Mindfulness Exercises to Reduce Stress
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When you’re done reading this paragraph, close your eyes and pay close attention to how it feels to breathe in and out. Focus on your inhale and your exhale for several moments. When you are ready, you can open your eyes and continue reading. Now, close your eyes and begin.
So what happened? You just did your first mindfulness exercise. For a few moments, you focused on your present state of being rather than what you have to do today or what’s worrying you. Though briefly, you experienced a peaceful escape from stressful thoughts about the past or future. That’s the beauty of mindfulness: it lets you enjoy the purity of a moment in life, right here, right now.
What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” That definition comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn who developed a form of meditation called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
MBSR helps reverse what you might call getting stuck in “autopilot mode” where you go through your day without truly thinking about what you’re doing. You may know the feeling all too well, especially when stressors like work, family activities and an aging loved ones’ care needs demand your time and attention. Even in the midst of hectic schedules or trying circumstances, mindfulness can help you to act and think more intentionally to find peace and acceptance in your present moment.
Benefits of Mindfulness
According to MBSR participants at the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute, practicing MBSR enables you to:
- Understand why you feel the way you do
- Gain control of your emotions – both the positive and negative ones
- Retrain your mind to think and respond more positively
- Deal more effectively with anxiety associated with your current life events
5 Steps to Mindfulness and Stress Reduction
Here are five simple steps to living more mindfully from mindful.org and meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh. You can start incorporating these exercises into your day, starting with just a few moments at a time, perhaps when you’re stopped in traffic or waiting in line at the grocery store.
1. Mindful Breathing
Like the exercise described at the beginning of this article, mindful breathing simply involves focusing your attention on breathing in and out. When you do that, all of the noise in your head will stop because you are focused on breathing.
This exercise takes mindful breathing one step further as your attention follows the direction of your breath in and out, all the way through. Your mind stays on your breath, sustaining your awareness and cultivating concentration.
3. Awareness of Your Body
This step adds in awareness of your body, uniting mind and body to make them one reality. In our daily lives, we are seldom in this situation. Our body is there but our mind is elsewhere. When your mind is with your body, you are fully alive.
4. Releasing Tension
After becoming more aware of your body, you may notice areas of stress in your body. You can practice releasing that tension. Let these thoughts guide you: “Breathing in, I’m aware of my body. Breathing out, I release the tension in my body.”
5. Walking Meditation
This step adds movement to the previous exercises. You are fully alive, fully present with body and mind together. With every step, you touch the wonders of life that are in you and around you.
For more mindfulness exercises, visit mindful.org. For additional stress-relief tips tailored to your specific life circumstances, you can take the Family Caregiver Distress Assessment to get results based on your current level of stress.