A stress free life is impossible. (Darn it, right?) Stress is a normal part of everyday life, and stress can have a significant impact on us in both physiological and emotional ways. The bad news here is that we cannot escape stress. The good news, however (yes, there is good news!), is that we can absolutely influence the way that we experience stress and help buffer against stress’s negative side effects. Our mindset plays a huge role in the way that we view and approach stress. Engaging with stress and our experiences from a mindful perspective can help us cope with stress in a healthy and positive way. Research shows that engaging in mindfulness can help improve attention and memory, decrease worry, improve communication with others, and improve immune functioning – just to name a few.
So, what is mindfulness, you ask? Mindfulness is a unique way of paying attention to our experience that involves both full awareness of the present moment, and open-minded acceptance of it. Awareness relates to being cognizant of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in any given moment. Stress and worry often arise in relation to thoughts about the future or past. Focusing on the here-and-now can help decrease stress’s power over us. (After all, the only thing we can impact is life in-the-moment anyway.) Open-minded acceptance involves being receptive to whatever enters your awareness. This means embracing things we may be happy to pay attention to (such as joy and excitement), as well as things we may rather ignore (like sadness, anger, and pain). This last point may cause you to feel skeptical about mindfulness, but the key with this perspective is that when we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings, and experience them fully, we can more easily move beyond them. For example, try not to think about a purple elephant… All you can think about is a purple elephant! Now focus on the purple elephant… Your thoughts probably dwell on the purple elephant initially, but then start drifting to other things. The point is that thoughts and feelings we try to avoid and ignore only become stronger. The very attempt at pushing them away gives them more power.
Another way to think about mindfulness is to imagine you are seeing the world through a baby’s eyes. Everything is new, exciting, and interesting. Hold that lens in one hand. Now, in the other hand, think about the way you might relate to a friend who is crying and upset. Hopefully, as you try to support your friend, this involves compassion and non-judgmental support. Now, imagine relating to yourself with this kind of compassion and lack of judgment. This is what it involves to embrace your experience and self in a mindful way. Most of us can be easily consumed with self-criticism and self-doubt, so relating to ourselves in this way can be unfamiliar. However, you can hopefully get a sense of how powerful it can be.
Mindfulness is a way of being, but it’s also a skill. The good news is that it’s very easy to start, and you can practice while you do just about anything! If you’re intrigued and want to learn more about mindfulness and how to incorporate it in your life as the semester starts, here are some ideas and resources for you.
- Bring awareness and focus to every day chores: When you are doing dishes, focus on what you are doing as you are doing it. Feel the water as it runs through your hands, hear the sound as you scrub the dishes. If your mind drifts away, get your focus back to the experience of doing dishes, nothing else.
- Looking at things as through a child’s eyes: Next time you start feeling that stress is piling up, go for a walk. As you walk, look at the trees around you, look at the color of the sky, as if you were seeing them for the first time.
- Practice deep Breathing: Start practicing deep breathing on a regular basis. Take a few minutes once a day to deep breathe from your abdomen. That way, next time you find yourself feeling stressed, doing deep breathing, which results in a sense of relaxation, will come up more naturally.
- Bring awareness to your body: Throughout the day, be aware of any points of tightness in your body while you walk. Notice your body as you are walking. Pay attention to your posture. Pay attention to your feet as they contact the ground. Feel the air on your face, in your body, as you walk.
- Eat mindfully: Choose one meal a day, every day, which you will eat mindfully. Eat slowly. Focus on the smell of your food, look at its color and its textures. As you start eating, take time in every bite to savor the different tastes. Notice any changes in taste as you chew. Notice the aftertaste.
As you can see, you can approach your everyday experiences in a mindful way. Also, as a skill, the more you practice living mindfully, the more readily you use it when needed.
Also, the Counseling Center on campus has different resources available to help you have a more mindful approach to your daily life:
- We have a Meditation Room. You can book it for individual meditation or attend group meditation sessions. Schedule a session at TUCC front desk or by calling our Counseling Center at 410-704-2512.
- You can find audio, apps, and other resources in our website, at http://www.towson.edu/counseling/events/meditation_room.asp
- You can check out events.towson.edu for the schedule of Therapist led Guided Meditations.
Bea Palma Orellana, MS
Nina Weiss, MA