Are you tired of juggling work, kids, chores, meeting crazy deadlines at work and everything else that life throws at you? Do you find yourself overwhelmed at times, feeling stressed anxious and out of control? Well, you're not alone! In fact, 8 million people in the UK are experiencing an anxiety disorder of some type at any one time. So where is it all going wrong?
In today's fast-paced world, it's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of daily demands. But fear not, because mindfulness is here to rescue you! In this article, I'll share five simple mindfulness solutions that have worked wonders for me and others I speak to. So, let's dive in and discover how we can conquer stress and anxiety together!
BREATHE, RELEASE, RELAX:
When stress starts creeping in, it's time to take a breather—literally! Find a quiet corner, even if it means you visiting the toilet at work if that is on the only place to get away from the buzz or find a park bench…just find some space, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. Take slow, deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, emptying.
The key is to focus on your breathing, how the air fills your body and leaves it, the feeling and sound. Counting also focuses the mind. Count to between 3 to 5 on the inhale and to 5 or 6 on the on the exhale (Count to the numbers you are comfortable with) emptying the air from your belly. By breathing and counting, your mind is taken away from other thoughts that might be causing you stress, and you will start to feel the tension melt away with each breath. As you breathe out, visualize all the stress and anxiety leaving your body. You might also want to say some positive affirmations in regard to the task that was leaving your anxious.
Exhaling is linked to the parasympathetic nervous system, which influences our body’s ability to relax and calm down. Repeat this process for 1 to 5 minutes, depending on how you are feeling. To start with you might do this for 1 or 2 minutes but the longer you can do it for, the greater the reduction in anxiety. Never underestimate your breath!
RE-WIRE YOUR THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS USING NLP:
Negative thoughts and limited beliefs are often not accurate reflections of reality, in fact often they are blatant lies or extremely misinformed at best. Our mind focuses on worst-case scenarios, catastrophizing situations, and exaggerating the likelihood of negative events occurring. This heightened sense of threat activates the body's stress response, leading to anxiety and stress.
It's important to recognize that negative thoughts and limited beliefs are often distorted perceptions influenced by past experiences, societal influences, and cognitive biases, stored within our subconscious. Our subconscious mind stores a vast reservoir of information, memories, beliefs, and automatic processes that operate below the level of conscious awareness. To put this in perspective, the subconscious can process 2 billion bits of information per second, isn’t that incredible! Your conscious however processes only a fraction, just 50 bits of data per second.
When we instinctively stop the car and put the handbrake on or pull the hand away from a hot plate instantly, or tie our shoelace, that's our subconscious mind at work, we are unconsciously doing these things. We have performed these actions hundreds of times where our subconscious now knows exactly what to do in these instances. Now think to the first time we tried to tie a shoelace, how difficult was it? With no previous experience stored in our subconscious, we were consciously trying to figure it out with our 50 bits of data per second, and it was clumsy right! Or what about when you were a baby and kept missing your mouth with the spoon, do you miss your mouth anymore when you eat? Of course not, as this is now an unconscious process. Simply put, new experiences are our conscious, anything we are familiar with is unconscious, where in fact 95% of our behaviours are thought to Un/Subconscious
This intricate interplay between the conscious and subconscious mind allows you to navigate the world and adapt to various situations based on the knowledge you have acquired throughout your life. However, due to an overwhelming amount of information, pictures, images, sounds, smells, happening all at one time, the subconscious mind filters, organizes, and interprets information based on previous experiences and beliefs. The problem with these inherent beliefs is that many of them are out-of-date and oversimplified. They may have had a purpose for keeping us safe when we were younger, but now as adults, they can be misguided beliefs and some are flat-out incorrect, leading to inaccurate or negative interpretations, resulting in anxiety-provoking thoughts and emotions.
For example, if you encounter a dog for the first time, your conscious mind may assess its appearance and behaviour (it’s a different colour, size and sniffing the ground) while your subconscious mind quickly retrieves stored information about dogs—such as previous encounters, social engagement, and general knowledge—and helps you decide how to respond, whether with fear, curiosity, or kindness. If you had been attacked by a dog when you were younger, your subconscious will remember and revert to this memory above any positive experience with your immediate reaction being one of fear. The reality is that it would be extremely rare for a dog to attack you. In trying to protect you (flight or fight response), your subconscious has found the worst-case scenario and generalised that all dogs will attack you.
Negative thoughts and limited beliefs perpetuate themselves through a feedback loop. When we have a negative thought, it triggers corresponding negative emotions, anxiety, stress, fear, jealousy, anger, which further reinforce the belief. This cycle can be difficult to break without consciously addressing and challenging these beliefs.
If you experienced criticism or failure during your childhood, it's likely that you developed a belief deep down that you're not good enough or don't deserve success. Many of us experienced the moment when we had to read something aloud or answer a question in front of the class, and if we made a mistake, where the other kids laughed. These negative experiences and the feeling of embarrassment have become ingrained in our minds, and still play out in adulthood. However, the reality is that there were probably times when we answered correctly or read aloud without any issues, and no one laughed. Our subconscious tends to ignore or downplay positive feedback, achievements, and joyful moments, focusing more on the negative aspects. Whilst the intention of the negative thought is good, in trying to protect us from the potential embarrassment we experienced as a child, it is not helpful now that we are adults.
We can change this limiting belief, by recognising where it has come from, understanding that it is no longer relevant to your current environment, as an adult in work. You can thank your subconscious for trying to protect you but tell it ‘This limiting belief is no longer relevant or needed to protect me, so please erase it and replace it with, I can speak confidently and clearly about this subject, I am good enough and more than capable’. Keep saying this to yourself and you will re-wire this limiting belief.
NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) is about being more mindful about your negative thoughts, limited beliefs, and behaviours, with the belief that if you challenge them and replace them with more favourable emotions, experiences, and behaviours, it will elicit positive change.
Here are some examples if you catch yourself thinking…
"I can't handle all these tasks," reframe it to, "I am capable and resilient. I can tackle anything that comes my way!"
"I always make mistakes." reframe it to "Mistakes are opportunities for growth and learning. I am capable of learning from my mistakes and improving."
"I'll never be able to do it." reframe it to "I may face challenges, but with effort and perseverance, I can overcome obstacles and achieve my goals."
"I'm not worthy of love and care." reframe it to "I am deserving of love and care, both from others and from myself and deserve to be treated with kindness."
Changing negative thoughts into positive ones is a process that requires practice and self-awareness. Patience, consistency, and self-compassion are key as we work towards transforming our subconscious patterns and cultivate a more positive and empowering thought process. Over time, with consistent effort, a more positive mindset will enable you to reduce the impact of negative thoughts on your well-being. If you are finding this difficult to do on your own then seek an experienced NLP practitioner who can help you understand more about how your feelings and thoughts are just options, which you can choose to utilise, change, or ignore.
By being more aware of how our mind works and being more present in the moment where you can question and challenge negative thoughts and limiting beliefs, which are often lies, can be positively transformational!
Now before any non-yoga fans switch off, hear me out for a moment. Yoga is not, about bending yourself into a human pretzel shape, or just for women, or about as exciting as watching paint dry.
Quite the contrary, this ancient art is a one-way ticket to a healthier, happier you. Yoga improves your strength, flexibility, and posture, and can deliver killer abs. It boosts your immune system and reduces stress, anxiety, and the urge to scream at traffic. Best of all, it costs you nothing (apart from a mat) and you can do it in your own home, and it is the perfect way to start your day.
This is how I see my mindful morning yoga sessions…does this not sound like a great way to start your day?
The morning yoga session:
As the soft morning light seeps through your curtains, gently nudging you awake, it's time to embark on a serene journey that will set the tone for your day. Take a deep breath and let the tranquillity guide you.
Waking Up with a Smile - As you awaken from your slumber, stretch your limbs and smile, knowing that a peaceful morning awaits. Feel the warmth of the soft sheets against your skin, embracing you with a sense of comfort. Allow gratitude to fill your heart for the gift of a new day and the opportunity to nourish your mind, body, and soul.
Unrolling the Yoga Mat - Find the perfect spot to unroll your yoga mat in your home. As you release the mat, watch it unfurl like a magic carpet, carrying you into a world of blissful movement and self-discovery.
A Journey through the Digital Oasis - With a gentle touch, switch on your favourite yoga YouTube channel or App. Let the digital oasis guide you through a variety of classes, each one a treasure trove of wisdom and inspiration. Decide how long you can succumb to the soothing voice of the instructor as they become your guiding light, gently leading you to a place of inner calm and joy.
Contemplating the Day - As you sit in quiet contemplation on the mat, take a moment to be still, allowing thoughts to settle like drifting leaves in a calm pond. Then let your mind wander and explore the possibilities of the day ahead. Visualize a canvas of joy, opportunities, and meaningful connections waiting to be painted. Embrace the positive energy that comes with envisioning a day filled with happiness, productivity, and personal growth.
Embracing Mindful Yoga - Now, as you transition from contemplation to gentle movement, feel the fusion of mindfulness and yoga. Each posture becomes a mindful meditation, a dance between your breath and body. Feel the gentle stretch of your muscles, the rhythmic flow of your breath, and the quiet joy that permeates your being. Allow the sensations to guide you as you flow from one pose to another, with each movement honouring the connection between your mind, body, and soul.
As your gentle mindful yoga session comes to an end, bask in the serenity that fills the space around you. The tranquillity you cultivated will continue to resonate throughout your day, infusing each moment with mindfulness and joy. Remember, this ritual of self-care and connection is a testament to your commitment to living a life of balance and happiness. So, embrace the beauty of each morning, let your yoga practice be your guide, and treasure the moments of peace and contentment that arise within you. Namaste.
Yoga is so easy to get started with. Buy a yoga mat and choose a streaming app or channel. Yoga by Adriene, on You Tube, is a great place to start. There are plenty of paid and free ways to stream yoga into your home. Once you start, keep an open mind and just take each day is at it comes and before you know it, yoga will click, and you will be hooked.
ENGAGE YOUR SENSES IN THE PRESENT MOMENT
Being present in the moment refers to the practice of fully engaging your attention and awareness in the current experience, without getting caught up in thoughts about the past or worries about the future. It involves consciously directing your focus to the present moment and accepting it without judgment.
When it comes to reducing anxiety and stress, being present can be incredibly beneficial. Here's why:
Breaking repetitive negative thinking (rumination): Anxiety often arises from dwelling on past events or anticipating future outcomes. By focusing on the present moment, you can interrupt the cycle of rumination and redirect your attention away from anxious thoughts.
Alleviating anticipatory anxiety: Much of our stress stems from worrying about what might happen in the future. By staying present, you can shift your attention away from imagined scenarios and focus on what is happening right now, which is often less stressful than what your mind projects.
Enhancing self-awareness: Being present allows you to observe your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations without judgment. This self-awareness can help you recognize the early signs of stress or anxiety, enabling you to respond more effectively and choose healthier coping strategies.
To cultivate presence and reduce anxiety, there are a number of practical techniques you can try.
Breathing (previously covered): This exercise gently brings your attention back to your breath.
Body scan: Start from the top of your head and gradually move your attention down through your body, paying attention to each body part. Notice any sensations, tension, or areas of relaxation. This practice helps you connect with your body and become more present.
Engaging the senses: Take a moment to fully engage your senses in your current surroundings. Notice the colours, shapes, sounds, smells, and textures around you. By focusing on your sensory experiences, you bring yourself into the present moment.
Single-tasking: Instead of multitasking and spreading your attention thin, try focusing on one activity at a time. Whether it's washing dishes, reading a book, or having a conversation with a family member or work colleague, give your full attention to the task at hand, immersing yourself in the experience.
Non-judgmental awareness: As you go about your day, practice observing your thoughts and emotions without judging them as good or bad. Simply acknowledge their presence and let them pass without getting entangled in them. This helps create a sense of detachment and reduces anxiety associated with self-criticism.
Being present is a skill that requires practice. Start with small moments in the midst of our chaotic lives, to savour the present moment. Take a pause and engage your senses. Notice the texture, color, and aroma of your morning coffee. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin during a short walk. Listen to the soothing sounds of nature or your favourite music. Engaging your senses in the present moment helps anchor your attention, brings you back to the here and now, and creates a sense of calm and gratitude where you may notice a reduction in anxiety and increased clarity.
PRACTICE GRATITUDE & MUDITA
It comes as no surprise that modern life and living expectations are directly linked to increased stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction among adults and children.
The rise of social media and digital technology has amplified the culture of comparison. Through mobile phones, computer screens, and TVs, we are constantly exposed to carefully curated versions of others' lives where people tend to showcase only the best aspects while concealing their challenges and setbacks. This emphasis on presenting a perfect image can create a lack of authenticity and genuine connection. Seeing people's achievements, lifestyles, and possessions can lead to a sense of inadequacy and a belief that we are falling behind. This constant comparison can fuel feelings of resentment or jealousy towards others who appear to have more or be more successful, while also fostering a negative self-perception which can impact your self-esteem and relationships with others.
To counteract these negative effects, it is important to cultivate self-awareness, practice self-compassion, and promote genuine connection with others. Setting boundaries with technology, being mindful of our own triggers and emotions while using digital devices is essential. More importantly, practicing Gratitude and Mudita, which encourages us to truly appreciate what we and engage in acts of kindness and empathy towards others, can help alleviate stress, foster a healthier mindset, and promote a more fulfilling and compassionate life.
Practicing gratitude is a powerful tool for cultivating a positive mindset and promoting overall well-being. It involves consciously focusing on and appreciating the good things in your life, both big and small, and acknowledging the positive aspects of your experiences.
Gratitude promotes a sense of calm and relaxation by redirecting your attention away from worries and anxieties. It helps you focus on what is going well in your life, creating a buffer against stress and improving your ability to cope with challenges.
Expressing gratitude towards others strengthens social connections and fosters deeper relationships.
Practicing Mudita - Mudita, a term that comes from Buddhism and it means finding joy in the happiness of others. It's about feeling genuinely happy for someone else when good things happen to them, even if you are not experiencing the same good fortune yourself.
Here are a few simple examples to illustrate the practicing of Mudita:
- You see a stranger winning a contest or receiving a surprise gift or winning the lottery. Rather than feeling bitter, you feel a sense of delight for them, appreciating the positive moment in their life, even though you don’t know them.
- Your friend or a work colleague tells you they got a promotion at work. Instead of feeling jealous or resentful, you genuinely feel happy for them and congratulate them on their success.
- Your sibling receives an award for their achievements. Instead of feeling envious, you celebrate their accomplishment and share in their joy.
Mudita encourages you to appreciate the positive aspects of life and the accomplishments of others. This cultivation of gratitude helps counterbalance negative emotions and fosters a sense of contentment and satisfaction, which can reduce anxiety and stress.
In our fast-paced world, stress and anxiety are often unwelcome companions. Whilst we will never eliminate stress or anxiety and it can in fact be helpful to experience moderate levels, by incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives, we can reclaim our peace of mind. Remember to breathe, rewire your thoughts, practice mindful yoga, and be present and kind to others and appreciate living in your body. So, take a step back, embrace the power of mindfulness, and let the calmness guide you through.
Whilst not strictly mindfulness, if you are wondering which vitamins and minerals can help alleviate stress. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, "vitamin C deficiency is widely associated with stress-related diseases" where taking a Vitamin C supplement may help you feel better and have less anxiety. Additionally, long-term anxiety raises cortisol levels, a stress hormone associated to a higher risk of diabetes and many other diseases. Your body can better regulate its cortisol levels with the aid of Vitamin C. Magnesium modulates activity of the body’s stress-response system, and studies suggest increasing magnesium intake may reduce anxiety, ease stress and minimize the response to fear.