This is a guest post written by Rachael Kable. Rachael is a mindfulness and meditation teacher with a background in psychology, coaching and counselling. Having experienced stress regularly throughout her childhood and teenage years, Rachael is passionate about empowering other people with tools and practical techniques to practise mindfulness and manage stress. Rachael is the author of The Mindful Kind, available now.
We need a little bit of stress to fuel our efforts and keep us motivated as we work towards our goals. Without it, we wouldn’t feel as compelled to stick to deadlines, improve ourselves, or learn new things.
However, stress can easily become overwhelming.
It might contribute to sleepless nights and fights with your partner. It can interfere with your health and wellbeing, potentially playing a part in high blood pressure, headaches, skin conditions and depression.
It can pull you out of the present moment, so you miss the small, yet meaningful moments in your everyday life.
The more we practise mindfulness, the more we build our resilience and the better we learn to manage stress.
For example, ten minutes before my first public speaking event, my nerves hit me full force.
Before I knew about mindfulness, my negative thoughts would have completely taken over and hurt my confidence even more.
In my imagination, I’d keep picturing myself making a mistake or saying something silly or going blank on stage – I didn’t know how to calm myself down and slow those spiralling thoughts.
However, I had learned several mindfulness techniques about a year before the speaking event and I used them when those nerves hit.
By the time I was about to walk on stage, I felt relatively calm. I was still nervous, but I didn’t feel totally overwhelmed.
My mind had better clarity and I was able to remind myself to make eye contact with the crowd, breathe and use hand gestures to support my words (rather than stare at the ground or at my notes and stumble through it as quickly as possible - which was what I used to do!).
So, you may be wondering what mindfulness actually is and how you can practise it yourself.
For example, you could wake up in the morning before your alarm goes off and start thinking about everything on your to-do list, creating a sensation of stress before you’re even out of bed.
Or, you could mindfully notice the feeling of your breath moving in and out of your body, or listen to the sounds outside your bedroom (without judging them as bad!).
Here are 5 simple mindfulness techniques you can use to help yourself take a break from feeling stressed and gain a little more clarity (you might also notice yourself feeling calmer in the process!).
Observe your surroundings by tuning into your senses, particularly sight and sound. Look at the different colours, shapes, textures, shadows and light.
Listen to all the sounds you can hear, both close by and in the distance. Try not to judge anything as “good” or “bad” – just observe non-judgementally as best as you can.
When you breathe out, there is likely to be a subtle pause just before you inhale. Notice this natural pause or “point of stillness”.
It can be a tiny moment of calm and when you focus on it, you allow your attention to become present and it helps you let go of any other thoughts about the past or future.
Roll your shoulders, reach down towards your toes or do any other stretch that feels good for you.
As you stretch, pay attention to the sensation of your muscles lengthening and releasing tension. You might even like to hold a stretch for a minute or two so it can release a little more.
When you take a shower, observe the different sensations; the water falling on your skin, the temperature and the feeling of the soap, shampoo, or conditioner.
Whenever you notice your mind wandering away from the present moment, re-focus on a new sensation and pay attention to it for a few moments.
Move your focus to your toes.
Notice the arches of your feet, your heels, your ankles.
Become aware of your lower legs, knees and upper legs.
Notice your buttocks, pelvic area and hips.
Pay attention to your back, stomach, chest and shoulders. Your upper arms, elbows, lower arms, wrists, palms and fingers. Move your awareness to your neck, head and face.
This process can be done slowly or fairly quickly. You might explore each body area in more detail (rather than noticing your face, you might notice your forehead, temples, eyebrows, eyes, cheeks etc).
The intention of a body scan is to observe your entire body in a non-judgemental way.
Notice how you naturally let go of thoughts about the past or future as you tune into your body.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning some practical mindfulness tips you can use when you’re feeling stressed!
To learn more about mindfulness and stress management, check out my podcast, The Mindful Kind (available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and most podcast apps).
BONUS: To learn a meaningful mindfulness routine for beginners, click here.