Mind

Two ways to reduce your stress levels with mindfulness

Not a fan of mindfulness meditation? You don't need to be to practise mindfulness.

By Marisa Garau

As a writer and online entrepreneur I am very busy most days, so I love to have quiet time and practise mindfulness when I can. However, what I don't love is spending my precious time staring into the flame of a candle.

Mindfulness is a highly effective way to keep yourself calm and emotionally balanced, but typically demands that you'll learn mindfulness meditation and spend at least an hour a day on a meditation cushion.

And if you're a time-poor mum or working 50-hour weeks, this may not be realistic or achievable!

Fortunately, we can enjoy some of the benefits of mindfulness without meditating. I have developed two practical exercises to be mindful; try and incorporate these habits next time you find yourself getting stressed!

Distract your judgemental mind

Stress is not caused by incidents in the outside world, but by your reaction to these incidents.

If a situation makes your stomach contract with stress and anxiety, realise that reality is what it is: not good and not bad. Only your own judgments turn a neutral situation into something good or bad.

Imagine you are driving hurriedly to an appointment, then suddenly find yourself in a massive traffic jam: you may react with stress and anxiety, but a traffic jam is not good and not bad. It just is. If you allow your mind to judge it to be bad, you will experience extreme stress and frustration. But no matter how much you stress yourself out, it still won't give you the power to change the situation.

However, you do have the power to change your thoughts and reactions. The trick is to overrule your stress impulses and keep a clear mind.

How? By telling yourself: "This is what it is, I don't have to judge it. If I arrive later than expected, so be it."

Then consciously switch to contemplating some practical problem you need to solve: Where are you celebrating your birthday this year? Which cafe should you meet your friend at on Saturday? What should you get your dad for Christmas?

Your mind will keep on trying to drag you into panicky thoughts about you being stuck in traffic and how awful your situation is. But be strong and distract your mind with interesting or joyful thoughts, so that you won't give it room to worry.

Now take a few deep breaths; and on every exhale, let go of any remaining tension.

"Distract your mind with interesting or joyful thoughts."
"Distract your mind with interesting or joyful thoughts."

Pay attention to what you’re doing now

Stress is caused by judgmental thoughts about incidents and situations. This isn't bad, it's simply what your mind does.

Still, that doesn't mean that you have to lose yourself in those negative, judgmental thoughts helplessly. Understand that these thoughts create tension and anxiety, and that it's healthier to actively counter the non-stop judging and worrying games that your mind likes to play.

To be your mind's master rather than its slave, you can practise mindfulness by doing everything you do with undivided attention.

How? By quietly focusing on just one task, such as walking to the bus stop, organising your desk or peeling potatoes when you're making dinner. So walk in awareness, look around you and notice the street, the trees, the shops and notice other people. Organise your desk with undivided attention, without chatting to colleagues or checking your email every other minute. Peel the potatoes without watching TV at the same time. Instead, watch your hands with sincere attention, and appreciate how cleverly they perform this task.

Our mind is extremely sophisticated but also a bit simple: it can't handle more than one task. If you encourage it to concentrate on just one activity at a time, your mind will have no space left to drag you into judgmental, worrying thoughts.

By fully focusing on one task (no matter how simple or complex) you prevent your brain from thinking stressful thoughts and triggering your body to pump damaging stress hormones into your body.

Focus on the task at hand and avoid thinking stressful thoughts. Why not sip your coffee and savour the flavour rather than letting your mind wander to negative thoughts?
Focus on the task at hand and avoid thinking stressful thoughts. Why not sip your coffee and savour the flavour rather than letting your mind wander to negative thoughts?

Mindfulness teaches us to think for ourselves and not obey our judgmental mind blindly. By practising mindfulness regularly you'll panic less frequently, and working on your emotional resilience and spiritual growth. And you don't need meditation to achieve this!

Mindfulness coach Marisa Garau helps people reduce their stress and create a more relaxed, fulfilling life with her no-nonsense approach to mindfulness. Read more about Marisa's unique mindfulness method without meditation, where you can also download her free e-book In The Flow Of Mindfulness.