Mindfulness for Anxiety & Stress: Rewire Your Brain During Difficult Times
There are plenty of reasons to feel stressed and anxious in these uncertain times. That is why we are kicking off our ‘Mindfulness Matters’ series to help you overcome hurdles, refocus and get back on track by applying daily mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is all about focusing your attention on the present. Studies have shown that regular mindfulness practice can change the shape of your brain by strengthening the areas that regulate emotional control and problem solving, whilst shrinking the area that promotes stress and fear. By employing mindfulness stress reduction techniques, you can rewire your brain to help you cope with more difficult times. This is something we often see in athletes. It is intrinsically linked to their overwhelming desire for success.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be talking to top athletes like sprinter Yohan Blake and swimmer McKenzie Coan, to hear how they have developed a mindset that keeps them positive and focused while enabling them to overcome adversity in tough times.
The important thing to recognize about mindfulness is that it is not a temporary state of mind that should be switched on and off. It is a way of living that can help us deal with the stresses of life and boost our overall happiness.
Mindfulness through sport
Athletes recognize the importance of mindfulness as an essential tool to help them reach the top of their game. Whether they are at the penalty spot, on the starting line, or behind the blocks – in these moments it is easy for even a top competitor to be overcome by fears and emotions as they imagine possible victories, or relive past defeats. Employing techniques for staying in the present helps them cope with the extreme stresses of competition.
Living mindfully also helps top athletes overcome periods of uncertainty and disruption such as canceled events or injury. An athlete doesn’t just give up at the first hurdle, they stop, adjust, refocus, move on and adapt for the future.
The change to the Olympic, UEFA EURO and Copa America schedules for 2020 will have affected many of those due to compete, but by applying techniques associated with mindfulness they can carefully prepare for 2021. In fact, training in itself will help as part of their mindful recovery.
The basics of mindfulness practice
We can all take something from the experiences of athletes. Research has shown that any physical activity can work as a period of mindful meditation, recruiting the skills you need to stay in the present. Running, for example, is believed to help you clear your mind, deal with stress, and improve your overall mental health.
Research also suggests that people who intentionally focus on the feelings of movement and deliberately take in their surroundings enjoy exercise more. To convert your regular training into a mindfulness meditation try incorporating the following:
- Unplug from music to allow you to absorb the sounds that are around you as you move.
- Focus on what is happening in your body and how it feels. Are any parts working extra hard? Where is there tension? Maybe anchor your attention on one part of a repetitive movement such as when your feet strike the pavement.
- Note your surroundings and be aware of what is happening in the environment as you pass through, or as it passes by you.
- Notice your breath as it changes and use it as an anchor to draw you back as thoughts enter your mind.
These easily applicable practices will help you on your mindfulness journey, but can you do more to get yourself back in the zone? Meditation helps clear out the mental clutter that is standing in your way.
The basics of mindfulness meditation practice
If you want to try more stationary mindfulness practice, then follow the simple steps below.
1. Sit comfortably
2. Soften your gaze
3. Focus on your breathing
5. If you find yourself drifting, simply return your attention to your breath. Don’t try to judge or analyze the content of the thoughts
Challenge yourself to find time every day and see if you can feel the difference after two weeks.
The act of decluttering, refocusing and living in the present will help to give you the headspace to readjust your goals. Gone are the doubts, frustrations and negative thoughts, making room for more constructive and focused behaviors.
Teaching yourself these basic mindfulness techniques will help you to tackle life’s hurdles, get up faster after a fall and show the world who’s boss.