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Reduce Stress And Increase Concentration With Mindfulness

Stress management is a hot topic for a good reason. Everyone experiences stress within their personal and professional lives and mindfulness can help manage stress. Stress management is a hot topic for a good reason. Everyone experiences stress within their personal and professional lives. Experiencing stress is an innate part of being human. According to […]

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decrease stress with mindfulness
Mindfulness as an effective tool for decreasing stress.

Stress management is a hot topic for a good reason. Everyone experiences stress within their personal and professional lives and mindfulness can help manage stress.

Stress management is a hot topic for a good reason. Everyone experiences stress within their personal and professional lives. Experiencing stress is an innate part of being human.

According to the University of Massachusetts Memorial Health Care, a clinical partner of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, “The negative effects of chronic stress and their impact on the quality of our lives is well documented.  Unchecked, our physical responses to stress can lead to poor health, and yet can often go unnoticed until symptoms or situations bring them to the forefront.” 1

How does mindfulness work?

The Mayo Clinic states, “Mindfulness invites you to “focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.” 2 Mindfulness is a key component of improving mental health, emotional resiliency, and reducing stress. 3

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness.org defines the practice of mindfulness as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” 4 The goal of mindfulness is to stimulate the awareness of our mental, physical, and emotional reality, which often goes overlooked. It awakens our natural curiosity so that we can be attentive to every present moment without judgment. It energizes self-awareness, self-compassion, and wisdom.

How does mindfulness increase concentration and decrease stress?

Our minds tend to wander and quickly get stuck on recurring thoughts and ruminating emotions. With practice, we can gain the self-awareness necessary to recognize that unprocessed thoughts and emotions and prevent them from hijacking our higher, clearer thinking. By doing so, our creativity, executive functioning, and problem-solving abilities can flow both more easily and consistently.

“Mindfulness practices help us to strengthen the neural connections and pathways to our pre-frontal cortex (PFC) of the brain, the “boss” or manager of our thoughts and emotions. The PFC is responsible for planning, goal setting, flexible thinking, learning, reasoning, and it influences how we work with others.” 5

“Mindfulness helps to reduce mental, emotional, and physical stress as well as improve focus, performance, and our connection with others.” 6 Living in the present moment by using such things commonly available to us, such as our five senses (sound, smell, touch, taste, and sight), and our breath provides skills needed to handle challenging situations that arise throughout our day. Rather than reacting automatically to our thoughts and feelings, mindfulness practice teaches us to be present, recognize our thoughts and emotions, and respond intentionally with healthy motives. These benefits of mindfulness can lead to better stress management and more restful and fulfilling life.

The benefits of mindfulness

We can experience our thoughts and emotions with greater acceptance and balance, according to the Mayo Clinic. 7 It also has been shown to:

  • Improve attention.
  • Decrease job burnout.
  • Improve sleep.
  • Improve diabetes control.

Am I doing mindfulness right?

A common challenge to practicing mindfulness is believing we are not capable. Often we mistakenly think that if our mind wanders to thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations such as pain, they are doing it incorrectly. Truthfully, merely being aware it is happening is part of mindfulness, and means, therefore, that we’re doing it right. Mindfulness does not mean emptying our minds but instead filling our minds with the present moment. Recognizing our thoughts, emotions, and sensations in our body are part of the practice. Learning to name that is happening, let go, and returning to our primary focus area teaches our brains to live in the present moment.

More benefits of mindfulness

The benefits of mindfulness for stress reduction are numerous, enhancing our mental health, cognitive health, and physical health. Positive Psychology.com documents the following mindfulness benefits for physical, emotional, and mental well-being. 8

What research on mindfulness shows

There is much research from trusted sources regarding scientifically based stress reduction using mindfulness.

1. Improved working memory.

A study published in the American Psychological Association by Jha and colleagues in 2010 shows a link between mindfulness and enhanced functional memory capacity. The findings suggest that sufficient mindfulness training may protect against a decreased ability to work at full capacity in stressful situations. 9

2. Heightened awareness and understanding of one’s thought processes.

A 2014 study published in the Open Journal of Medical Psychology associates mindfulness with decreased negative thinking patterns. 10

3. Reduced emotional reactivity.

There is evidence to support mindfulness’s role in decreasing emotional reactivity, thereby helping to regulate emotions. 11

How to reduce stress through mindfulness

Here are a few guidelines for calming your mind before beginning each of the following mindfulness exercises. 

  • Get in a comfortable position. This may be sitting in a chair with a good neutral posture or lying down on the floor. Avoid lying in your bed, so you don’t associate relaxing into mindfulness with sleeping. 
  • Relax your face as well as your body. Doing so can help your central nervous system relax at a neurological level, allowing your entire body and mind to relax further.
  • Start with 30 seconds and progressively increase the time. Even a few seconds of pure mindfulness can have a significant impact on your day.

10 tips for practicing mindfulness

This is an overview of ten fast and simple mindfulness exercises you can easily implement into your life to decrease stress. They will help you get started with mindfulness using common mindfulness techniques in everyday experiences.

  1. Focus on your breath. Become aware of your breath flowing in and out of your body. Notice the rising and falling of your tummy with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the sensation of your breathing.
  2. Mindful eating. Create a soothing environment in which to eat. Remove distractions such as your phone and media. Focus on your food: the aroma, texture, beauty, and taste. Close your eyes while you chew and offer gratitude for having food to nourish your body.
  3. Driving. Turn off all distractions, including phone notifications and music. Feel the steering wheel in your hands. Are your fingers gripping or relaxed? Give yourself plenty of space as you follow traffic so you can react calmly to any changes in speed or stop signals. Breathe and be aware of what you are doing rather than where you are going.
  4. Walking mindfulness. Go for a walk or move according to your abilities. Feel the sun or breeze on your face. Smell the scents of the surrounding grass and trees. Listen to the birds and the wind. Focus on the beauty all around you. Notice how this makes you feel.
  5. Workplace mindfulness. Take regular breaks to disengage from your work, and to rest. Close your eyes if you have privacy, and focus on your breath. Feel your breath enter and exit your body. Rest into your breath without trying to achieve anything. After a few moments, think of something you are grateful for and feel the emotion of that gratitude.Open your eyes and commence working. Notice the difference these 1-3 minutes creates.
  6. Improve sleep. After dinner and an hour or more before going to bed, take time for quiet. Go to a quiet space and breathe. Close your eyes and center yourself. Take a notebook – go analog with paper and pen rather than using technology – and be silent. Let thoughts arise and write them down. Often, the thoughts that would have kept you up at night will pop up during this time simply because you are providing space for your brain to process. Set the paper aside in a place where you will retrieve it tomorrow. 
  7. Anxious feelings. Notice when you are feeling negative or anxious. Ask yourself what your thought is. Listen to your gut. Reflect on the truth of the thought and replace it with something that is both truthful and uplifting.
  8. Meeting calmness. When in a meeting that is causing you stress, bring your awareness to your breath. Slow your breath to inhale for four seconds and exhale for eight seconds. This helps lower the experience of stress so you can think objectively and react appropriately.
  9. Active listening. When in conversation, focus on listening rather than speaking. Listen to the words as well as the speech inflections. Watch for body language and how the person makes you feel. Be present to their communication without formulating an opinion or response. The other person will feel listened to while you learn more about the person and their message.
  10. Focus on your five senses. Focusing on our five senses can shift us from a state of stress to a state of calm. It is a form of mindfulness that can be used at any time, wherever you are to refocus and recharge. 
  • Close your eyes and focus deeply on what you hear. Listen carefully.
  • Now focus on what you smell. This is especially calming in a natural setting.
  • Focus intently on what you feel. Touch your face. Feel the texture of something in front of you. Notice how the ground or a chair supports your body.
  • Taste. Perhaps take a sip of water or simply notice what your taste buds detect at this moment.
  • Open your eyes. Focus on something beautiful, meaningful, or something in front of you. Notice the breeze moving the leaves on a tree, or focus intently on a painting. Notice and be still.

Resources for building mindfulness meditation skills

Mindfulness Books:

The following books will help you learn more about mindfulness. Descriptions come from amazon.ca.

1. Mindfulness at Work: Turn your job into a gateway to joy, contentment and stress-free living by Oil Doyle

“This guide will explore the possibilities that work provides for finding our stuck points, embracing difficult emotions and noticing the patterns of thought that keep us from feeling peaceful. Key learnings include: how to move beyond stressful future thinking to focus on what can be attended to now; how flow can benefit you and your organization by making you calmer, more alert and more attentive to detail; and how to see work as your teacher rather than your project.”

2. Mindfulness: Be mindful. Live in the Moment by Gill Hasson

“With ideas, tips and techniques to help you enjoy a more mindful approach to life, you’ll learn how to:

  • Adopt more positive ways of thinking and behaving
  • Become calmer and more confident
  • Break free from unhelpful thoughts and thinking patterns
  • Bring about positive changes in your relationships
  • Achieve a new level of self-awareness and understanding.” 

3. The Need to Please: Mindfulness Skills to Gain Freedom from People Pleasing and Approval by Micki Fine, Psychotherapist

“A leading mindfulness expert and psychotherapist provides compassionate, mindfulness-based techniques that will help chronic people-pleasers like you address and overcome your fears of failure, inappropriate self-sacrificing, loss of personal identity, and voracious need of approval. In addition, you will learn to put an end to the codependent behaviours that lie at the heart of being a people-pleaser.” 

Mindfulness Apps

Each of these apps has a free version with an option to pay for more content. Each is available for iOS and Android.

1. Mindfulness Daily

This app helps you establish a daily mindfulness practice by prompting you to practice mindfulness for a few minutes in the morning, middle of the day, and at night. http://www.mindfulnessdailyapp.com/

2. Calm 

This app is free to download, although the free content is quite limited. https://www.calm.com/

3. Take A Break!  

Enjoy the relaxation, stress relief, and benefits of mindfulness without any prior experience. https://apps.apple.com/ca/app/take-a-break-meditations-for-stress-relief/id453857236

Mindfulness can have a very positive effect on your personal and professional life. Practicing daily, even for a few moments throughout the day, can transform how you feel and improve the way you function. Try it out and see what it does for you.

References

1.  UMass Memorial Health Care Center for Mindfulness. (n.d.). Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.umassmemorialhealthcare.org/umass-memorial-center-mindfulness

2.  Sparks, D. (2018, September 12). Mayo Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness exercises. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-mindfulness-practicing-mindfulness-exercises/

3.  Mindfulness. (n.d.). Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://mhasheboygan.org/mindfulness

4.  Bayes-Fleming, N., Bullock, B., PhD, Boyce, B., Goh, C., Newman, K., & Graham, L. (2018, September 14). Getting Started with Mindfulness. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/

5.  M. (n.d.). Mindfulness 101. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from http://mha.sungraphicsmedia.com/perch/resources/mha-in-sheboygan-county-mindfulness-101-1.pdf

6.  M. (n.d.). Mindfulness 101. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from http://mha.sungraphicsmedia.com/perch/resources/mha-in-sheboygan-county-mindfulness-101-1.pdf

7.  Sparks, D. (2018, September 12). Mayo Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness exercises. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-mindfulness-practicing-mindfulness-exercises/

8. Sutton, J., Ph.D. (2020, September 01). The Importance of Mindfulness: 20+ Reasons to Practice Mindfulness. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://positivepsychology.com/importance-of-mindfulness/?utm_source=ActiveCampaign

9. Jha, A. P., & Stanley, E. A. (2010). Examining the Protective Effects of Mindfulness Training on Working Memory Capacity and Affective Experience. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.fs.usda.gov/rmrs/sites/default/files/documents/Jha%20et%20al.%20%282010%29%20-%20Effects%20of%20mindfulness%20training%20on%20working%20memory%20capacity.pdf

10. Teasdale, J.D. (1999) Metacognition, Mindfulness and the Modification of Mood Disorders. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 6, 146-155. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/(SICI)1099-0879(199905)6:2<146::AID-CPP195>3.0.CO;2-E

11. Guendelman, S., Medeiros, S., & Rampes, H. (2017, March 6). Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation: Insights from Neurobiological, Psychological, and Clinical Studies. Retrieved October 26, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5337506/

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