When you feel stressed, do you find it hard to focus and concentrate? Do you find you are easily distracted and more forgetful? Do you find yourself rushing around, moving from one thing to next and finding that no matter what you do, your to-do list isn’t shrinking? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you have a lot on your mind. Intense emotions can interfere with our ability to focus and problem-solve. It can be difficult to know what to prioritise and how best to manage. This in turn can increase our stress.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about being present and attentive to this very moment. When we are stressed, we are usually concerned about upcoming or ongoing events or situations. In doing this, we often miss out on the present moment. Have you ever found yourself in a meeting, distracted by your thoughts about an upcoming deadline or presentation, only to find at the end of the meeting you’ve paid no attention to what was said and what actions you are supposed to take? How do you end up feeling after? More stressed, right? This is a vicious cycle we can easily fall into. When we are preoccupied with our thoughts, we don’t fully focus or concentrate on what we’re currently doing. My clients often tell me they are concerned about their memory but the problem is often with focus and concentration rather than memory. We can’t remember things we haven’t paid attention to in the first place!
How can Mindfulness Help with Stress?
Practicing mindfulness involves noticing our thoughts, feelings and experiences as they arise and gently bringing our attention back to whatever we are doing in that moment. It involves practicing an attitude of acceptance, kindness and curiosity, regardless of whether our observations are positive, negative or neutral. In our fast-paced lives, we can often function on autopilot. Mindfulness helps us bring more awareness to our experiences and actions. When we are stressed, we can tend to focus on negatives and become self-critical. Mindfulness can help us notice this through the observation of these thoughts as they arise. As soon as we are aware of something, we are in a stronger position to make changes. Mindfulness can help you to notice and reassess your situation to support you to feel less stressed about it.
Everyday Moments of Mindfulness
Every moment in our day can be an opportunity to be mindful. Here are three ideas you may like to try out:
Taking a moment to pause and focus on your breathing, noticing the sensation of this and how it feels to pause and breathe.
Actively listening to others when they are talking and paying full attention to what they are saying. Your mind will drift at times, that’s normal! When it does, notice this and try refocusing away from your thoughts and back to the conversation.
Making a cup of tea, watching the steam rise, noticing the change in colour as it brews, smelling the aroma, feeling the temperature of the mug as you hold it, noticing the experience of your first sip.
If you have an interest or hobby, this can be also a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. By doing this, you’ll be allowing yourself to pay even fuller attention so something you already enjoy. For example, if you enjoy walking, try taking a new route and pay attention to what you can see and hear. Notice the change in scenery, different colours, smells, sights and sounds.
If you’re not quite sure how to get started, there are apps, such as Headspace, that offer guided mindfulness practices.
Mindfulness and CBT
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a psychological therapy that helps us make changes to the way we think and behave in order to improve the way we feel emotionally. Mindfulness is often used with CBT to help manage stress by combining meditation and breathing techniques with exercises that increase awareness of unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. Once we have a good awareness and understanding of these unhelpful patterns, we are able to make positive changes to reduce stress and improve wellbeing. Find out more here.