Stress is a common issue for many of us during these unusual times. Life is full of potential stressors, from those on the home front like strained communication with family members, to those that sometimes catch us off guard out in the world like an unhappy boss or a traffic jam that makes us late. We can’t control what other people bring to the table or what the world will throw at us on any given day, but what we can do, according to attorney turned mindfulness expert Julie Potiker, is learn to stay calm amidst the chaos. She shares a moving series of trials and triumphs — as well as tangible tips for how anyone can add the calming effects of mindfulness to their life — in her new book: “Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm In the Midst of Chaos.”
Here are some tips that people at any level of mindfulness experience — from complete beginner to practiced expert — can use to reduce stress in their life and protect their immune system according to Julie.
Five tips for fighting stress:
- Relax with a mindfulness meditation: Start with 12 minutes twice a day — or 20 minutes twice a day if you can make time. Look for guided meditations on Insight Timeror the free Balanced Mind with Julie Potiker podcaston iTunes. Mix it up so that your mind is relaxing into the practice.
- Make time for joy: Create a “joy list” and commit to choosing one or two things from it to do each day. To create the list, just let your mind wander for a few minutes with a pen and paper and watch the list grow. Don’t forget to add all life’s little joys, like a warm cup of tea or a bath. Then, when you pick something to bring joy to your day, do so with mindfulness; really feel the good feelings. Take a few breaths to absorb them and enrich the resulting positive mental state. This allows you to push the mental state to a neural trait, making a happy bridge in your brain and building your resilience.
- Name it to tame it: Identify what you are feeling and where it is occurring in your body. For example, “I feel stressed; my neck is tightening up.” This practice allows you to use mindfulness to step into awareness and out of the intensity of the emotional state.
- Ground yourself through the soles of your feet: Put your feet on the ground and send your attention down to the soles of your feet. How do they feel? Are you in socks and shoes? Barefoot? Cold or warm? Moist or dry? The act of doing this breaks the discursive loop of thoughts and emotions.
- Practice mindfulness with your food: Be the observer and pay mindful attention to the way you prepare, serve, and eat your food. Slice and dice mindfully; put your fork to your mouth mindfully; taste and chew mindfully. When you notice your attention being diverted to worrying about what might happen, or ruminating on the latest upsetting news story, gently bring your attention back to what you’re doing. If you can keep your attention here, even for two or three minutes, you will be giving your brain a much needed break from stress — while simultaneously encouraging healthy eating practices!
Mindfulness is the first step in emotional healing, It’s being able to turn toward and acknowledge our difficult thoughts and feelings — such as inadequacy, sadness, anger, or confusion — with a spirit of openness and curiosity. Self-compassion involves responding to these difficult thoughts and feelings with kindness, sympathy, and understanding so that we soothe and comfort ourselves when we’re hurting. Being both mindful and compassionate leads to greater ease and well-being in our daily lives.