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Day 20: Stress Reduction

Stress remains one of the main causes of health problems in our society today: from heart disease, depression, cancer to erectile disfunction… many health problems are either caused by stress or are made significantly worse by stress. But not just health suffers: decision making under stress is notoriously bad and flawed. Over the nearly three weeks of the bootcamp, you probably have noticed how quieting the mind can actually lead to much better outcomes. You may also have noticed how your mind has started to quiet down as a result of the practice and training to focus.

The success of mindfulness to reduce stress and the potentially terrible consequences of ongoing stress are so impressive, mindfulness-based stress reduction programs are increasingly common, financed by major health systems as well as more and more employers using mindfulness training to increase productivity.

Of course, this bootcamp isn’t about the potential financial and health consequences of adopting a mindful lifestyle: but it is about creating a more healthy, happy and “present” you. And one of the most important things you can do to achieve this, is to reduce the amount of stress in your life.

Stress can have many reasons, and what causes stress can be very different from person to person. Discussing this goes well beyond the scope of this blog. However, with increasing mindful practice, you maybe starting to become increasingly aware of stressor or situations that are creating stress in your life.

For many people the immediate response is to respond quickly to the stress-creating situation, for example, by doing something to counter-balance the stress that has been caused (note: this could be by doing nothing at all!). This can, sometimes, be a good response, of course. But often it is not.

Unfortunately, stress is pretty much unavoidable. However, with a little practice mindfulness cannot just help to reduce general stress levels, but also take away some of the stress-creating issues (or at least lessen their impact!). The trick to successful stress management day by day is often to recognise a stress-creating situation early – and respond with a stress-lessening counter-action: so don’t respond to the situation, but first reduce the level of stress. This is, of course, easier said then done.

Any of the previous mindfulness exercises can be really useful if you feel a situation is arising a feeling of stress (or anxiety) in you. Today, I’ll give you one more quick activity you can easily use in those situations.

1) As soon as you realise something is causing you stress, focus on your breath for at least 3 breaths. Take deep and long breaths. You should feel a little more calm as a result of this.

2) Visualise the situation or emotion that is causing you stress. Visualise the situation as being in a box, on a river, coming slowly towards you.

3) When it reaches you, extend your hands and take the box out of the river. Look at the box for a few moments. Turn it around. Examine how it feels.

4) Once you are finished examining the box, place it back in the river. See how the river carries it away. Visualise how it moves in the water, moving away from you: first slowly, then more rapidly.

5) Take a few more deep breaths as you see the box disappearing far away on the river, and come back to the present.

Try and use this quick activity (it shouldn’t really last more than two or three minutes) two or three times today when you feel something potentially stressful might be about to happen or has just happened – instead of either avoiding the activity or reacting in a particular way.

How does it feel to take a look at the situation? Do you feel it makes any difference in how you react or feel? Share your thoughts below!