Reducing stress through mindfulness
Updated: Jun 15, 2020
During this unprecedented time of COVID-19 and the current Lockdown, many are affected with high levels of anxiety and stress. Many of our youth are faced with the challenge of wondering if they will find a job after Lockdown has been lifted. Some are dealing with day to day struggles of being confined to their homes.
Stress effects the body in a number of ways and prolonged stress causes the health to decline and therefore affecting our immunity. Stress can lead to feelings of despair, frustration, anger and have your mind rushing at a mile a minute! If you recognise these feelings, mindfulness techniques may help you. Remember, we want to make sure we are remaining as positive and calm as possible during this time, so that we not only survive COVID-19, but thrive through it!
Here are three simple techniques you can begin with:
1. Remain Present:
Being present, means you are fully engaged in a single task and not multi tasking. Read that again, this means you are not scrolling through your phone while 'watching' TV. Remain present in all you do at home, in each and every task. Lockdown may feel like you are doing boring, mundane tasks every day and this may lead to feelings of sadness and loneliness. Are you looking outside the window? Slow your gaze and take in all the colours of the plants, the movement of the trees in the wind and the warm sunshine. Washing dishes? Slow your movements and feel the water on your skin, wash each dish intentionally and with care. This small action is much tougher than you think, but once you get the hang of it – you are able to live in the moment and create a sense of presence within yourself.
We have been so very busy before lockdown and now that we have slowed down our outer world, it is time we slowed down our inner world too. There is a wonderful book that has shown me the power or presence, The Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman (It has been converted into a movie as well, but I have not watched it to know if it is as good as the book). It describes a young man wanting more meaning in his life and through simple teachings, some of which are presence through the simplest of tasks, he is led on the path of enlightenment.
This is a simple enough task isn’t it? Simply put, no! Many of us breathe in a shallow way. Quick, short breaths that do not take in enough oxygen needed by our bodies to function optimally. When we are stressed, we tend to breathe quicker, which elevates our heart rate. Therefore sending us into flight or fight mode (the body’s natural – and ancient - defense mechanism). It is used if you are in physical danger, your body uses increased breathing to increase your heart rate and allow an increase of adrenalin and cortisol – which allows quicker movements so you can get away from a dangerous situation. The body is magnificent that way, the problem is that it cannot distinguish between a physical threat (getting attacked by a tiger) or a psychological one (worry over not finding a job), and therefore releases cortisol and adrenalin – which if not needed, damages the body.
There is much research to show the damaging effects of prolonged Cortisol release on the body and mind. Now, the truth is, living in the world we do (or Pre-Corona Virus at least) – many people are in a state of constant “doing” and therefore in a constant state of stress, which is why our health has taken a back seat. While we are isolated at home, this state of stress continues as we are unable to "turn off" the flight or fight response easily.
The breath in yoga is a critical component in slowing the heart rate and calming the adrenal system, that aids in relaxing the body. We can use a simple technique to relax our bodies and find the calm we so desperately need. Take a deep breath in…counting 1, 2, 3, 4 and …..out…counting 1, 2, 3, 4. Repeat this exercise a few times in one session and a few times over the course of the day. if you begin with just a count of 2 or 3, that’s ok too – keep going! By doing this simple, yet extremely effective exercise consistently, you will train your body to breathe efficiently in this way. You will find that as you progress you can increase your count.
Being grateful for what you have as opposed to complaining about what you do not, changes your brain to think more positively. If practiced consistently, it literally changes your perspective on life. Ever wonder how some people can remain joyous and calm during times of tragedy? Very simply, they view the world through a lens of gratitude.
Sometimes, this can be difficult when life seems so distressing and tough. Keeping a gratitude journal is one way of deepening this practice. Use a book, scraps of paper or even your phone to jot down 3 things that you are grateful for every day. If you are able to dig deep and carve out some time every day to do this, you will see your perspective shift from complaints and stress to joy and gratitude. The key is consistency. So you may want to do this first thing in the morning when you wake up or set a reminder on your phone to remind you daily.
Even on days when you feel like the world is going to end (it isn’t any time soon), if you can find just 3 things to be grateful for that day – you have succeeded! The items can be as big as being grateful for your home or as small as the sun shining on you – make the effort and rewards are beautiful!
The techniques outlined above are just some of the ways we can practice mindfulness. Research shows the link between practicing mindfulness, the production of chemicals that change our mood and specific areas of the brain. By practicing these techniques daily, you are taking control of your emotions, thoughts and health. The act of being mindful will create peace and calm within your body and allow you to walk out of COVID-19 like a Zen master. Remember, peace is not dependent on the chaos that may be going on around you, but the calm within you that helps you to whether the storm.
Life Coach |Founder & CEO Sivuka
Ashalia holds a Bachelor of Social Science and Honours Degree in Psychology with 14 years of experience within HR and Executive Education. She is passionate about Self Mastery, Mindfulness and Neuroscience. At Sivuka, she takes an introspective approach to fundamental topics to develop SA's youth and tackle unemployment. Her positive, enthusiastic nature and innate ability to discover the strengths within others, helps her unleash potential and purpose within others as a Life Coach. Beyond her career, she is a wife and mom to 3 daughters in Johannesburg.