Stop and Smell the Bluebonnets: 5 Quick Mindfulness Tools to Alleviate Stress
If you've hit the Trinity Trails lately, you might have noticed the beautiful Texas bluebonnets in bloom. While it's easy to stop and appreciate something we rarely see, most of the time we're too busy to slow down and appreciate the joy and beauty of our everyday lives. Here's a few tips to help you engage in the life you're living, right here, right now.
Focus on the Present: Use your 5 senses to experience the present as it is happening now. Notice what you can see, the sounds you can hear, the smell and feel of the air. Each time your mind wanders, gently return your attention back to your experience right now. While walking my dog, I like to focus on listening to the sounds of the leaves in the trees, the sounds of both our footsteps, the feel of the air, and this time of year the beautiful Texas bluebonnets. Try this while eating, working, cleaning, walking, listening to music, waiting in line, spending time with a friend or loved one…
Calming Breath: It's hard to be focused on the present if your mind is going a mile a minute, or if your body is tense. To slow your body and mind down, take a short break to do some calming breaths. Close your eyes if you like. Slowly take a deep breath in through your nose to the count of 5, and then slowly breathe out through the nose or mouth to the count of 7. Try to focus all your attention on your counting and following your breath as it goes in and out. Repeat at least 3 times. Any time you exhale longer than you inhale, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system and slows down the body. You may notice your heart rate slow a little. This breathing can be done any time and no one will know you are doing it. To add to this, you can imagine breathing in peace and calm as you inhale and breathing out stress as you exhale. Try adding a compassionate mantra, “May I be happy. May I be at peace. May I be free from suffering.”
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Here's another way to relax your body when your mind won't stop. Sit or lay comfortably, breathe normally and close your eyes. You will tense and relax each muscle group starting at your feet and working up to your head. For each part of your body, tense the muscles for 4 seconds, notice the feeling of tension, let it go, and then notice the relaxed feeling. Do this twice for each muscle group. Starting with your feet, curl your toes and hold the tension for 4 seconds. Then let it go and noticing the relaxed feeling. Consciously notice and attend to the difference between the tense feeling in the muscles and the relaxed feeling. Repeat this with your feet. Then move up your body, repeating the process with your calf muscles… thigh muscles… glutes, stomach, back, upper arms, lower arms, fists, shoulders, facial muscles. You may wiggle your jaw a little and gently roll your neck. This exercise helps to teach your brain to notice when you're tense and how to consciously relax. It's also a nice break for your mind. When calm, reengage in the present using your 5 senses to notice what's around you.
Willing Hands: Practice radical acceptance of things that are out of your control. Place your hands face up on your lap in a relaxed position. Close your eyes and turn your attention to your breathing. Breathe in counting to 5 and out counting to 7 three times. Identify what aspects of a stressful situation are out of your control. Slowly say to yourself, “I am willing to not be in control of…” (traffic, what other people think/say/do, what already is fact, knowing the future…) For example, whenever I'm stuck in traffic and already running late, I put my hands face up in my lap and tell myself, "I am willing to be late." I might as well be willing, because I already am. As a bonus, you can also try, "I am free from being in control of..." Repeat the phrase you find most useful while continuing to breathe slowly.
Choose your Intention: For the things that are in your control, choose your intention. Rather than mindlessly reacting to things or going through the motions, choose what you want this moment to be about. Focus on what is most important or meaningful about an activity as it is happening. How is it beneficial to you or someone else? What purpose does it serve? If a situation is difficult, how can you learn from it