As health practitioners, we know stress can be bad for health. It can act as a barrier to adaptation and put undue pressure on the endocrine system. It can fire up the sympathetic nervous system designed only for fight or flight, and keep it fired up for an extended amount of time.
But try telling a stressed, busy, or under-pressure person that they need to relax and you just might find yourself faced with a swag of objections. Winding down just isn’t that easy for all people.
Here’s the thing: regardless of whether winding down is easy for a person, it is a skill that is needed to promote wellbeing. Recent research has shown than “an 8 week mindfulness meditation class can lead to structural brain changes including increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection .”
So what is mindfulness? It’s been a buzzword for the last few years and research is starting to back its claims. It has been defined by some as a “mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations .” It may be impossible to have full control over our lives, but the practice of mindfulness has been touted as a way to learn to live with “more appreciation and less anxiety .”
It’s been around for decades, but only gained popularity as a type of meditative practice in recent years. But the question for many busy people or their practitioners remains: How do you ease a person into mindfulness when they are putting up the barriers?
Some of the answers might surprise you.
- There’s an app for that: the Smiling Mind app was developed by a team of psychologists who wanted to put simple, five minute meditations in the hands of consumers. The app has content broken up across six sections 1) bite sized meditations, 2) 7-11 years, 3) 12-15 years, 4) 16-22 years, 5) adults and 6) extended meditations. These guided meditations take the thought and research out of it. You simply select one and do what you are told. They are non-religious too, thus eliminating one possible objection thrown out by many people.
- Colouring for grown-ups is back in fashion: This is one you should really file under ‘Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,’ but colouring books for grown-ups are cool again. It’s a trend that started two years ago in France with the emergence of books specifically aimed at relieving anxiety. “Titles such as 100 Coloriages Anti-Stress proved so popular they began outselling cookery books. Across the Channel and in the US, titles began featuring terms such as “mindfulness” and “calming”: Emma Farrarons’ The Mindfulness Colouring Book: Anti-stress art therapy for busy people has sold in such numbers that Booktopia is out of stock; Pan Macmillan will publish a second edition later this year. Others include Colour Me Calm, Colour Me Happy and Colour Therapy: An Anti-Stress Colouring Book .” The beauty of this little mindfulness trick is that it makes us big people put down the smartphone, switch off to the pile of dishes or dirty laundry begging for attention, and switch on to the calming power of colouring in detailed mandalas.
- Exercise and stretching can be good for more than fitness: We all know we should exercise more, and we all know that taking a stretch break in the middle of the day is good for the brain and the body. But it can act as an opportunity to fit in a little more mindfulness. The trick is to not fill your exercise space with more noise and distraction. Just enjoy it for what it is. “Exercise presents another opportunity for mindfulness, as you focus on your breathing, your form, and your body’s movement. If you’re running, listen to the pounding sound of your feet on the pavement. If you’re lifting weights, feel the cool metal bar in your hands. Don’t let negative thoughts and distractions slip in .”
- Journaling can help rid the brain of its baggage: This might be something you haven’t tried since you were an angsty teenager, but it has its merits. Often insomniacs are advised to keep a pen and paper by the bed so they can write down the things they worry over, thus allowing rest and sleep to take the place of worry. However, scheduling in a few minutes at the end of the day to undertake what some call a ‘meditative mind dump’ can be a good place to start .
- Breathe, just breathe: This is something we all do without thinking. Mindfulness is when you think about it. “Take three deep breaths and put your awareness on to it…just your breathing nothing more. Can you feel a sense of stillness and peace even if perhaps subtle for now? Do you sense a shift in awareness and focus, albeit briefly? This is mindfulness. The good news is that it can be practiced anytime, anywhere and extended to how long you feel fits your situation,” says Gilbert Ross of Soulhiker . Forbes magazine actually described this particular mindfulness technique as a success tip – especially when you are about to send off a scathing email following a bit of work frustration. Breathe through it, calm down, and then send the email. Sounds like a good idea to us.
Mindfulness needn’t be an onerous or complicated practice, but it can also be a little daunting for stressed people who find it difficult to wind down. Using these simple practices, we can help ease them in to a lower stress lifestyle.