Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to life’s demands, but after the demand is met, the body needs to return to its normal relaxed state. The inability to do so keeps the body on high alert, which creates stress and can lead to health problems.
“Successfully managing stress has numerous benefits — fewer health problems, increased productivity and greater job satisfaction,” says Amanda R. Budzowski, manager of Onsite Health Coaching for UPMC Health Plan. “Helping people find relief from stress is a good way to help them improve their health as well.”
Smart Business spoke with Budzowski about how mindfulness can be taught to help employees and managers better manage stress.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental exercise that has been shown to improve physical health. It is a form of deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without making judgments. It is the practice of purposely focusing attention on the present and accepting it.
Mindfulness has generated attention in the mainstream media of late, including features on shows such as ‘60 Minutes,’ as well as in popular psychology literature. But, in fact, the practice is descended from a Buddhist concept that is more than 2,600 years old.
How can mindfulness impact stress?
Mindfulness meditation has been scientifically proven to be of benefit for physical, emotional and mental health. Practicing mindfulness can lead to decreases in stress and anxiety, improved concentration and attention, decreased anxiety, and increased self-awareness and emotional well-being. Mindfulness is related to decreased stress, which, in turn, contributes to increased positive health perceptions and health behaviors.
Some people choose different ways to practice mindfulness, such as meditation, yoga and tai chi, but mindfulness can be practiced as part of a daily routine.
For instance, walking is a good mindfulness exercise as you can be aware of the sensations of walking as you do it — the feel of the pavement, the way your body reacts to the exercise. Taking a shower is another mindful activity that enables someone to concentrate on how the water feels on his or her body. Even brushing your teeth, something you do to start and end a day, can be a good mindful exercise as you pay attention to the sensations, tastes and movements involved.
Mindfulness puts emphasis on focusing on things happening in the present moment. This does not mean ‘spacing out,’ but rather purposefully paying attention to your surroundings, your emotions, your thoughts and how your body feels.
Equally important is not judging the present moment. Judgments can cause you to dwell on past feelings or bad situations. By training your mind to focus on the present, you will not feel the stresses of regrets from the past or anxiety about the future. Controlling your mind in this way eliminates stresses.
Are there preferred mindful techniques?
It’s important to realize that there is no perfect way to practice mindfulness, nor does it need to be complicated. People need to try different techniques and choose the one that’s best for them. Here are some techniques that can help to reduce stress:
- Deep breathing — Focus on breathing from the stomach and not the chest. Focusing on the sound and the rhythm of your breathing can have a calming effect and help you stay grounded in the moment.
- Meditating — This may take practice, but even beginners can try to find a comfortable place, free of distractions, to quiet the mind.
- Listening to music — Focusing on the sound and vibration of each note keeps you in the current moment and promotes relaxation.
- Relaxed breathing — Take deep, even-paced breaths that use your diaphragm to expand your lungs. Slowing your breathing allows you to take in more oxygen and breathe more efficiently.
Concentrated breathing — Follow the direction of your breathing in and out and all the way through. By keeping your mind focused on your breath, you sustain awareness and cultivate concentration.
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