Mindfulness Part 2: Core techniques to reduce your stress
In the second part of our series on mindfulness, Mandy Day-Calder explains how paying attention to what is happening in the moment can put you in control of your emotional responses.
In the second part of our series on mindfulness, Mandy Day-Calder explains how paying attention to what is happening in the moment can put you in control of your emotional responses
Practising mindfulness can’t stop challenging things happening in your life, but it can help you to control your response. Buddhists use an analogy of two arrows to explain this: the first arrow is the actual event which, though difficult or painful, is often outside your control. For example, walking on shift and finding out you are short-staffed yet again. The second arrow is your reaction, which might be to get angry, stressed or grumpy.
The emotional response, the second arrow, is within your control. By becoming aware of this you can focus your attention on what is happening instead of worries or anxieties about what happened in the past (‘we had a terrible shift’) or what might happen in the future (‘we will never manage with the admissions this afternoon’).
Learning to recognise and accept your thoughts in a non-judgmental way can help you to feel calmer and more able to cope.
These core techniques can help to develop your awareness of the present moment. At first you may want to sit or lie down, but in time you can practise anywhere.
• Body scan: in this exercise you perform a mental scan of your body from the top of your head to your toes, paying attention to any areas of tension and those that feel relaxed. By focusing your awareness on different parts of your body, you can start to let go of some of the busyness of your mind, all the things you ‘ought’ to be doing or the worries you have. Don’t judge or try to change anything, simply be at one with how your body is.
• Focusing on the breath: here the focus of your attention is your breath, and noticing how it feels in your body. Try counting each inhalation and exhalation until you get to ten and then start again. It’s okay if you lose track or your mind wanders, just refocus your attention on your breathing and start counting again.
• Noticing and naming: one of the key aspects of mindfulness is accepting things just as they are and being kind to yourself. You will still experience emotions and have thoughts running through your head, but with increased awareness you can learn not to get caught up in them. Try gently naming thoughts and feelings as you notice them – this has been shown to help create space and reduce the pull they seem to have over you.
Some people suggest viewing your mind as a puppy. With regular training you can chose what you want the puppy to focus on, but you need to get into a routine, be patient and stick with it.
Have a look at what courses are available locally or online. There are also several good apps that take you through a guided program (including the exercises above) over a period of days/weeks.
Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach