We are living through very stressful times, and it’s natural to experience stress and anxiety as we navigate challenges in our daily lives. However, when managing stress becomes impossible, is when it may be time to seek professional help.
Many individuals seek various stress management practices for the mental and physical health benefits they provide. One of these practices is known as mindfulness. If you practice meditation, you may know something about the positive impact it can have on your mental health.
Mindfulness practice is an effective way to re-center yourself in the present moment, reframe your thoughts, and gain self-awareness along the way. Many people pursue mindfulness training programs because they feel overwhelmed by their stress levels and are seeking alternative ways to manage stress.
What is mindfulness?
Research suggests a few practices that can help people quiet their minds, enter into a relaxed state, and become more confident in handling stress from a calm state of mind with adequate coping skills. Mindfulness training is one of the most effective ways to do this.
Mindfulness can be defined as the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive to what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is just as much a physical experience as it is a mental one.
Mindfulness can also be a form of meditation practice where the individual uses breathing methods, guided imagery, and other techniques to relax the body and mind.
When actively practicing mindfulness, you’ll effectively reduce stress, gain insight and awareness through observing your own mind, and even improve your performance at work, school, or in other activities.
Meditation in general has been widely studied in clinical psychology. The overall effectiveness of meditation is particularly significant in stress, anxiety, pain, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other health problems.
How does mindfulness reduce stress?
Research suggests that the benefits of mindfulness meditation come from its ability to reduce and control the body’s response to perceived psychological stress.
Psychological scientists have found that mindfulness influences two different stress pathways in the brain, changing brain structures and activity in regions associated with attention and emotion regulation.
Here are a few ways that those who practice mindfulness meditation experience decreased perceived stress levels:
- Improved awareness of your thoughts — Self-awareness helps to decrease the stress response in the first place
- Problem-solving skills — Without an instant reaction, you can take a step back, evaluate the situation with clarity, and find a solution
- More in tune with your body — As you become more sensitive to the needs of your body, you may notice pain or other issues sooner and address them
- Increased self-compassion — As you grow in awareness about your mental and physical health, your compassion and patience for yourself and others will increase
- Reframe your thoughts — Rather than instantly regarding stress in a negative way, mindfulness practices teach you how to look at stress in a different, optimistic way
Mindfulness will strengthen your coping skills, help you gain awareness and compassion for yourself and others in situations of conflict, and retrain your brain during stressful life events and moments.
You’ll be able to utilize mindfulness as a tool to reduce stress in your everyday life and use it to self-regulate whenever necessary.
Methods of Practicing Mindfulness Meditation
Practicing mindfulness is personal to the individual experiencing negative symptoms in response to their stress levels. There are several techniques and practices that can help to foster mindfulness when you’re feeling stressed. These include:
Living in the moment. Finding joy in the little things and making an active effort to enjoy each moment in your day.
Practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself, your quirks and flaws as well as your strengths. All of these things make up the wonderful person that you are.
Actively focus on breathing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or having negative thoughts, take a few moments to sit and re-center yourself through breathing. Focus on the in and out breathing, and give yourself a moment to find some calm. Mindfulness helps to check in with yourself in a non-judgmental way.
Other structured mindfulness exercises include:
- Body scan meditation — Lie flat on your back and focus your attention on each body part, slowly and deliberately. Pay attention to any physical sensations, emotions, or thoughts you experience in association with certain body parts.
- Seated meditation — Sit up straight with strong posture and focus on deep breathing out of your nose. Let thoughts interrupt your breathing, acknowledge them, and return to your exercise.
- Walking meditation — Choose a short walking path you can use without interruption. Focus on your breathing and the experience of moving your body intentionally, one foot in front of the next. If thoughts interrupt your movement, give them a moment, and then continue walking.
Additionally, you may find physical exercises and relaxation techniques help to reduce stress. Many of these can be done as a preventative measure or completed while you are feeling particularly stressed in the moment. These mindfulness techniques include:
- Meditation programs, whether seated, walking, standing, or lying down
- Yoga practice or tai chi
- Mindful breathing
- Mindful eating
- Breathing exercises
These techniques help to reduce stress in the body and the mind.
As mentioned above, mindfulness training and mindfulness based interventions are proven methods of stress reduction. It can improve the mental and physical health and overall well-being of the individuals who participate in mindfulness meditation programs.
Importance of Stress Management
Some amounts of stress are natural and healthy. Stress is what gets us to work on time, and what allows us to think and act quickly during emergencies. Stress is a normal part of being human and it’s completely fine to feel stressed sometimes. However, when stress becomes your natural state of existence, it can take an extreme toll on your physical and emotional wellbeing.
High levels of stress are associated with shorter life spans. Additionally, long-term stress can increase your risk for several health conditions including high blood pressure, cardiac issues, heart inflammation, or stroke. In this way, too much stress can be fatal.
Mindfulness-Based Therapy Interventions
In addition to meditation, there are mindfulness-based therapy interventions that can be used to improve your mental and physical well-being. Typically done with a guided instructor or therapist, mindfulness meditation is center-stage in these modalities and plays an integral role in how individuals improve their mental and physical health.
When paired with breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques, mindfulness-based therapy is widely viewed as an effective form of therapy for those struggling with chronic stress.
These therapy interventions include:
Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
MBCT uses cognitive behavioral therapy techniques combined with mindfulness meditation to teach patients how to consciously pay attention to their thoughts and feelings without placing any judgment on themselves.
MBCT uses guided meditation, the body scan exercise, practicing mindfulness in your daily routine, yoga, and mindful breathing.
Through cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness, individuals learn to observe and identify their feelings without judgment and then work through those feelings in a healthy, productive way.
Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR was originally designed for stress management, but it has evolved to treat a wide array of health conditions, including chronic pain, depression, anxiety, chronic inflammation, hypertension, and more.
Often used in compilation with other therapy modalities, MBSR is effective at bringing people into the present moment to experience their thoughts and feelings without worrying about what the future holds or by holding on to something that happened in the past.
MBSR is done through guided meditation and yoga to gain a deeper sense of calm. Participants may engage in meditation, yoga, gratitude journaling, and breathing techniques to help them gain the ability to slow their thoughts and feelings and regain control.
Reduce Stress with Virtual Mental Health Care at Clear Behavioral Health
Learning mindfulness takes patience and practice — it’s both a skill and an innate experience, but you don’t have to go at it alone. With a virtual mental health care program, you’ll gain the coping skills to ease stress and gain a greater sense of control over your physical and mental health. This can all be achieved from the comfort of your own home, thanks to the advanced technology we have at our fingertips.
Virtual therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy and can help you gain skills to drastically improve the way you respond to stressful situations. Clear Behavioral Health offers virtual mental health programs that treat chronic stress, anxiety, and depression in a fully online, intensive outpatient program. We use stress meditation, yoga, mindfulness exercises, and other therapy modalities to help our patients find stress relief. Contact us today for more information on our telehealth programs.