The holidays can be both wonderful and painful. They can remind us to connect with loved ones, but they can also be reminders of connections that we don’t have.
Depending on your circumstances, you might feel frazzled by extra activities and events or lonely and left out of the holiday hustle and bustle. It can be a time of reflecting back on happy childhood memories or a time of painful reminders of the past.
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We all have nights when sleep seems elusive, but some of us experience sleep problems and insomnia with regularity, which forces us to take prescription drugs for sleep. Recent research has indicated that mindfulness can help improve sleep. Below are a few exercises you might try when you’re tossing and turning.
To wake up feeling refreshed, you need to make the most of your sleep cycles. Sleep cycles are 90-minute sequences which move through the four different sleep stages and each sleep stage lasts between 5-15 minutes. When you notice you’re having trouble sleeping, begin by bringing your attention and awareness to what is going on in your mind and body. Notice if you are worrying or thinking about something. Are your thoughts racing? Are they triggering emotions that are not calm and relaxing? If you get distracted and wrapped up in your thinking again, just notice that, label the thoughts you were distracted by (you might label them as worries, or simply label them as thoughts of the “past”, “future” or “fantasies”). Bring your mind back, again and again to simply observing your thoughts.
Do the same with your body. Bring your full attention to your body. Scan from head to toe. Are you holding tension? Do you have discomfort or pain that is interfering with sleep? In this season of colds and flu, are you congested or feeling sick?
Once you’ve attended to what is interfering with sleep, choose a mindfulness exercise to help you get calm and relaxed.
If you need to focus your thoughts, try breathing exercises. A few breathing exercises that can be useful when trying to get to sleep include: counting with each breath from 1-10, repeating as necessary; saying “in” and “out” with each inhalation and exhalation; breathing out until you feel your lungs entirely empty of air and then breathing in feeling them fill from bottom to top- repeat 4 times; or breathing out while imagining your entire body from head to toe emptying of air and breathing in and imagining your entire body filling up. With each exercise, notice if you become distracted and return your thoughts to your breath. Repeat as often as necessary. Mindfulness exercises become easier and distractions lesson over time.
If you have noticed that discomfort and tension in your body is keeping you from sleep, you may want to try a body scan and tension reduction exercise. You may simply scan your body from head to toe and relax each area of your body as you bring your attention to it. Or you may tense muscle groups, like the hands, feet and face for several seconds and then relax those muscles. You can repeat these exercises until your body is feeling more relaxed. As with the breathing exercises, bring your mind back if you become distracted. In addition, a natural medicine can help you reduce anxiety. Buy CBD oil UK to feel relieved and have a sound sleep.
While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At ﬁrst, glance, that might seem a little silly. Why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I am completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.
– The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Although I dislike washing dishes, if I wash them mindfully, I find it’s actually a relaxing task. When you wash the dishes next time, try really being present in the moment. Feel the warm water and suds. Run your hands on the dishes and immerse them in the water. If you feel the urge to rush to get the task done, notice that and bring your mind back to fully experiencing washing the dishes.
Appreciating how the brain works when experiencing stress is critical to understanding how to reduce recurrent stress in certain situations, such as at school or at work.
In a study of the effects of chronic stress, Eduardo Dias-Ferreira and colleagues found that stress responses become habitual, over time. This means that we develop a habit of becoming stressed in certain situations and respond to those situations with the same stressed behaviors repeatedly. If you are someone who experiences stress and anxiety about completing school papers, taking tests, participating in classes, attending meetings or completing work tasks, your stress and anxiety may be habitual. You may also be reacting to these situations out of your habitual stress, which means your actions are unlikely to be effective.
Research on Meditation
There is a growing body of research that shows that meditation and mindfulness alter how the brain works. Dr. Sarah Lazar, a research scientist at Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts General Hospital, presented a study at Neuroscience 2005, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Her research found that meditation had a measurable effect on the brain that lasted beyond the act of meditating. This indicates that meditation and mindfulness may have a positive impact on day to day life.
Mindfulness Exercises to Reduce School and Work Stress
Mindfulness is about learning to focus attention, which is a necessary skill when unlearning negative, habituated responses. There are hundreds and thousands of mindfulness exercises that can help to focus attention and decrease stress. To combat work or school stress try breathing exercises, which can be done anytime and anyplace. Other mindfulness activities include becoming aware of your body position and relaxing muscles that have tightened due to tension, creating a mantra (“I am calm”, “rise above it”), or noticing thoughts and labeling them as “just thoughts” as they come in and out of your mind.
The three key factors in utilizing mindfulness effectively to reduce stress are to try different activities until you find what works for you, practice bringing your attention back, once you get distracted, and practice often and in various situations. It is essential to practice mindfulness exercises regularly. When you are practicing mindfulness, you will find that your attention wanders. Likely it will wander back to those stressful and anxiety producing thoughts. When this happens, just notice it and gently bring your mind back to your mindfulness exercise. Repeat this process over and over as often as necessary.