Learning How to Switch Off With Mindfulness
How many times a week do you hear someone talking about how stressed they feel, how life is too frantic and how they wish they could find a way to relax and calm down? And maybe it’s not just other people who feel like that. Maybe you have the same thoughts. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. There are millions of people for whom feeling stressed has become a normal way of life.
We all lead increasingly busy lives, packed with activity. And with that busy lifestyle comes a feeling of pressure, which often manifests itself as stress. Sometimes the stress levels become all-consuming, so that you actually become less productive as you’re too anxious about how stressed you are. But it doesn’t mean that we have to continue living this way.
Using mindfulness to unwind
One of the watchwords now associated with dealing with stress in a constructive way is mindfulness, thanks to a great deal of media interest in the practice in the last couple of years. Mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment, not worrying about what has happened in the past and what the future holds in store for you. By focusing on the present moment, concerns and anxieties about the future and the past get put into perspective and can have less of a negative effect on your daily life.
Formal ways to practice mindfulness
The principle of mindfulness is an easy one to understand, but if you are new to mindfulness it can be helpful to find a structured path in that direction. Three of the most popular ways of doing this are through yoga, meditation and tai-chi.
- In meditation, people sit in silence and pay attention to their breathing and the sensations in their bodies, focusing on this completely and bringing their attention back to their meditation whenever their mind becomes distracted.
- In yoga, the concentration is placed on achieving different postures while you stretch the body, again with an awareness of your breathing.
- With tai-chi, participants work through a range of slow movements, focusing on their breathing as they do so.
Each of these activities draws one’s concentration to the present moment, pushing aside any other thoughts or concerns. And this change of focus, away from whatever is causing you stress and anxiety, allows you to achieve a sense of calm from which you can observe those worrying thoughts more clearly and put them into perspective.
A mindful example
How can mindfulness help in an everyday situation? Think about how you feel when you’re running late – perhaps because you’ve got stuck in traffic. Being late makes many people anxious and often our minds tend to exaggerate a situation and make it much worse than it is in reality. For example, if you’re running late for work, you might begin to think you could lose your job and about all the disastrous consequences that are linked to not being employed. But if you can be mindful, you can recognise that anxious thought for what it is, and that being late will not necessarily mean setting off a trail of disaster. Mindfulness helps you to react differently to a stress trigger and therefore decreases the negative response.
Another way to think about mindfulness is thinking of it as a way to have an awareness of your thoughts and feelings. If you can recognise how you feel about life, you can avoid getting caught up in a blinkered existence where stress rules. Mindfulness is about taking note of your feelings and keeping them in perspective. Giving yourself the space to do this will allow you to see that some concerns aren’t as big a deal as your mind has made them out to be, and that in the bigger picture those anxieties may be insignificant.
Being mindful allows you to focus on the present and to move away from stress. Next time you feel anxiety creeping in and taking over, see if mindfulness can help you. Observe the negative thoughts that are bothering you and you will see that they are simply thoughts, not something real that can exert control over you. You should be pleasantly surprised at the sense of calm that this kind of realisation can bring.
Switch off with mindfulness.