15 Apr Manage Stress with Mindfulness
In life, we cannot avoid stress entirely. Stress can come in both “bad” and “good” experiences. Bad stress may be from a busy schedule, finances, health issues or a recent death in the family. Good stress can be come as a wedding, birthday or excitement over an upcoming trip. Whether good or bad, stress can affect the body’s ability to regulate metabolism, sleep and other bodily functions like digestion and blood sugar. That’s why it is important to understand how to manage stress with mindfulness.
When the body is stressed it releases more than 60 hormones. This can lead to increased blood pressure and heart rate, increased glucose in blood, decreased digestion and other physiological effects including metabolism. When the stress response is stimulated for a short period of time, known as the “fight-or-flight” response, these hormones can be lifesaving. However, when we live in a constant state of stress, these hormones can affect our health. This can cause or make chronic disease worse.
Stress management is crucial to a balanced lifestyle. Whether exercise, yoga, meditation or reading is your de-stressing technique of choice, it is importance to learn how to be mindful. Then, you can manage the stressors that come your way. When we manage stress in our lives, it promotes an anti-inflammatory response in the body that can help manage chronic disease.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be thought of as “living in the here and now.” This means being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, not allowing fears, worries or anxiety control your thoughts or mind.(1) Mindfulness is observing, watching, examining and taking control over your situation. We may not be able to control the situation, but we can learn to control how we respond. A few examples of mindfulness practices include yoga, deep breathing, breath exercises, worship or praise, tai chi and progressive muscle relaxation.
The goal of mindfulness is to take your mind off the situation that is causing stress and refocus. Your nervous system has two different parts to it: one acts like a gas pedal, the fight or flight part that responds to stress; the other acts as the breaks. Our “break” function is the part we want to activate with mindfulness. This part helps slows down breathing, heart rate and can slow the release of stress hormones. This response helps bring your body back to equilibrium, helping to control heart rate, blood sugar spikes and anxiety.
What is the link between mindfulness and my health?
There are more links between mindfulness and your health than you might think. You can learn to manage stress through mindfulness, which can improve overall health. Here are just a few ways:
- Mindfulness and improvement in anxiety and depression: Research is showing that practicing a mindfulness routine dramatically improves our ability to manage stress. This builds up a tolerance to life’s stressor that may come with the demands of managing our health.
- Mindfulness and resilience: Studies have shown that mindful people are better able to cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed
So, you might be thinking: great, but how do I practice mindfulness? Try this breathing exercise to help kickstart your mindfulness routine.
Make yourself comfortable in your chair. When you do this exercise at home, you can sit in a chair, on the floor or lie down. Take a few moments to settle in and become still. Congratulate yourself for taking time to practice self-care and mindful awareness. Focus on your breathing wherever you feel it most prominently in your body. It may be at the nose, neck, chest, belly or somewhere else.
As you breathe in normally and naturally, be aware of breathing in; and as you breathe out, be aware of breathing out. Simply maintain this awareness of the breath, breathing in and breathing out. There is no need to visualize or count your breaths; simply notice them. Without judgment, watch the breath ebb and flow, like waves in the ocean. There is no place to go and nothing else to do. Just be in the present, noticing the breath, existing simply, one inhalation and one exhalation at a time. As you breathe in and out, be mindful of the breath rising on the inhalation and falling on the exhalation. Ride the waves of the breath, moment by moment, breathing in and breathing out.
From time to time, your attention may wander from your breathing. This is normal. When you notice this, simply acknowledge where you went and then gently bring your attention back to the breath. Breathe normally, naturally, and without changing the breath in any way. As you breathe in, think “soft”; and as you breathe out, think “belly.” Again, notice where you feel the breath in your body. Think only about where you feel the breath. Repeat “soft” on the inhale and “belly” on the exhale. Use the words as an anchor for your mind. Soften – breathe – allow.
Mindfulness and stress
How did that feel? Are you more relaxed? Mindfulness does not come overnight. It is something that needs to be cultivated through daily practice – whether that means breathing exercises, yoga or some other form of mindfulness exercise. Remember that stress is unavoidable for most of us. So, focusing on ways that you can manage stress with mindfulness is an important aspect of your overall health. Stress, as we’ve seen, can have negative affects on our bodies, particularly for those with chronic illnesses. So, the negative effects of stress should not be ignored, but instead, managed through techniques like mindfulness.
- Schmidt, L.R. “Positive Impacts of Meditation and Relaxation practices on Diabetes”. Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine. Winter 2019; vol 23, Issue 3.
Amanda is a licensed and registered dietitian/nutritionist with the Pain Management Group. She received her Master’s degree in the Science of Nutrition at Auburn University and completed her dietetic internship through the Medical University of South Carolina.
Amanda is passionate about helping others, especially those in pain, understand that eating right doesn’t have to be difficult and that by making simple lifestyle and behavioral changes, they can profoundly improve their wellbeing and quality of life.