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How To Use Mindfulness During Stressful Situations

Mindfulness during difficult times

How To Approach Mindfulness During Stressful Situations?

In today’s times, mindfulness practices have become pretty well known as stress management practices. Even if one does not practice, one has at least heard of mindfulness as something that brings down stress. However, what still remains less known is, how to approach mindfulness during stressful situations? What to expect from it when one is going through an emotional upheaval? 

For instance, you’re going through a particularly difficult phase in life like job loss, relationship loss, a significant life change, conflict and upheaval at home, a very hard part of your student life or career, a significant mental health issue, debilitating physical issues and so on. Does mindfulness magically wipe out your stress? Or does it help in more cumulative, subtle ways? Let’s find out!

What to not expect from a Mindfulness Practice during a stressful situation?

The main thing that you should not expect from mindfulness practices during a difficult time is – the typical image that comes to your mind when you think of mindfulness. A content person sitting on a hill, feeling light, blissful and worry free. This expectation can become your worst enemy during a difficult time and can cause you to believe that mindfulness isn’t helping. It can cause you to let go of the practice and lose out on all the benefits it actually brings about.

If you are practicing mindfulness during a difficult time, it’s very helpful not to expect:

  1. Your mood to lift significantly
  2. Yourself to feel good for hours or days
  3. A clear, fresh mind for a long span of time
  4. Significantly improved memory and focus
  5. To stop worrying about your problems
  6. To stop feeling low or down

You will most likely still feel difficult feelings, have worrying bouts, crying spells, anger bouts, emotional eating or binge shopping sprees -depending on how stress tends to manifest itself for you. Mindfulness does not erase this out, at least not until years of practice and learning take place. So if you expect to breathe and be for 10 minutes a day and then feel like the blissful person on the mountain, you will be sorely disappointed, something that is completely avoidable if you know what to expect!

Mindfulness does not erase the humanness in you. Instead, it builds capacity and softness within you to receive and cope with that humanness better.

So, now that we have dealt with what not to expect, do not despair, mindfulness has some very tangible and robust benefits that will help, especially as you practice. Let’s now look at the good news – how indeed mindfulness helps during a tough time!

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What You Can Expect From Mindfulness Practice In A Stressful Situation?

  1. Opportunity for a Reset: Even if it’s just for some time, you tend to feel lighter, clearer, more relaxed. This opportunity to reset is very important to fill your cup a bit while the difficulty empties it.
  2. A Break for the Nervous System: Your nervous system is going through a whole lot during difficult times. It remains wired up and dysregulated, sometimes for weeks or months together. Mindfulness practice helps this dysregulated nervous system stabilize for a bit. Your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing quality, muscle tension, digestion, circulation etc are all affected when you are under perpetual stress. Mindfulness helps all this stabilize at least for some time before you deal with the difficulty again. This helps your body and nervous system a great deal. It can help all your body and brain functions to reset and release at least for some time each day. When you are dealing with a chronic difficulty, this opportunity means a lot. The body gets some space to repair, the mind gets some space to just be.
  3. Opportunity for small little insights: When you return to stillness and the present moment (instead of being just in your head), it helps you think better, get some perspective/insight. This may not happen all the time but is of great help when it does. These little (or sometimes bigger) aha moments can open up new ways of seeing things when you feel like you’ve hit a dead end.

The practice itself builds resilience – mindfulness practice in itself changes how stressed you feel and for how long. But this is a long term benefit and needs consistent practice. You can read more about the benefits of mindfulness here. 

Better Ability to snap out of overthinking- With more practice, your ability to recognize when you are getting caught up in brooding and ruminating becomes better. You become better able to release the impulse to keep thinking and instead, just be. You become better able to check in with yourself and see when you are tired of stressing and to release that stress, just for a bit. This increased flexibility helps a whole lot during a difficult time. You do not then need an entire shopping spree or 3 pizzas to feel better. You become better able to regulate yourself, and decide when it’s time to stop stressing and just be in the moment. This is a huge benefit when we need to run a psychological marathon. It helps greatly in the ability to rest mentally. It helps greatly in being able to come back to the situation better once you have had that mental rest, even if it’s just for one activity like – ‘ I’m thinking while swimming, let me release my stress and just feel the water while I swim’.

Hope this gives you some idea of how mindfulness is likely to help during difficult times. It’s like a silent friend. You feel like nothing is happening, but something is definitely happening. It’s just not as loud or obvious as, ‘I don’t think this will bother me anymore’. Its more subtle, like, ‘you will change subtly and slowly, your capacity to be with yourself and help yourself will grow, and gradually you will feel less stressed’. To give you another analogy, it may not wipe out the storm for you, but it will help you regulate yourself better so that you can navigate the storm with some more ease. And we could definitely do with some more ease during an emotional storm!

There are still more benefits of mindfulness practice like increased capacity to manage difficult feelings, more compassion for yourself and so on. However, these require deeper and regular training in mindfulness meditation under the care of a facilitator. The benefits covered in this post are felt even with basic practice and some learning. They may not be felt at the very beginning, one typically starts to feel it after a few weeks of practice at least.

May you be well, may you be happy!

About the Author

This article was written by Malini Krishnan, Psychologist and Mindfulness Trainer at Inner Space. 

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