If you’ve not heard of mindfulness, we’d like to know where you’ve been for the past few years? Mindfulness is a way of being inspired by Buddhist teachings (but without the religious bits). It basically involves taking the time to really be in the moment, to notice and embody what you’re doing rather than operating on autopilot while your mind churns with worries and ruminations. Easier said than done, sure, but most people who’ve stuck at it say that it really does help.There’s a ton of resourcesout there to help you get started. Try downloading an app like Headspace, or even booking yourself onto one of the many mindfulness courses which run up and down the country.
Learn to say ‘no’
We all pile way too much on ourselves. Sometimes that’s our own fault – perhaps we procrastinate until workloads get overwhelming. Sometimes it happens because that’s the way the world seems to work nowadays. Usually it’s a combination of both. Prioritise your wellbeing by taking a look at your ‘to-do’ list and imagining that you’re about to swap routines with someone else. If the thought of making someone else take on your daily routine feels horribly exploitative and makes you feel bad for them, it’s probably time to make things a bit more manageable. Saying ‘no’ to extra work (which, by the way, includes favours, chores, and emotional labour such as attending parties out of a sense of obligation, or shopping for presents ‘from’ your SO to their parents) is difficult, but it’s a skill worth cultivating. Trust me, people won’t respond with even half the hurt you think they will!
Yawn and stretch
The simplest and perhaps least well-known quick-fix out there. Yawning and stretching are our natural ways of relaxing (that’s why they happen automatically when we’re tired), so it kind of makes sense that they can trick your brain into switching off stressful thought patterns. Here’s how it works: when you yawn and stretch at the same time, a lot goes on in your body. Connective tissues ease up, muscles relax, and your breathing pattern is forced to alter itself as your diaphragm massages your lungs. This makes your brain temporarily concentrate on the sudden change in signals it’s getting from your body. Try it – go on – see if you can focus on a video, podcast, or even a thought pattern while yawning. See? It’s difficult! Add in a big stretch and it becomes nearly impossible to hold a thought in your head. What’s this got to do with stress? Well, the temporary ‘off switch’ gives you a chance to set your thought patterns on a different track when your brain comes back online. Perhaps this is where you could introduce some of that mindfulness we talked about earlier. Yawn, stretch, and then get started on some mindful thinking before the stress has a chance to kick back in. It takes a while to perfect this technique, but it gets easier with time!
Take a walk in nature
Another free and easy way to reduce stress is to take a stroll in nature. Not only is gentle exercise great for soothing and calming our minds, spending time in natural surroundings is proven to significantly reducethe negative, ruminative thought patterns characteristic of stress. The effect is even more powerful if you can leave your phone at home while you wander (read some tips on how to do just that here [LINK TO DIGITAL DETOX ARTICLE]). So, next time the sun is shining and the park looks enticing, pop on some sensible shoes and head out for a wander!