Working with the Daily Stressors of Work, School, Family, and Life
For many of us, stress is a part of regular life. Whether we’re studying for an exam, trying to take care of children, or working to meet a deadline for our job, we are faced with stress regularly. We try to find ways to live with less of it, but it oftne creeps back in.
We take time out to care for ourselves, try to leave our work at the office, or get help with our school work, and still find ourselves stressed. Our instinct is to avoid it, or sometimes even push it down. However, we can learn a lot by changing our relationship to the stress and really looking at it.
The Reality of Stress
One of the most foundational teachings of the Buddha centers on this. The Four Noble Truths are the Buddha’s core teaching on the nature of our experience. In the first truth, the Buddha taught that part of life is dukkha
Dukkha is translated in many different ways, with some of the more common translations being suffering, lack of satisfaction, and stress. According to the Buddha, we are all subject to this experience in life. It’s not just you, and it’s not just me. We all come into contact with stress.
Practically, we can see this in our own lives. No matter what we do or how well we prepare, we are consistently faced with discomfort. Sometimes stress is painful and quite obvious, while other times it simmers below the surface and we don’t necessarily notice it. However it arises, it is important to remember that it’s not personal. It’s part of the human experience.
Ways to Work with Stress
With stress in our lives, we can be proactive in many ways. We find some essential oils, talk to a therapist, or change something up in our days. I’m all for anything we can do to take care of ourselves, but I want to offer five ways to work with stress with mindfulness as the foundation.
1. Recognize Its Presence
First, we can simply recognize when we’re feeling stressed. This is an important step in any mindfulness practice. Before we are to truly know something or investigate it, we must recognize its presence. Tara Brach uses “recognize” as the first of four steps in her RAIN acronym. Don’t push away the stress or deny its presence.
The Buddha frequently told his followers to “know when” we are breathing in, or to “know when” a hindrance is present. This starts with recognition. Try recognizing the stress when it arises. As we go through these other points, you may find some tools to help recognize stress in your life.
When you recognize the presence of stress, there are many things you can do. A great way to start is by mentally noting that you’re feeling stressed. You can sit with it and simply pay attention. Tune into how it feels in the mind and body. Notice the reactions. You can also switch to some metta or compassion for yourself.
2. Return to the Body
If you’ve just noticed that you’re feeling stressed, one thing you can do is return to the body. You can also use this backward… Tune into the body during your day, and maybe you’ll notice that you’re stressed! Either way, the body can often tell us when stress is present. We may find our breathing shallow, our shoulders pulled up toward our ears, our back hunched over, or an increased heart rate.
The sensations can be subtle. As we practice brining our awareness to the body over and over, we get to know them more intimately. As you truly know the experience of stress in the body, you gain some power to choose how you respond. We no longer are subject to the reactions of the non-conscious mind, and are able to have a say in how we respond to the stress in the body.
Below is a body scan meditation you can try. You can use this meditation in a formal sitting period, but you can also adapt it to use during your day. When you’re familiar with the practice, feel free to pause during your day to move through the body and see what is present. There’s no need to fix or change anything; just continually bring your awareness to the body, and drop out of the mind.
3. Take a Break
This may be a painfully obvious suggestion, but it goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness. When you notice that you’re experiencing stress, take a step back from what you’re doing. Stress builds upon itself, and can have some inertia. Once the stress response is running in the body, it stays running. That is, it’s easier to stay stressed than it is to get stressed. So, take a step away and give yourself a break.
One practice I love when I need to take a break is walking meditation. Getting up and moving can help release some stress in the body. According to the target=”_blank”>Mayo Clinic, just a few minutes of exercise can decrease stress significantly. Whatever you do to try to take a break, see if you can make it a mindfulness practice!
4. Build Daily Habits
Finally, one of the most powerful ways to work with stress is to build daily habits that help decrease stress and discourage it from arising so strongly. Start a daily meditation practice, make exercise a habit, eat healthy foods, and take care of yourself. As you mindfully build healthy habits to support wellbeing, the stress will not arise as strongly.
If you’re interested in starting a practice but don’t know where to begin, you can reach out to one of our mindfulness coaches to get some help!
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