Mindful Living

Frequently, my clients embrace the idea of practicing mindfulness as a means to ground themselves mentally and emotionally in the present moment.  However, carving out time to practice appears to be one of the main barriers to practicing mindfulness (or any other new skill for that matter).  How then, might one become more mindful, if attempts at scheduling it in or willing oneself to practice do not pan out?

Enter mindful living, which involves introducing non-judgmental, present-centred awareness to routine daily activities.  A recent study published in the journal, Mindfulness, examined mindfully washing dishes in a sample of 51 undergraduate students and found that mindful dish washers reported greater positive feelings, reduced nervousness, and greater state mindfulness, compared to non-mindful dish washers.

Here are a few ways to add mindfulness to routine activities, by incorporating your five senses:

1. Showering - Visual - notice colors, textures of the bathroom fixtures, floor, objects.  Sound - notice the sound of water flowing out of the shower head and onto you/bathroom tile/floor.  Smell - notice the smell of your shampoo, soap, shower gel, etc.  Touch - notice the temperature of the water, texture of the suds, flow of water over your hair/skin, texture of the shower stall floor, etc. Taste - taste of the water (or any soap/shampoo that accidentally gets into your mouth!).

2. Drinking coffee - Visual - notice the color of the coffee, shape of the mug.  Smell - notice the aromas of the coffee and your surroundings.  Touch - notice the weight of the mug, texture of the mug's surface, texture of the coffee as you take a sip of it, temperature.  Taste - notice any flavors, like bitterness, sweetness, acidity, or textures.

3. Eating - Visual - notice arrangement of food, colors, shapes.  Smell - notice complimentary or contrasting aromas.  Touch - explore the weight and surfaces of utensils, the table, texture of food as it is cut into, and sensations of food in the mouth while it is chewed then swallowed.  Taste - take a small bite, balance the food on the tongue, notice any flavours that emerge, chew slowly and notice any additional flavours that emerge.  

To get a sense of what eating mindfully looks like, click here for a guided mindfulness meditation using chocolate.   
 

8 Tips for Stress Relief

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My last article focused on increasing awareness about the signs and symptoms of stress, as well as how to determine when stress becomes problematic.  As mentioned in the previous article, be sure to consult your doctor to rule out any physical causes or medical reasons for stress-like symptoms.  Of course, stress can often make a medical issue more difficult to manage and patients often find that their symptoms are worse when life gets stressful.

Tips for Stress Relief

  1. Learn, then regularly practice a breathing or relaxation exercise to dial down your nervous system's response to stress.  There are many forms of breathing and relaxation exercises, ranging from visualization and imagery exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, Qi Gong, yoga, tai chi, autogenic relaxation, etc.  Find something that works for you, then carve out time to practice on a regular basis.
  2. Learn about mindfulness.  Mindfulness hails from Eastern traditions and it involves paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and nonjudgmentally.  If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, consider the writings of Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mark Williams.  The site, http://www.franticworld.com is a good starting point as it has free guided meditations that will provide a taste of what mindfulness is about.
  3. Make time for exercise every day.  Exercise is a powerful way to dampen your body's stress response.  Research has shown that even a brisk 10 minute walk can boost your mood.
  4. Reduce alcohol, tobacco and caffeine use.  Alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine use can often escalate during times of stress.  Many people find that these strategies may feel helpful in the short-term, but given the risks to physical and emotional health over time with prolonged and excessive use, it's best to find other, healthier ways to cope with stress.
  5. Maintain a healthy diet.  Appetite may increase or decrease during times of stress.  It is also not uncommon to crave certain high fat, high sugar foods when feeling stressed.  Consult your physician or a dietitian regarding healthy eating habits and a dietary plan that is right for you.
  6. Share your concerns with a friend or loved one.  The stress buffering effects of social support have been well documented in scientific studies (for a recent review, click here).  If you are unable to access emotional supports within your personal network, consider seeking professional support from a mental health professional.  
  7. Learn to say "no" to unnecessary or unfulfilling activities.  People often feel obliged to say "yes" to all requests, large or small, necessary or not.  This is especially true of those of us who are by nature, "people pleasers."  During times of stress, energy conservation is key, thus learn to suppress that inner "pleaser" and be selective about the requests, favors, or new projects that you take on and say "yes" only to activities or tasks that are fulfilling, necessary, or meaningful to you.
  8. Make time for hobbies and leisure interests.  Work-life balance can be sorely missing or off-kilter during times of stress.  Life can start to look like it's composed strictly of work, deadlines, responsibilities, errands, and obligations.  Reintroduce balance by deliberately scheduling leisure or fun activities into your calendar.  Scheduling the activity will make it more likely to happen and will provide something fun to look forward to.    

Consult a psychologist or other health professional if you are having difficulty managing stress on your own.