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Mindfulness Exercises for Stress Reduction

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Do you feel overwhelmed with the demands of life?

Do you feel like you’re in a constant state of stress?

Is stress starting to impact your sleep and physical health?

I’d like to share a simple habit that can be life-changing.  I just completed a Mindfully Based Stress Reduction intensive training class. I often find myself overcommitted with the demands of life due to my role as a therapist, crisis counselor, mom, and wife.  Often the demands of life put our bodies and minds in a constant state of stress.  What I have come to realize, is that a daily dose of mindfulness is an effective way to reduce stress and feel better.

So what is mindfulness?  Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.  It’s the engagement of attention and awareness in the absence of judgement.  It’s about being in the present moment.  By training the brain to observe rather than react, we can actually create a shift in awareness in our brain.  Research shows that practicing mindfulness on a daily basis can assist in mental clarity and boosts emotional well being. In addition, mindfulness has many health benefits that can include: improvement in the immune system, reduction of inflammation, increased energy, better sleep quality, decreased anxiety and a reduction in the stress response by lovering the levels of cortisol in our system. It helps your body remain calm when you are under pressure.  Setting aside time to purposely practice mindfulness, sets the stage for you to be more mindful in your life. Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful.

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How Do I Practice Mindfulness?

Though it may be difficult to begin being mindful, it’s not impossible. Mindfulness is available to us at every moment. It can be achieved through meditations and body scans, or mindful moment practices like taking time to pause and just breathe.

Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses. Here’s how to tune into mindfulness throughout the day:

  • Set aside some time. You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time.
  • Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgment. Easier said than done, I know!
  • Let your judgments roll by. When you notice judgments arise during your practice, let them pass.
  • Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
  • Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.
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An Easy Mindfulness Technique:

Mastering meditation takes practice, but getting started can be easy and not time-consuming. Try the following mindful breathing technique next time you’re feeling stressed.

  1. Find a relaxed, comfortable position.
  2. Relax your body.
  3. Focus your attention on your breath.
  4. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose. (filling your diaphragm)
  5. Pause.
  6. Slowly, let your breath out as you exhale through your nose for the next 7 seconds.
  7. Pause.

Notice where your shoulders are at this given moment. Are they relaxed and loose? Or are they so tense they are touching your ears? …if you’re still not feeling relaxed do this exercise three times in a row. By breathing through your diaphragm in times of stress and anxiety, you are overriding your brain’s ability to stay in the fight or flight mode because you’re controlling your own physiology by mimicking a breathing state that is conducive with relaxation. The brain takes note and stops producing excess cortisol, testosterone, and adrenaline that it normally would if it were in a state of stress. It’s that simple.

As I’m incorporating mindfulness into my daily routine, I’m noticing that some of my best memories are being fully present and engaged with the people I’m with whether it be friends, family, clients, etc. I’m also noticing that I’m not as reactive as I use to be. More importantly, I’m recognizing that I have the ability to slow down, be in the present moment and simply enjoy the things that really matter in my life!  If you would like to learn more about mindfulness and strategies to reduce stress, contact me at McNulty Counseling and Wellness at 727 -344-9867. Wishing you wellness!!

Carolyn McNulty l Anxiety, Divorce & Child Counseling l St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Author: Carolyn McNulty, LMHC, GAL

Carolyn McNulty is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders, grief/trauma, divorce/separation, parent/child relationships, depression, gender identity, self-injurious behaviors. Carolyn is also a court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem for the dependency court system for Pinellas County.  She also serves as a member of the County Crisis team.  She has over 25 years of experience with children, adolescents, college students, women, men and families. Call today for a free consultation 727-344-9867!

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