by Grace Edmunds
Stress is one of those parts of life that you just can’t avoid. If you’re human, it’s likely you will experience some amount of stress throughout your week. You may have small stressors such as an email from a boss that rubs you the wrong way, or you get cut off in traffic. There are also more intense situations that can cause a great deal of stress such as loosing your job, getting a divorce, or facing a family member’s illness. No matter what the event, stress presents itself in our body and brain the same way. It releases cortisol, increases your heart rate, reduces immunity, etc. The more stress we face, the more the stress response triggers. Over time, this weakens our immune system leaving us susceptible to illness. For this reason, it’s incredibly important to learn how to be mindful during a stressful situation.
Here are the three steps to be mindful and self-regulate when you feel stressed out.
STEP ONE: NOTICE
First, it helps to know that you feel stressed, when you are stressed. How do we do this? By paying attention to the body. Stress manifests itself in different ways depending on the individual. However, there are a few common areas where people tend to notice stress in their body. Common experiences are clenching your teeth, holding your breath, tense shoulders, nausea, etc. Next time you notice that you’re feeling stressed, take a moment to scan through your body to see how it is presenting itself physiologically for you. When you identify this place, it can act as a trigger to remind you in the future when you feel stressed. Hopefully, you will be able then to take a moment to engage in the next step.
STEP TWO: BREATHE
If you can notice that you’re feeling stressed, it gives you a little space in between the stressful situation, and your response to it. In that space, take a deep breath, or two….or three! This activates the bodies parasympathetic nervous system and tells the alarm system of your brain, “It’s okay, I’ve got it from here”. This is an important step because when you’re acting from your stress response, you tend to act based on habitual impulses rather than wise consideration. Once you’ve take a breath or a few, you’re body and mind will be more relaxed and clear to consider the situation at hand.
STEP THREE: REFRAME
Once you’ve calmed the physical stress in your body at least a little, take your next moment to think about the situation in your mind and zoom out. Are you making a big deal out of something that is not so big? Perhaps you got an email from your boss that said, “Please come to my office at 2pm to discuss something”. Your mind may race and think that they are going to reprimand you for something you did wrong, or even worse, fire you! However, there is no information in that email that tells you such. Our stress system activates when there is a real OR perceived threat. The perceived threats are the ones we make up in our minds that do us no good. If we can take a moment to reframe the situation and put it into perspective, we will see the wisest response in this moment.
Now, let’s say the stressful situation was that your boss decided to fire you. This experience can also benefit from the practice of reframing. It may seem at the time that this is the worst thing to happen to you. You may even begin the make up doomsday stories about your life being over. However, if you can, try to acknowledge that this is temporary. Although it may seem like you have failed, you will get back on our feet eventually. I’ve heard so many stories of people who were let go from a job and then pursued their passion, or found a job that suited them even better because of it. You don’t know when a stressful situation is a blessing in disguise. Treat each experience and each person as your teacher. This will help you to stay mindful during your next stressful situation.
It can also be helpful to check in and ask, is my stress helping or hurting this situation? Also, is there another emotion or belief that is underneath this stress (shame, sadness, etc.)?
If you can remember these three steps, the stressful moments of your day will have less of an impact. No matter what arises you will feel equipped to respond to life in a caring way. With these practices in your pocket, you will be able to be resilient, wise, and mindful during a stressful situation.
Photo: Drew Coffman
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