Managing stress with mindfulness

Thursday, April 4, 2019

By Rachel Tobin

If you open a magazine, go to a yoga class or attend a training day at work, chances are you’ll encounter the word ‘mindfulness’. It’s a definite buzz word.

So, what is mindfulness, and how can it help you to manage stress and build resilience in your everyday life?

Mindfulness is simply a state of awareness where you are present. This happens naturally sometimes, especially if you’re doing something you love. But more often than not, you aren’t present.

  • Think of those conversations when you act as if you’re listening, but actually your attention is somewhere else.
  • Think of the times you might eat an entire meal and not even taste it.
  • Think of a time you have walked on the beach, and not enjoyed the sound or feeling of the sea or sand because you’re so busy planning, strategising, or ruminating.

And then, caught in this habit of being dragged around by the contents of your mind, you rob yourself of the simple pleasures of being alive.

When you stop with the intention of relaxing, or head to bed, you sometimes can’t turn off the worrying or catastrophising thoughts that tumble in, and you may enter into a cycle of anxiety and overwhelm.

Mindfulness practice, also called meditation, develops and strengthens the ‘muscle’ of present moment awareness, so you can begin to bring some mastery to your relationship with thoughts, and to rest your mind in a place of natural balance.

Mindfulness practice is not an attempt to relax, think ‘better’ thoughts, or to stop thinking (which is impossible). It is, however, the radical acceptance of whatever arises, moment to moment.

It’s about returning, over and over, with compassion and good humour, to the ‘object’ of our present-moment practice – perhaps your breath, perhaps the sounds, perhaps the sensations in your body.

When you’re hijacked by planning thoughts, fantasies, judgments, self-criticism, you stop the fight with yourself and you ‘come home’. If you do this regularly, your nervous system begins to relax out of fight-or-flight mode, and you develop more awareness of your own stress triggers.

When those stressors are unavoidable, you begin to realise you have a choice about how to respond.

Like going to the gym, mindfulness needs to be an ongoing practice to bear fruit in the rest of your life. If you’re interested in taking up a regular meditation practice, it’s a good idea to start with a teacher, course or retreat.

  • Check out 'the art of mindfulness' for courses, retreats, individual sessions and mindfulness in organisations. Mindfulness Works is a New Zealand-wide provider of introductory courses. There are apps too – Headspace and Calm are both very popular.

In the meantime, when you next make a cuppa, use that as a chance to practise presence. Watch, listen, breathe, and feel your feet on the ground as the jug boils and you make your tea. Then, when you sit down to drink the tea, simply sit down and drink the tea!


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