The Scourge of Modern Life
Chances are, if you are reading this right now you have access to electricity, an internet connection and a smartphone.
You live in the industrialised world and have been affected by stress at some point in your life.
Stress in modern times is unavoidable.
It is the frontier for worry and anxiety, reflecting the conditions our ancestors faced on the plains of the Savannah centuries ago.
The mention of stress has found its way into everyday use, teenagers now use the term to describe rising stress levels studying for mid-term exams.
But are we stressed or feigning the symptoms to draw attention to our struggles?
One thing is certain, stress is real. Yet how your body interprets it varies from person to person.
In fact, your tolerance for stress is different to a trained Navy Seal soldier. Yet, we can all agree, when pushed beyond our stress point, our health declines.
The good news is, we can use mindfulness to help us navigate the torrents of stress and manage our lives better.
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; with purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.
It helps you cope with life’s challenges by being present and inhabiting your body with attentiveness. This is in contrast to runaway thoughts which pass through your mind without your conscious awareness.
“Mindfulness — the steady, non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of experience — leads to self-awareness and to shifts in our perspectives that allow us to see clearly what’s happening and how we are reacting, to respond to triggers and traumas with far more open-mindedness, and to face the process of necessary change with far more flexibility and tolerance,” affirms author Linda Graham MFT in, Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being.
Lurking Beneath Surface
Practising mindfulness can help you reduce stress because it shifts your autonomic nervous system from a stressed state to a calm state.
As you are reading this, there are minor stresses taking place in the background you are unaware of, yet your subconscious mind is attentive to.
Stress is insidious. It lurks beneath the surface and strikes when you least expect it, carrying with it accumulated stress from the past which can tip you over the edge.
I liken it to a sequinned pearl necklace, cut at one point and left to unravel into pieces. Stress has the same effect causing life to crumble if left untreated.
Mindfulness can help you cope with the habitual patterns of thinking that dominate your everyday life.
“The practice of mindfulness — training the brain to focus its attention and to strengthen conscious awareness — allows us to see our conditioned patterns of response clearly so that we can get unstuck from them when we need to,” avows Linda Graham MFT.
Mindfulness helps you notice the stream of thoughts passing through your mind moment to moment.
It is a means to check in with yourself to notice what is taking place beneath the surface of your thoughts.
You may be prone to reacting to external conditions, yet seldom take the time to note your emotional well-being. It is often too late when you sense something is wrong because an emotional crisis has occurred.
Your thoughts can pull you into the past, where you re-experience uninviting events.
You are not present, but recalling a mental screenplay taken place long ago.
“Don’t let your mind bully your body into believing it must carry the burden of its worries.” — Astrid Alauda
This becomes a stressor because you bring unresolved emotions into your interactions with others, contaminating the beauty of the present moment.
“But any time you let your thoughts, worries, and stresses dictate how you experience this moment, you inevitably suffer, because you’re in conflict with reality, with truth. Rather than dancing with life, you’re in a wrestling match—and the outcome of the struggle isn’t in doubt,” declares author Hugh G. Byrne in, The Here-and-Now Habit: How Mindfulness Can Help You Break Unhealthy Habits Once and for All.
Carving Out Time for Silence
Mindfulness can go a long way when you devote regular time for silence.
This is attained through meditation and the sensations created in the body.
Meditation anchors your mind to the present moment, so you become attentive to your present moment experience.
It is important not to fight your thoughts or add a commentary to what you feel, but allow yourself to connect with your feelings.
As you become comfortable sitting in silence, you may wish to advanced your practice via structured meditation. This is ideal to strengthen your knowledge and take you into a deeper meditative state.
The benefits of meditation allow you to detach from your thoughts. You become a silent witness and less invested in the stream of activity created in the mind.
You are less reactive because you interact with what is taking place before you.
Stress abounds because people believe their thoughts.
So, if you are driving home after a hostile encounter with your boss or colleague, and an inconsiderate motorist cuts you off in traffic, you offer them a piece of your mind.
Yet, by practising mindfulness you become attuned to the physical sensations of anger before you retaliate since you are mindful of your emotional state.
Linda Graham MFT affirms, “Mindful awareness — observing and reflecting — allows us to step back from the experience of the moment and observe it from a larger field of awareness that is not any of those experiences, that is larger than any of those patterns. With that awareness, we can begin to see different possibilities for responding.”
Mindfulness has a positive effect on your relationships. Your emotional well-being is enriched, instead of succumbing to external stimuli.
The success of mindfulness-based stress reduction lies in noting your thoughts non-judgmentally, through the eyes of equanimity and compassion.
In doing so, you recognise thoughts pass through the landscape of your mind and they needn’t turn into negative emotions.
We are heavily invested in our thoughts and have a negativity bias when challenged. This is an evolutionary mechanism to help us make sense of our environment.
So, when thoughts, feelings or sensations emerge, don’t ignore them or suppress them, nor analyse or judge them.
Note them as they occur and observe them intentionally but non-judgmentally, moment by moment, in your field of awareness.
If your mind wanders say to yourself, “wandering” and bring your attention back to the present moment.
If you wish to be happy and live a peaceful life, be mindful of your thoughts before they lead you down a perilous path.
Stressful thoughts are not the source of your happiness, but a by-product of unconscious thinking left to run wild.
Mindfulness helps you to reduce stress because it anchors you to the present moment where your body inhabits.
Afterall, if your body is present doesn’t it make sense that your mind also be here and now?