Learning to reduce stress and anxiety

Pause for mental health

Stressed out? Can’t focus? Feeling upset? Can’t stop worrying or thinking? Sometimes we feel like we’re caught up in a tornado of thoughts and emotions.

Thinking, thinking, thinking. Lost in thought, but missing life. The virtual reality of our minds prevents us from experiencing what’s really going on in the present moment. Often this virtual reality is not a friendly place.

So much of our precious time on this planet is wasted ruminating on the past, or worrying about the future. Because of the mind’s tendency to pay more attention to what’s challenging, called our inherent negativity bias, negative thoughts are stickier than positive ones. The virtual reality in which we most often dwell is one of difficulty and challenge.

Ruminating and spending time going over the past and the anticipated future prevents us from experiencing the life that we’re actually living. Our bodies may be present but we’re not there as we’re absorbed in a virtual reality in our minds.

I’ve suffered more at the hands of my own mind and imagination than I ever have by what’s really happened. To top it off, our minds don’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined, and therefore our bodies suffer the ill-effects of internal stress chemicals.

The mysteries of the human condition can keep us caught in a rut and feeling victim to our thoughts and moods. When challenging situations arise, getting caught up in life’s dramas has consequence to our health, happiness, and ability to think clearly.

There have been many times in my life when I’ve been surrounded by the beauty of life itself but have missed out on it all because I’ve been locked into the virtual reality of my mind. Our mind, our bodies, and our relationships bear the consequence of this very human tendency.

Our location doesn’t matter if we don’t awaken to what’s really going on in the present moment. If we’re able to bring ourselves present, relaxation is possible. Change is an inside job.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus of medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School and father of modern-day mindfulness wrote, “wherever we go, there we are.” We are the one constant in our own lives.

We can change our location as much as we like, until we change what’s happening inside our minds, we will suffer.

Like many, I used to feel victim to life, especially my own thoughts and emotions. Getting caught in a negative mental-loop and experiencing the associated emotions seemed beyond my power to escape.

I’d grown so accustomed to my prevailing thoughts and moods I never questioned if there was a way to change things. I didn’t know the many ways I could change and up-level the negative mental and feeling tendencies I’d practiced for many years.

My life changed for the better when I started to use a simple practice called “Come to Your Senses”. It’s a quick, portable and cost-free way to reduce stress and anxiety. It’s like hitting the reset button. I always find relaxation here and an improved ability to think clearly.

It does not matter the order we use to check in with our senses, what matters is coming back to the present moment by checking in with each sense for about a minute or so.

Come to the Senses:

• Pause and begin to notice the breath. Slow, deep belly breaths are a helpful signal the body to relax.

• Hear all of the sounds around you, just notice them without resisting or judging them. Listen for the more subtle sounds.

• Look at and notice your surroundings. Notice the colours, textures and shapes of things in your physical environment. We’re often blind to what’s really around us.

• Notice how your environment smells, possibly fresh air, the scent of paper or food cooking.

• Taste; are there any tastes in your mouth, can you notice how your mouth and tongue feel?

• Notice sensations of the body. Feel your feet on the ground, your bottom on the seat, your clothing or the air as it touches the skin.

This simple practice allows us to come back to ourselves and feel more present and relaxed. I love to come to my senses frequently, especially in moments when I must wait or when experiencing stress.

Give it a try; the few moments spent in this practice can pay huge dividends for you and your life.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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