Think about the last time you were really stressed out. How were you feeling? And what were you thinking about?
Wherever our mind goes, our emotions follow. And when you’re in a stressful situation, our minds can take us into places that can result in lots of fear, anxiety, and anger.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say that you are in your doctor’s office, waiting to see him/her about some test results or to talk about a change in medication. As you wait, you think about how worried you are about what your doctor might have to tell you, maybe you visualize the worst possible outcome, or a few outcomes. And all of those scary thoughts lead you to feel your usual signs that you are about to become stressed out. Maybe your breathing becomes shallow. Your heartbeat speeds up. You get butterflies in your stomach.
See what’s happening? Your mind is taking you down a path that may or may not be reality, and your body is pumping out all those stress chemicals in response.
The result: Stress!
You can avoid all this stress by using mindfulness. And it’s simple. All you have to do is pay attention. But I do mean PAY ATTENTION!
Be mindful of what’s going on around you. The guy sitting across from you is reading the newspaper. The carpeting is a little worn in spots. A driver outside just honked her horn – I wonder what kind of car that was? The ceiling fan is on. There’s a slight breeze. You catch a whiff of the cologne the woman sitting a few feet away is wearing. The wallpaper is your favorite shade of green. Did you notice that before? And are those flowers real or artificial?
It can help to focus on your breathing as you do this. Inhale, exhale. Relax.
See what I mean? By using mindfulness, you are focusing on the here and now, what’s real, and not the fearful thoughts and images that just lead to stress. Now – mind you – the here and now isn’t all that exciting. After all, what’s exciting about that ceiling fan? Nothing. And that’s the point.
You can try this technique in virtually any stressful situation. Before a meeting with your boss. When someone in your household is taking out their bad day on other people. In a crowded room, pay attention to individual people and objects that interest you instead of focusing on how all those people interacting with each other seem scary to you.
Replace the “what if” with the “what is.” Not the drama, especially the drama your mind wants to create. Just real life.
Admittedly, this takes practice. After all, we have a lot of time and energy invested in the stories that we create when we don’t have enough information. And yes, some good and some bad experiences over the years have taught us to keep our guard up and maybe to expect the worst. It might help to remind yourself that each experience is a new one, and we can choose not to assume that it is going to be a repeat of an old one. Life starts over each and every moment of the day. Each experience is unique in its own way.
Give it a try. Have some fun seeing how many details you can notice. Make it a game. Focus on the trees instead of the forest. Smell those roses that you never even noticed before this moment. Smile at how average life can be.
Pay attention! And feel yourself calm down.