As the holiday season approaches most of us begin to feel overwhelmed and short on time, leading to stress. The side effects from an increase in stress on our body are a spike in hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure and provides you with extra energy. Cortisol triggers the release of glucose into the blood stream providing extra energy in stressful situations, whilst putting much less needed body functions on hold such as digestion. Studies have shown that long term stress on the body can be extremely harmful, leading to increased chances of developing viral infections.
Now, there are many ways in which we can deal with stress in our lives such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol, or exercising. But the approach that we will be diving a bit in to is a technique called Mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness? According to Mindful.org, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Mounting scientific evidence from hundreds of universities—including dedicated centers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the United States and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom—strongly suggests that mindfulness not only reduces stress but also gently builds an inner strength so that future stressors have less impact on our happiness and physical well-being. Let’s look at some of the ways mindfulness helps you with stress.
- You become more aware of your thoughts. You can then step back from them and not take them so literally. That way, your stress response is not initiated in the first place.
- You don’t immediately react to a situation. Instead, you have a moment to pause and then use your “wise mind” to come up with the best solution. Mindfulness helps you do this through the mindful exercises.
- Mindfulness switches on your “being” mode of mind, which is associated with relaxation. Your “doing” mode of mind is associated with action and the stress response.
- You are more aware and sensitive to the needs of your body. You may notice pains earlier and can then take appropriate action.
- You are more aware of the emotions of others. As your emotional intelligence rises, you are less likely to get into conflict.
- Your level of care and compassion for yourself and others rises. This compassionate mind soothes you and inhibits your stress response.
- Mindfulness practice reduces activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is central to switching on your stress response, so effectively, your background level of stress is reduced.
- You are better able to focus. So you complete your work more efficiently, you have a greater sense of well-being, and this reduces the stress response. You are more likely to get into “the zone” or “flow,” as it’s termed in psychology by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
- You can switch your attitude to the stress. Rather than just seeing the negative consequences of feeling stressed, mindfulness offers you the space to think differently about the stress itself. Observing how the increased pressure helps energize you has a positive effect on your body and mind.
If any of the above sound like things your busy life, and mind, could benefit from, be sure to download some awesome apps available such as, Pacifica, Headspace, or Calm. Each has their own unique characteristics. These apps include great mindfulness techniques to get you started on reaping some of the aforementioned benefits including mood tracking, sleep stories to quiet a busy mind and guided paths depending on your most pressing concern. They are all also free to download, with varying options to pay for subscriptions. Check them out and practice with the one that works best for you! Have a merry, and mindful, holiday season!
*Research used during this article can be found at mindful.org