Mind

How to alleviate stress in 7 minutes

While it’s normal to feel anxious from time to time, too much stress can be detrimental to our mental and physical health.

Be it screaming toddlers, a tough-to-deal-with colleague or relationship breakdown, everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives.

While a healthy amount of stress does pose some benefits, most of the time the effect of prolonged stress is taxing on the body and mind - so it's important to learn how to calm down.

You may have heard about the benefits of practising mindfulness meditation: including decreased feelings of anxiety and depression, a reduced production of the stress hormone cortisol and increased resilience.

Grant Rix, director at the Mindfulness Education Group, says practising mindfulness means we learn how to live calmly in the present moment and not over-think things.

"With mindfulness we spend less time worrying about the future or fixating on the past and can allow unhelpful thoughts to simply pass by so we can focus on the task at hand," says Rix.

"When we do this, we see clearly where our attention is and the effects this has on our overall well-being. If it is good, we can stay with it, if it is not so good, the mental strength we develop through mindfulness helps us to let it go and return our attention to something more positive or neutral."

How does mindfulness work?

Stress often exists in the past or future (think: ruminating over past regrets or fretting about tomorrow morning's meeting), so training your mind to be present can be highly beneficial.

"When you pay attention to your breathing and tune into the sensations in your body, which is common during mindfulness, you can give your over-taxed mind a rest.

"Instead of feeling the effects of worry in the body, your nervous system begins to self-regulate and your body and mind find balance in the present moment," says Rix.

"Findings so far suggest that mindfulness works by positively affecting brain areas involved in attention control, emotion regulation and self-awareness."

How to practise mindfulness

Essentially, mindfulness refers to intentionally focusing on your immediate experience, so it can be done anywhere and anytime - while walking the dog, sitting on the couch or lying in bed.

However, Rix recommends sitting upright with your hands placed on your thighs.

Close your eyes and aim to bring your attention to the present.

Focus on your insular experience: feel how your breath moves through your body as you inhale and exhale.

You may also take notice of your external environment - are there any sounds you notice? Smells? How does your skin feel against the air?

It's normal for your mind to wander; if it does bring it back to your breathing.

Rix recommends doing this for at least three to five minutes, then compare how you felt before the mindfulness exercise with how you felt afterwards.