You might already be aware of what mindfulness is and why it's important, but let's talk about specifically HOW to use it to help combat stressful, overwhelming, and frustrating situations. Remember, the overall goal and purpose of mindfulness is to bring you back - head, heart, and body - back into the present moment.
Tip #1: JUST BREATHE
Ok, ok, I know when you're stressed the LAST thing you want to hear is, "Just breathe", but just hear me out for a second....
Think about a time (or even multiple times) that you've experienced a lot of PHYSICAL stress:
Intense exercising or physical competitions - pushing your body past its usual comfort zone
Experiencing fears and phobias - from haunted houses and public speaking to more traumatic situations like a car wreck or a near-death experience
The Adrenaline Rush that comes from bungee jumping, rock climbing, cliff diving, skydiving, etc.
In those moments your heart is pounding, your mind is racing, and the most natural thing we instinctively do to get through it is to.... breathe. We take slow deep breaths to calm our minds and heartbeat, regulating our bodies so we can get through the experience in the best, safest way possible. And it works, right? So if it helps in physical situations, why wouldn't it also help in mental situations?
The mind and body are so connected that you might even notice that when you get stressed out, sending yourself in a downward spiral of thoughts, beliefs, and emotions, that it might even start to cause you physical stress as well. So if you can catch it at the start, and do something so easy it's almost second nature to stop or AT LEAST slow down the process, you'll see how helpful "just breathing" can actually be.
How to Breathe Mindfully
The best way to use this technique is not JUST to breathe, but to BREATHE MINDFULLY. What does this mean? It means to be conscious and aware of your breath - the depth, feeling, timing, action, existence, EVERYTHING - and in your observation of the breathe your mind is not thinking of ANYTHING ELSE. This isn't just about the action of the breath, it's about the THINKING and FEELING of the existence of the breath while you do it.
There are different styles of mindful breathing, but one of the basics I've found to be most helpful is a general slow breath technique. This is what it looks like, and what you should be thinking while you're doing it:
Breathe In... "I am breathing in"
1... "I am
3... "I am breathing out"
Repeat this as many times as necessary until you feel regulated and calm. I personally like to do it at least 3 times, then see if I need to keep going and will continue until I feel better. In REALLY stressful situations, I've literally done this technique for 5-10 minutes straight. So try not to shut down if it takes a while for it to work - ESPECIALLY if you're not used to doing this - just work on being present, focusing on your breath, and it WILL happen.
It's also EXTREMELY beneficial to accompany your breathing technique with stretching. Even if it's just a quick reach your arms up-rotate your wrists, ankles, and neck stretch, or a full body stretch-forward fold, or a whole stretching-yoga session. We don't stretch enough in general, but moving your body and energy flow before or after doing this breathing exercise is an extra gentle push to bringing you into the present moment in your body.
Tip #2: ENGAGE YOUR SENSES
I hear a lot of people joke about the popular "5, 4, 3, 2, 1" technique, and this is the same thing as the first tip - you have to try it, REALLY try it, before downplaying it as not working. Again, we're working on mindfulness here. So if you're overwhelmed and think, "Yeah, ok, I see this thing, hear that, whatever, I don't feel any better" you're COMPLETELY missing the point of this exercise.
This is not a cure, nor is it meant to make your problem go away or even to make you feel 100% better in a second. It is simply a tool to help you re-center and regulate yourself, mentally and physically, so you can have awareness and presence. With this awareness you can:
Know what your needs are and how to get them met
Respond versus react, in the most clear-headed and healthy manner
Separate yourself mentally and emotionally from the situation
Today I just want to talk about the basics in tuning into your senses. This is helpful because it brings you into the awareness of your physical surroundings and out of your head/heart where we can sometimes get trapped during stress. When you're engaged with your senses, it becomes easier for us to re-train our brain to focus on one thing at a time.
As we've already established the mind and body are very connected. So once I'm aware of what my body is doing, and what I'm physically experiencing, I can then bring it in and start focusing on what I'm feeling, where is that feeling in my body, and why I'm feeling that way. Then in the future, if I start to notice that feeling again, I know how to process it. Likewise, if I start to notice a feeling in my body, I might realize I actually had an emotion I wasn't processing that's now affecting me on a physical level. Connecting with your body in this way is so helpful in improving your self-awareness and showing you patterns or suppressions, so you can grow and change in a healthy way.
For example, I hold my stress in my shoulders. So when I'm stressed, I can feel my shoulders tense up and know it's time for me to pause before I can handle the situation in the best way
Similarly, I hold my anxiety in my stomach. So if I start to feel tightness there, I ask myself if there's any suppressed anxiety, when a few years ago I would've just assumed I was hungry and ignored it
Personally, I find this tip better to be customized based on the individual and your lifestyle. It can look so different for everyone, but everyone can do this no matter what your life looks like. Therefore, I'm just going to share some examples of what this can look like and how you can use it, but by all means feel free to add or suggest your own ideas for what feels right to you. Some ideas include:
Go on a walk or a hike - focus on feeling the movement of your feet on the ground, hearing the sound of your walking, smelling the fresh air, seeing your feet or your surroundings
Sit outdoors or in nature - hear the birds chirping, see the wind blowing through the trees, smell the trees and plants around you, feel the ground or grass beneath you
Exercise - do crunches or push-ups, run, yoga, etc. and feel the movements in the entirety of your body
Sensory Tools - glitter jar, slime, stress ball
Cook - smell the ingredients and the food, taste it