A little bit of stress is okay. It can be healthy, motivating, and activate our sympathetic nervous system, which amazingly, does sometimes need to be activated (even if it feels uncomfortable at times). Chronic stress is not okay. It can lead to a lot more health problems – physical and mental – in the future. Whether your stress is acute or chronic, being present often helps us deal with it. It makes us more resilient, while allowing us to enjoy our overall experience more. In a recent survey done in the clinic, stress and anxiety were mentioned by many as major health concerns. Having tools to deal with stress is important to many of us, and many of us also don’t know where to start.
Mindfulness is all about paying attention, on purpose, in a particular way, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally according to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who helped popularize Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and mindfulness practices in general in North America. Often we associate mindfulness as only being meditation. There are a lot more ways to practice mindfulness than sitting and meditating (though don’t get me wrong, I meditate for 30 minutes every day, I also recognize that it isn’t for everyone). Yoga, fully engaging in an activity (sports, music, art, etc.), connecting with your senses, these are all ways we can be more mindful, and these are all ways we can reduce stress. As long as you are doing the activity, and fully engaged, you are being mindful.
When we feel stressed, we often tense up our bodies and get lost in our thoughts – usually worry about the future, and sometimes ruminate about the past. Our mind’s way of keeping us alive, so to speak, because that’s what our sympathetic nervous system is supposed to do. Moving from sympathetic to parasympathetic activity (the rest and digest state) happens when we are more present. The nonjudgmental part of mindfulness is about being open and curious about our experience without labeling it as good or bad, and this allows us to slow down.
My tips for being present:
- Be open and curious about what you’re thinking and feeling – see if you can label your experience in a nonjudgmental way. I feel stressed. I’m having a thought of X. I notice a tightness in my chest.
- Fully engage in whatever activity you are participating in – Making dinner? Really connect to your senses as you do it. Playing a sport? Really play that sport, paying attention to everything that is happening.
- Connect with your 5 senses – notice what you can see, hear, touch, taste and smell in a particular moment, and then take control of your body, remembering you can.
- Engage in some purposeful mindfulness – meditation, yoga, mindful walk/hike. Guided practices are an excellent way to start and even 5 minutes a day can have you start seeing benefits in a few weeks.
In addition to being a RCC, I’m a RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher) and in an effort to help everyone, even if you don’t need counselling, be more present, I’m offering mindfulness group classes for stress (Calming Minds) as well as private mindfulness training where you choose which practices you’d like to learn. Let’s see how present we can all be this year!