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Mindfulness, the key to combat stress and anxiety

In these times of pandemic COVID-19 we constantly find ourselves with many worries, insecurities, and tensions because of the virus that is still out there and sometimes so close to us; also because of the magnitude in how it has affected mental health aspects in us and those close to us. We have had to […]

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In these times of pandemic COVID-19 we constantly find ourselves with many worries, insecurities, and tensions because of the virus that is still out there and sometimes so close to us; also because of the magnitude in how it has affected mental health aspects in us and those close to us.

We have had to change our routine and now stay at home as much as possible without being able to leave the house in the last year, which in many people, regardless of age, have suffered an increase in stress, depression, anxiety, and other ailments. Staying at home every day has not always been the best option for some, thinking about the dysfunctional dynamics with which we have interacted at home. Therefore, many psychologists who have treated thousands of these people, have chosen to help their patients with a little mindfulness to help reduce anxiety, anger, stress, and exhaustion.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness (also known as “full attention” or “mindful awareness”) is a state of attention that derives from the capacity of human beings and that allows us to be aware of the thoughts, emotions, beliefs, meanings, attitudes, and results of our mind.

It is a practice that can be cultivated and consists of being fully aware of the here and now, accepting what is being experienced and felt, trying to be free of worries, anticipations and without making interpretations or judgments. 

The practice of mindfulness combines meditation with self-awareness, the more aware we are, the fewer feelings of discomfort we will have and we will act less reactive to situations.

This state of mindfulness is done with controlled breathing, a posture where the back is straight, focusing on the sensations of the body and mind, as well as visualizations that are sometimes guided. 

This type of meditation has Hindu and Buddhist origins, which became popular in the West thanks to the American doctor Jon Kabat-Zinn, who integrated the practice within cognitive psychology, which studies how human beings understand the world.

The exercises practiced in mindfulness help to eliminate stress, anxiety, anger, and in many cases depression, as it helps to master emotions and thoughts, relieves us from the suffering of everyday life, and impacts our relationships with others. It can also involve you in immediate experiences of the present, being in touch with reality, with the world around you, which is why it has been very efficient for many people.

In addition to helping to reduce stress, anger, depression, and anxiety, it can also benefit other aspects of health. It is used as a therapy for cardiovascular health care, as its practice could reduce the risk of a heart attack by almost 50%. It helps us biophysically, emotionally, and socially.

How does mindfulness help reduce stress and anxiety?

Anxiety and stress are feelings that produce physical and emotional tension and are derived from situations or thoughts that sometimes make us feel nervous, angry, afraid, or frustrated, they are reactions of how our body and mind have learned to face situations that represent a challenge or greater demand of energy from our mind or body.

When our mind focuses on the past, “ruminating” on situations, dialogues, and attempted solutions, we generate feelings of guilt, frustration, regret, among others, which do not allow us to function in our present more clearly and assertively. Also, spending so much energy thinking about the future with uncertainty generates worry, fear, anguish, stress, and/or constant anxiety. Both forms of coping have to be worked on differently, with greater stability, assertiveness in our decision making and enjoyment in the present.

Mindfulness focuses on learning to become fully aware of everything that happens to us, to experience ourselves in every detail, concentrating on the sensations of the present. By being aware of our breathing and body sensations, it will be much easier to identify the situations that cause us tension and discomfort, to observe them, embrace our emotions, and manage them better.

Several studies have shown that the practice of mindfulness can produce changes at the psychological and neuroendocrine levels, as it acts beneficially on the endocrine and hormonal systems. Thanks to this reason, mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety, as well as improve mood, strengthen emotional intelligence, which frees us from fear, improves memory, fights insomnia, stimulates creativity. It helps us to live in peace with every change, to concentrate on what matters, to exercise our brain since it activates the cerebral prefrontal cortex; we improve our immunological capacity, we alleviate bone and muscle pain, among many others.

Examples of mindfulness exercise techniques

As an example, let me add some exercises that I am sure will help you get started with the technique. This will help you to become more familiar with mindfulness:

– Self-acceptance

To begin to eliminate anxiety and, above all, to understand mindfulness you must treat yourself the way a good friend would treat you or the way you treat a good friend. You must remind yourself how important you are, for you are the main character in your life. I suggest that you get in touch with the experience of your body, just as it is, without rejecting the unpleasant sensations, nor forcing the pleasant ones. In this type of meditation, we recommend that you allow the company of a person who can guide you.

– Pay attention

One of the most important steps in this technique. Although it may be difficult to slow down in life and observe your surroundings closely, you can try to take the time to allow yourself to explore your surroundings with all your senses; smell, sight, taste, hearing, and touch. You can practice this at breakfast, lunch, or dinner time; when you take a bath when you go for a walk, any moment you can take to experience every detail.

– Live the moment

The aforementioned step will lead you to live in the moment, for by intentionally paying attention you will benefit from the simple pleasures of your day-to-day life. Allow yourself to feel a new energy in your body!

– Concentrate on your breathing

Mainly when negative thoughts come to your mind, sit down, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Once you have achieved this step, you can begin to breathe consciously, doing it for at least 1 minute will help a lot. It is ideal to unload accumulated tension.

–  Conscious parenting

We know that before the COVID-19 health contingency, dysfunctional dynamics and violence in families had increased, and now, during the pandemic, the rates have potentially increased.

We have to give our children the best of ourselves, so I recommend that you imagine the world from the age of your children, how do they see you, how do they listen to you, how do they listen to you? Observe them simply perfect the way they are, no more, no less; work on silent presence and active listening, remember that when living tensions we don’t have to lose balance, direct your limits firmly and with love.

Mindfulness can bring us many benefits both mentally and physically healthy. It is also recommended to add a conscious diet that includes healthy eating with exercise and sleep hygiene that is part of the key to eliminate stress. You can consult your specialists such as a nutritionist and psychologist to start a series of new habits that will lead you to a new life.

References:

1. Mayo Clinic

2. MGCmutua3. González, Alazne. (2014). Mindfulness (atención plena o conciencia plena). Research Gate. En: <https://addi.ehu.es/bitstream/handle/10810/17747/MINDFULNESS_alaznegonzalez.pdf?sequence=1> (Consultado el 18/03/2021)

Author: Diana Benhumea Rojas is psychotherapist. She has a Master’s degree in Systemic Family Psychotherapy from the Universidad del Valle de México. She specializes in couple and family psychotherapy, child psychotherapy, individual psychotherapy, psychodiagnostic evaluation and intervention with children, adolescents and adults with diverse symptomatologies.

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