response
- Decrease mind-wandering
Research has also shown that the benefits of mindfulness can be experienced in as little as15-minute session. According to a study in Psychological Science, just 15 minutes of focused-breathing meditation helped people make smarter choices. By reducing how much people focused on the past and future, this psychological shift led to better decision-making. There are several ways to practice mindfulness. Since being mindful is the act of focusing on and experiencing the present, this can be applied to just about anything you do in life. If you need a little guidance at first, there are several types of scripts, videos, apps, and audio files available online. You can find mindful practices for everything from paying attention to breathing, smells, sounds, movement, and even chores like washing dishes!
Here is a basic mindful meditation to begin with:
1) Have a seat on the floor or in a chair, making sure to keep your back straight. Begin by taking a deep breath and close your eyes.
2) Breathe normally, and focus on your breathing. Feel the air moving in and out of your lungs.
3) You will probably experience thoughts or distractions, but as you do, don’t give them too much attention. Acknowledge that your mind has wandered and then move your focus back to your breathing.
4) Start by doing this a few minutes each day and then gradually increase your time, staying at a comfortable level.
Remember that practicing mindfulness is not only about being in the present but is also about dealing with distractions. As you practice mindfulness meditation, certain thoughts, memories, and feelings may appear in your mind, but the trick is to notice them in a detached way and not focus on them. You can accept those “distractions” without judging and dwelling on them – then get back to focusing on your breathing and meditation. Good luck in your practice!
Carmody, J., Congleton, C., Gard, T., et al. (2011) “Mindfulness Practice Leads to Increases in Regional Brain Gray Matter Density”, Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191, 36-43.
Barsade, S.G., Hafenbrack, A.C., & Kinias, Z. “Debiasing the Mind through Meditation Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias” Psychological Science (2014), 25 (2), 369-376.
Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004) “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Health Benefits A Meta-Analysis”, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 35-43.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (Summer, 2003) “Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future,” Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, V10 N2, 144-156.
Being Mindful in a Busy World, University of Illinois Extension 2014 Author: Cheri Burcham, Family Life Educator, University of Illinois Extension