Easing stress with mindfulness

When we are stressed, it can feel as though our mind has become tangled up with worry. We might try to ‘think’ our way out of the stress but find that this only makes it worse: the more we attach to the worry, the tighter the knots become.

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When you are trying to untie a difficult knot, it is often better to loosen it so that you can see how it is knotted, than to keep pulling away at it. Worries can be a bit like this.

Taking 2 minutes to come back to the breath and body with mindfulness is a bit like letting go of the strands of a knot and allowing them to ease and loosen.

With mindfulness, instead of grasping on to each thought, you simply observe your mind and let thoughts rise and fall as they naturally will. When you are not clinging on to each thought, you will see how thoughts naturally arise and naturally pass away.

After a while, you might notice a growing awareness that your thoughts are not you: they do not define you. You can allow them to form and then dissolve as they will. Giving your mind a bit of space in this way can decrease the stress you are feeling and give you a greater sense of perspective so that you are able to move on with calm and ease.

So, next time you find you’ve been bashing away at a worry and not getting anywhere, try taking five minutes to come back to your breath.

Try this:

Say to yourself “For this time, I’m not going to try to solve any problems, I’m not going to find any solutions, I’m just going to observe what is here right now.”

Notice the sensation of your breath and it comes into your body and as it leaves your body. Follow your breath all the way through. Bring your attention down from your busy mind to your abdomen and notice how it rises and falls with each breath.

As you breathe, you might notice thoughts arising about whatever you’ve been worried about. (In fact, it would be quite strange if thoughts about what you’d just been doing didn’t come up – this is completely normal. With mindfulness, you are not trying to stop your thoughts but just change the way you relate to them.)

When a thought arises, all you have to do is notice it and say so yourself ‘ah, I’ve had a thought about my shopping list/how to structure my essay/ that email I received’ or whatever it may be. Acknowledge it, then come back to the breath and remind yourself that, right now, there is really no need to follow this thought. Just by noticing the thought, you are doing all you have to do.

The chances are, as soon as you’ve done this, a new thought will pop up – that’s expected, congratulate yourself for noticing! As new thoughts arise keep naming them and then letting go and returning to the breath. Remind yourself ‘for this time, I am not trying to solve any problems’ and enjoy the sensation of your breath.

The more you do this, the more your brain will learn to loosen around thoughts, even those that are highly charged. You can observe them without getting caught up in the tangle. Often, when we loosen our hold and let our mind ease into ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’, we can find that our worries naturally work themselves out in their own way and in their own time.

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