Mindfulness Skills for Managing Stress
Question: Between my work and family life I deal with a great deal of stress on a daily basis. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. My coworker recommended adopting mindfulness skills. What are these are how could they help me manage things better?
Response: Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. It is a state of mind in which you observe your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations as well as the external activities around you. Observing in this way gathers your awareness and directs it away from worry about the past or future.
Mindfulness practice is like being a reporter and describing or noting what you are experiencing from an objective standpoint. When you are able to stop judging your thoughts, feelings and sensations as good or bad, you are able to get more distance from them and therefore more relief from the distress that might be associated with them.
We experience a constant cycle of habitual thoughts that lead to feelings about those thoughts and this leads to bodily sensations in response to both of these. Rather than get caught in the stressful and escalating cycle of thoughts, emotions and tension, we can take a step back using mindfulness and find moments of relief.
It is simple to start practicing mindfulness. A first step is to engage the senses. What are you hearing, seeing, smelling or tasting right now? Another practice is to “scan” the body, like taking an internal x-ray of bodily sensations. Start with your feet and notice the sensations there. They might be tingling, warm or cold, light or heavy. Remember, more important than the actual sensation is the process of noticing and being mindful of it. Next, notice your hands and the sensations located there. Focusing on the feet and hands can calm a person immediately. You can expand this practice to noticing the breath and when your attention wanders, practice bringing it back to bodily sensations or the breathing.
Renee Podunovich, MA, LCMHC