Mindful Moments: “Practices in Your Pocket” for Stress Relief (Pt. 1)

By Mary Alice Grady, MA, PLPC, NCC, APRN, Qualified MBSR Teacher

Stress is a part of everyday life.  Some stress can be useful and can even improve one’s ability to function each day! However, with higher levels of stress, the body experiences a stress reaction called the fight-flight-freeze response.  As stress levels increase, the body involuntarily reacts as if responding to a “potential threat” with physical and emotional reactions.

The stress response was and still is incredibly helpful for survival when faced with a real emergency. Imagine if you didn’t have the adrenaline rush to run back to the curb when you see a car coming your way! However, the body reacts the same way to perceived threats as real threats.  The frequent and unrelenting triggering of the stress response in our modern life can lead to chronic stress, burnout, and a multitude of health issues.

 It is estimated that 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress and 75% to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.

When we are busy rushing around in “doing mode,” our levels of stress increase. We often don’t take the time to notice how we are responding to stress, both physically and emotionally.  We are often on autopilot, responding and reacting to situations with little or no awareness of how our body is responding to the stress it’s experiencing. This  S.T.O.P. mindfulness practice is a short, informal mindfulness practice you can incorporate into your day during difficult and stressful moments. 

Feeling Stressed? STOP.

By taking a moment to stop, take a breath, and tune in, you will reconnect with your experience and lessen your stress response. Here’s how:

S Stop and Stand with feet on the floor and take 2 or 3 deep abdominal breaths. This simple action activates our Parasympathetic Nervous System or the Relaxation Response. This is the opposite of the Sympathetic Nervous System and our Stress Reaction

T Take a moment to tune into the body, becoming curious and aware of your direct physical experienceHow is your body reacting? Gently turn towards any pain, tension, or tightness with curiosity. Resist the urge to cling, fight, or avoid it.

O Opportunity to change our reaction. Try to acknowledge your stress. Try saying: “This hurts or this is hard, can I be okay with this”? If there is pain, tension, or tightness, what would it feel like to breathe into it, gently letting it go with each exhale? Try taking a moment to notice what is pleasant in our present moment awareness, even something tiny that you may not have noticed before. 

P Possibility!  Congratulations! With awareness, you have found the space to step out of autopilot mode. With this freedom, you can now choose to do what’s best in that moment to take care of yourself.

You deserve to take care of yourself & take a step back from life’s busy-ness. This four-step tool can be used any time you feel stressed or on autopilot, giving you the space you need to reassess your situation.

Mary Alice is leading a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Online Course starting September 27 in the evenings. Click here for more information about the course.