In this crazy modern life, we are constantly on the go. We hurry from place to place even as we remain tethered to them all with various electronics. Sometimes we feel as if our minds rush even faster—so many thoughts and feelings per second! For the multitasker in most of us, focusing on just one thing can be difficult, if not impossible.
When speed and achievement win priority, we tend to disregard everything else along the way—including our own thoughts and feelings. Tension? Anger? Frustration? Sadness? We shove them aside with self-talk like, “I’ll think about that later,” or “That’s uncomfortable, so let’s not go there.”
But what happens to our wellbeing in the meantime?
When we ignore our tension instead of addressing it, our bodies experience a buildup of cortisol, the flight-or-fight hormone. Over time, an abundance of cortisol can have disastrous consequences. Brain fog, lowered immunity, heart problems, elevated blood sugar, eating issues, diabetes, and hormonal and sleep disturbances are just a few common ramifications of persistent stress.
Good news: A quick solution is available, and it doesn’t cost a dime! We can rebuild our resilience, health, and peace of mind through the practice of mindful attention.
Mindfulness peels away layers of rushing, negative self-talk, and anxiety. It encourages us to honor ourselves as living, breathing, deserving humans. Mindfulness softens life’s challenges and makes us aware of the larger picture, in a kind and gentle way, by valuing and tuning in to the present moment.
Time is not a renewable resource, and it can’t be saved for later, either. The only moments we can treasure and appreciate, truly, are the ones we are living through right now. That alone is reason enough to be mindful—but we can also gain a physical health benefit: Mindfulness diminishes harmful cortisol build-up.
We have a lot to gain by learning to practice mindfulness.
- Name your feeling.
When you notice stress, take one minute (or hopefully more) to quietly discern what you’re feeling and where you perceive sensation in your body. Go ahead and actually name it out loud, such as, “I’m feeling anger, and my pulse is pounding” or “Fear is giving me a knot in my stomach.” In a hurry? Then walk while you think, but do it slowly so you can focus.
- Observe the situation—without self-judgment.
That’s really what you’re doing by naming your feelings. You’ve taken a step back to observe, completely without judgment, the way a camera lens would do. This allows you to detach from the drama itself and just consider how it affects you. What do you see?
By the way, if you feel resistance to naming the emotion, or if your thoughts are racing, or you just want to hurry through or dismiss the feelings, that’s normal. This kind of focused attention isn’t our usual status quo. Focusing on yourself takes practice!
- Just breathe.
Take 3 to 5 deep, measured breaths. You can even close your eyes. This focused, purposeful deep breathing is the opposite of the shallow, rapid breathing that accompanies stress. The dramatic shift from that anxious pant to a slow, refreshing breath resets, calms, and informs your system immediately. When I’m tense, I feel a difference every time after I slow my breathing. It’s like magic.
- Make friends with what you’re feeling.
Rather than engaging in the default habit of self-criticism or judgment—for example, “Why should I be angry about that? I’m so stupid”— cultivate a new awareness and curiosity about the emotion or reaction. Pay close attention to what’s really in front of you, not an automatic interpretation of it. Usually, our versions of present events come from our past and prevent us from truly seeing what’s happening in reality. Question whether your story is really true—or does it just seem that way?
- Finally, make room for self-acceptance.
Have some compassion for your imperfectly perfect humanness. The overachievers among us tend to think “I’m never good enough” thoughts. Others of us may judge ourselves undeserving or feel selfish for shining a light on ourselves. Meet those doubts with softness, kindness, and an understanding that you are a loving, valuable presence in the world.
Let this 5-step technique become your best new habit. It takes practice, but with time, you can achieve an effective stress reversal in 30 seconds!
Perhaps along the way you’ll also find yourself becoming more aware and appreciative of the world around you. Right here and now is what we have in front of us, and it’s a friendly, important place that we don’t want to miss. Looking at what we’re presented with more closely, even in its difficult moments, just might be the answer.
I choose health, peace, and freedom over stress, worry, and mindless activity. How about you?