The stress response is a naturally occurring, protective mechanism that evolved to prepare our bodies for “fight or flight” during emergency situations. This defence system in the body is both healthy and adaptive when activated sparingly. However, in modern life and particularly during challenging times, our bodies’ natural defences are over-activated repeatedly. This frequent activation of the stress response can be damaging to our health, and for this reason, it is important to incorporate helpful practices to de-stress regularly on a daily basis.
Fortunately, the body is profoundly intelligent and naturally geared towards harmony and balance. It possesses an antidote to stress in the form of relaxation, also known as the “rest and digest” response. Relaxation is immensely healing for both the body and mind and can be triggered daily to improve our mood and overall physical wellbeing.
A daily mindfulness practice will switch on this beneficial relaxation response, helping to maintain mental calm and peace despite any external stressors that may arise. With a mindfulness practice, our focus is directed into the present moment without any judgement. By practising mindfulness, we can switch off excessive worry about the future and can cultivate a present and positive state of mind.
Here are some simple and effective ways to be mindful regularly throughout each day:
Take a walk in nature and actively notice the sounds, colours, scents, and textures that surround you. Notice the feel of the ground underneath your feet as you walk, and listen to the sound of your footsteps as you take each step.
Mindful eating involves eating slowly and mindfully to aid digestion. Take small bites of food, notice the scent and texture of what you are eating, register the taste of your food, chew slowly, and savour each bite.
Close your eyes and focus on the physical sensation of your breath against your nose as you breathe in and out. Notice the coolness of each inhale and the warmth of each exhale. Follow the physical sensation of each breath with your focused awareness. If your mind wanders, gently guide your focus back to your breathing. Just 5 minutes of mindful breathing will markedly improve your mood and will immediately invite in a sense of mental calm.
Mindful Awareness of Thoughts
Simply notice your thoughts as they come and go without judgement. If you experience any stressful or worrisome thoughts, close your eyes and imagine your thoughts floating by on clouds and drifting away; or imagine your thoughts entering into a room through one door and leaving through another. By detaching from your thoughts and seeing your thoughts as separate from you, you can train your mind to remain unaffected by stressful thoughts and to more easily let them go.
Additionally one of the healthiest things you can do to lower overall stress levels is to get adequate, good quality sleep. Proper sleep is an excellent stress-buster, and good sleep hygiene practices include the following recommendations:
- Keep the bedroom cool, dark, and free of digital devices
- Avoid intense physical exercise or stressful conversations directly before bed
- Avoid caffeine, sugar, or heavy meals before bed
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, in order to train your body into a regular pattern of sleep
- Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night
- If you are having trouble falling asleep, after 20-30 minutes get out of bed, do something relaxing, and return to bed once you feel tired
Incorporating healthy habits during challenging times empowers us to remain more relaxed and positive and to find greater acceptance in each day. A mindfulness practice and good quality sleep both strengthen the body’s ability to cope with stress and noticeably improve overall wellbeing. Use the inherent healing capabilities that the body possesses to your advantage, enhancing your own ability to cultivate balance within and enjoying lower stress levels and greater calm as a result.