Training Your Mind: A Practical Approach to Managing Stress
During a recent conversation with some friends about managing stress, an interesting topic came up about something that we have all experienced at times, “stress overload”. There are times when our mind is so overwhelmed with stress that it is neither prepared to go through reflection practice to understand the actual reasons for the stress nor is it able to meditate. In those times, how do we help our mind find peace from racing thoughts that spiral into negativity or fear of the unknown?
There are some time tested short term approaches that help our minds break away from this spiral of negativity and racing thoughts. Even if the relief is temporary, it serves a larger purpose. Every time we practice these approaches, we are training our minds to break away from racing thoughts and focus on something positive. As we continue to engage in these short term approaches, it becomes more natural for us. This practice makes our minds more resilient and able to refocus on our priorities faster.
The Short-Term Approaches To Managing Stress
Before you engage in any of these short term approaches, expect resistance from your mind. Your mind will keep going back to the same thoughts. You may find your mind adding more details to your original thoughts, connecting present circumstances to past events. Sometimes adding unconnected negative thoughts to the current events, making you believe things are worse than they actually are. This happens to all of us from time to time. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect and become calm as soon as you try the short term approaches. Continue trying different approaches and find the one that works for you. My “go to” approach is stop and breathe. I have also made mindful exercise, walking and taking care of my plants, a part of my routine to help me stay focused and calm.
Remember to be patient and kind to yourself during this process. Kindness to self is the most important ingredient in managing stress.
Stop and Breathe
You can do this while sitting in a comfortable position or lying down.
- Take a few deep breaths in and out.
- Close your eyes.
- Straighten your spine and focus just on your breath, inhale and exhale.
- Start paying attention to any part of your body that is tense and try to actively relax the muscles there.
- Relax your shoulders, your legs, and your jaw muscles.
Recite your favorite Prayer or Passage
In this approach, a prayer does not mean a religious song. It could be any song or verse or passage that inspires you or holds deep meaning to you. For example, most of the time I recite the word “Om”. Sometimes if I need more comfort I sing a prayer that I have heard my family sing from my childhood. You can do this while sitting in a comfortable position or lying down.
- Close your eyes.
- Put your hands in prayer position if that helps or keep them in any position that is comfortable to you.
- Start saying the prayer or passage consciously, paying full attention to each word.
- If your mind wanders, don’t worry, gently and kindly bring your attention back to the prayer or passage you are reciting.
- Keep repeating the prayer or passage until you feel that your mind has slowed down and relaxed.
Mindful Balancing Exercise
There are two types of mindful balancing exercises I recommend. Mindful Yoga and Tai Chi. Both of these mindful balancing exercises are designed to be done slowly with complete focus on our movements and our body. As we engage in these balancing exercises, it helps to focus our mind, slow our breathing and control our movements. This conscious, physical control of the body helps train our minds to slow down and be present in the moment.
I have used the Yoga Studio App for years for my regular yoga practice, and I have also used some videos of Taiflow’s beginners Tai Chi practices. I recommend looking for an app or YouTube videos and trying a few out for yourself. Keep those downloaded / bookmarked on your mobile device. Having this already planned and available when needed, ensures that you are not adding the stress of finding the right one for you when you are already stressed.
Engage in Favorite Activity
The goal of engaging in your favorite activity is to help divert your racing mind into doing something that makes you smile or feel joy. It could be closing your bedroom door and dancing like nobody’s watching; dimming the lights, lying down on your bed and listening to your favorite uplifting music; going for a walk with your walking buddy; going for a run for your alone time; taking care of your plants; talking to a friend who you can rely on to be non-judgemental; sending a text message acknowledging someone who did a kindness to you recently; looking at your favorite travel pictures; anything that gives you joy!
Long-Term Goal: Develop Resilience
All these short term approaches help release happiness inducing hormones like, endorphins, serotonin, dopamine or oxytocin. Aside from the short term benefit of temporary relief, by intentionally engaging in these short term approaches, you are training your mind to refocus on something positive. Expect your mind to resist and go back to the same negative thoughts. Don’t give up. Be kind to yourself. Eventually, you will notice a shift and see less resistance from your mind. You will notice that your mind starts to look for positivity or starts to think rationally to find the next possible step or starts to create a plan to work towards, much faster than before. Ultimately, these short-term approaches will prepare you to use long term approaches such as regular reflection practice or daily meditation practice as the next step in training your mind.
Remember to be kind to yourself, trust yourself, and most importantly trust your mind.