Mindfulness to Reduce Stress and Relax More

Young dad sits on the floor of the living room looking stressed out as four kids jump around the room, full of energy.

We all know what it’s like to feel stressed, and we deal with it differently. (Image: Roman Samborskyi via Dreamstime)

Sleeping restlessly? Feeling irritable or moody? Forgetting little things or feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry. We’ve all been there. You’re probably just stressed out. Have you ever heard of mindfulness?

We all know what it’s like to feel stressed, and we deal with it differently. But how much stress is too much? Your body will let you know when you are over-stressed, perhaps through muscle tension, sweaty palms, or difficulty breathing. You might feel worried, fearful, fatigued, or have a hard time concentrating. 

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These can be the signs of stress but the consequences can be much larger, both in your life and to those around you. 

When is stress good and when is it bad?

Stress is a something everyone experiences when feeling challenged, but it isn’t always a bad thing. In the short term, stress can be advantageous. It can be handy for a burst of extra energy and focus — like when you’re playing a competitive sport, or have to speak in public. 

Various sports equipment laying on astroturf including a football, soccer ball, badminton rackets and birdie, gold balls, and baseball glove.
In the short term, stress can be advantageous, giving you a burst of extra energy and focus when you need it, like while playing a competitive sport. (Image: Victor Moussa via Dreamstime)

But when it’s continuous, the kind most of us face day in and day out, it actually begins to change your brain. Chronic stress from things like being overworked or having arguments at home can affect the brain’s size, its structure, and how it functions right down to the level of your genes.

More than just emotion, stress is a hardwired physical response that travels throughout the entire body. If activated for too long, the body’s fight or flight stress response not only changes the brain, but also damages many of the other organs and cells throughout the body. 

Whatever your experience is, it is important to keep your stress under control. In response to stress, many people nowadays are turning to meditation or mindfulness.

What is mindfulness and how does it help to cope with stress?

Mindfulness is defined as non-judgmental awareness of the present lived experience. 

Researchers find that mindfulness has many benefits, such as enhanced positive emotions, reduced stress, and increased well-being.

Mindfulness helps you regulate the racing, repeated patterns and unproductive thoughts that cause stress. It essentially allows you to self-regulate.

Another feature of mindfulness is having an open and accepting attitude toward high-stress situations. An open mind leads to a higher acceptance of what is going on and a better ability to tolerate tough situations that ultimately contribute to feeling less stressed.

Mindfulness leads to a higher acceptance of what is going on and a better ability to tolerate tough situations.
An open mind leads to a higher acceptance of what is going on and a better ability to tolerate tough situations. (Image: Antonio Guillem via Dreamstime)

The core of mindfulness is intention, attention, and attitude. Mindfulness helps develop the attitude “This worry is not about me,” or “These thoughts are not about me,” which cultivates the ability to see a situation for what it is. As you do so more and more, your confidence in your ability to cope grows, and you are less likely to be stressed by events that would have previously caused stress.

Mindfulness, stress coping, and everyday resilience 

When it comes to changing the way you think, it can be tough to know where to begin. 

Does it sound like a lot of work? It doesn’t have to be. The idea is to do things one step at a time to avoid being overwhelmed.

“STOP” is an easy way to practice mindfulness when faced with a stressful situation. When something triggers you, just STOP: 

Slow down.

Take a breath.

Observe: How do you feel? What are you thinking? 

Proceed: Weigh and consider. 

If you catch yourself becoming stressed about anything, acknowledge it. It’s a critical first step toward resolving the problem. If you’re fatigued, under the weather, have headaches, or have stiff muscles, consider whether it’s due to stress. Don’t be afraid to look at the sign or to disregard it. 

Now that you’ve got a better understanding of the benefits of mindfulness and how you can start adopting some techniques into your everyday life, use them to stay happier and healthier, whatever life may bring.

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