Updated: 5 days ago
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Let's be honest. There's been a lot to worry about lately!
From the worldwide mental health crisis caused by the coronavirus to the ugly war between Russia and Ukraine, things have gotten pretty serious—and fast! COVID-19 alone caused a record number of people to turn to stress-relieving drugs like Xanax.
But what if I told you there was a healthier way to reduce stress and anxiety; one that didn't involve using highly addictive prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications?
Could you take a wild guess as to what that might be?
If you guessed mindfulness techniques—congratulations! You're a pro at reading my blog titles!
Seriously though, there are so many mindfulness techniques for stress that actually work, and many of them are super easy!
That's right! If you are new to mindfulness, you might be a little surprised to discover that formal meditation (though it is a staple of this practice) is only one of many mindfulness activities you can try.
These five simple-to-do mindfulness activities are my personal favorite.
Technically, there are an infinite number of mindfulness techniques for anxiety out there because any activity can be done mindfully. All you have to do is put your full attention into whatever you're doing.
Most mindfulness practitioners will say that meditation is at the center of their mindfulness routine—and for good reason.
Though meditating can drastically reduce stress, you can get so many other mental health benefits from it.
Meditating frequently (even for just one minute a day) can:
Make you a calmer person.
Tame the brain's emotional response to perceived threats and conflicts.
Make you a kinder person.
Raise your IQ.
Help you get into the flow state more often.
Increase your attention span.
Reduce anxiety and depression.
Increase your memory.
Increase your pain tolerance.
And so much more!
But don’t get it twisted. If you use meditation to calm the mind, be careful about your expectations. The benefits of mindfulness meditation can't be squeezed out, so to speak.
You may set an intention like, I am going to use this meditation to wind down and relax, but you can't force relaxation to happen.
For example, no serious mindfulness coach is ever going to tell you this...
"Before you begin meditating, you must focus on the present moment! Don't think about anything other than what's happening right now, otherwise, you will fail at this meditation exercise!" - Some Idiot
If you ever come across a mindfulness coach like this—run. Run fast. They're a waste of your time. In fact, I wouldn't even call this person a mindfulness coach. This person is either messing with you or is a charlatan.
Experienced mindfulness teachers know that the mind will always wander and the heart will always feel things. That's just what the mind and body do, and that is okay!
Meditation isn't about stopping your thoughts and feelings.
Meditation isn't about anything!
Meditation just is. And it teaches you to just be.
Try practicing acceptance, which basically means letting go.
Allow your thoughts to come and go. Notice how your mind judges these thoughts. Then notice how your mind judges its judgments.
After some time, you'll be able to sit more comfortably with this—casually observing your thoughts and feelings from a distance.
It's in this space (the space between your thoughts and the awareness observing them) that the healing takes place. This is where the benefits come from. And the irony of it all is that you can't squeeze the benefits out precisely because you can't force yourself into this serene state of awareness.
You just kind of fall into it—like love.
Over time, mindfulness meditation gives you the strength and the wisdom to know when and how to let go so you can stumble upon this mysterious place more often.
Mindful doodling is a lot like normal doodling. Just set aside a few minutes to sit down at a table. Have a pencil in hand, lay a notebook flat over the table and start scribbling away. Get some crayons or colored pencils while you're at it!
The difference between casual doodling and mindful doodling is that you're making a conscious effort to single-task!
What is single-tasking?
It's the opposite of multi-tasking. You're only doing one thing at a time. So no checking your emails, preparing dinner or watching TV while you're doodling away and becoming the next Pablo Picasso.
Don't worry about how good of an artist you are.
If you don't fancy yourself an artist, good! Welcome to the party. I'm no Pablo Picasso either.
Doodling is meant to be simple and fun, but if this mindfulness technique is too stressful for you, consider buying a coloring book instead.
You want to ease your mind away from the stresses of the world—not make yourself feel inadequate.
Mindful tip: Consider sitting with any feelings of frustration while you doodle. Try not to avoid these feelings. Let them run their course. Allow your art to be what it is. Allow yourself to like it or dislike it. Let it be imperfect. Then keep making more of it. Or stop, I guess...
The famous author and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson made a good point when he wrote the poem below about being present.
With every day comes something new. New hope, new dreams, new opportunities.
"Write it on your heart
that every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with your old nonsense.
This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays."
-Ma boi Ralph
When you pause with a purpose, your mind gets quieter so you can hear what Ralph Waldo Emerson calls, the call.
What is the call?
Hold on. There's nothing mystical or supernatural about the call.
Ralph is just being mysterious and a bit flowery here. What Ralph is really saying is that when we run around on autopilot like we usually do, we get swept away by the expectations of other people and disturbed by the unpredictability of the outside world.
When we pause to reflect, we go within and reconnect with what's inside. The call is our core values, principles, desires and intuition.
So try to sit back, pause and reflect for a few moments. You might be surprised to find out there was a lot you weren't paying attention to that desperately needed your time and care!
Humans aren't conscious breathers for the most part and thank God for that. Imagine how annoying that would be—monitoring one breath after another all of the time for the rest of your life. But apparently, it is a thing for some mammals. Somehow dolphins do it. They literally do not sleep because their breathing isn't automatic.
The cool thing about being human is that you can switch back and forth between voluntary breathing and involuntary breathing.
Connecting with the breath is a popular mindfulness technique (especially among people with anxiety) because it's very therapeutic and centering.
How to breathe consciously
It's simple. Pay close attention to each inhale. Then observe your exhale. Keep doing this for a few minutes. You'll notice that your mind will drift off and think about all sorts of things. Just bring your attention back to your breath each time your mind wanders.
Mindful tip: Consider taking slow deep breaths and count your breaths on each exhale. When you reach the number 10, start over again at one. This will keep you focused and will decrease the chance of your monkey brain (a term coined by Thich Nhat Hanh) hijacking this exercise with unnecessary stressful thoughts.
Journaling is one of my favorite mindfulness techniques for stress because it's a perfect excuse to sit down and write whatever is on my mind. I don't have to worry if people are going to like it or not. I just write and allow the words to flow naturally.
How to write in your journal mindfully
Set a few minutes aside to write. As you begin, let the words flow without making edits or stopping to think. If you can't think of anything worthy to write, then write something that your—and my—needlessly discerning and highly critical mind think of as unworthy.
If the sky is gray today, then write about the gray sky. For example...
The sky is gray. Boohoo I want the sun to be out. I have no energy. I don't feel like writing because the weather sucks. I wish it were sunny out today. Maybe I'll order takeout tonight. Oh wait, I'm on a no-takeout diet. Meh, screw it. No one has to know. Oh, wait, my bank account...
The point of this mindfulness technique is to get you in a non-attached state. It isn't what you write that matters but how you observe what you write.
So in terms of taking on the role of the passive observer, mindful journaling is similar to mindfulness meditation. Only this time your thoughts are on paper. What you see in your journal is the real-life manifestation of what is going on in your head.
Mindfulness is easy if you let it be.
You might have noticed a recurring theme in all of these mindfulness techniques for stress—letting go.
Formal meditation feels great when you let go.
Doodling is more fun when you let go.
Mindful pausing is letting go of the past and future.
Conscious breathing centers you so you can let go of anxious thoughts.
Mindful journaling is all about letting the words flow without stopping.
I know. I get it. Letting go isn't easy. That's why mindfulness is so challenging—at first. You want to accomplish things. You want to be seen as an achiever. You want control over your life. You want to feel good.
But relief isn't possible if you're always clenching, metaphorically and physically speaking.
So hop to it!
Give these mindfulness techniques a shot and let me know which one you like the best in the comments below!