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Mindfulness and dealing with stress

I've been practising mindfulness for several years now and it has had many positive effects in my life. I'm much better able to deal with negative emotions like stress and fear, and I experience a lot more joy, ease and appreciation in my life. As I like to share what I learn, I want to give real life examples of how mindfulness benefits me so that maybe it can benefit others as well.

This motivation challenges me to be vulnerable. Something that doesn’t come naturally to me. You don’t want to know how many times I backed off from sharing a vulnerable, personal story. However, I want the messy side of life to be just as welcome as the sunny side.

So there we go. I will share a story about how mindfulness helped me through moments of stress and fear. Mindfulness is not about eliminating these emotions, but rather about observing and allowing them. Being able to stay mindful makes it much easier to deal with those moments.

Tonight is the second night that I can’t sleep. I woke up at 3:00 AM feeling stressed. The thought of having to travel to work by car during heavy traffic is overwhelming me already. Weird how that works. It’s only an hour of overstimulation in the morning, but it affects my day, and apparently also my night.

I used to travel by train. I would first bike to the station for half an hour, sleep in the train, and then bike to my work in Amstelveen. 1,5 hour of travelling, but also a lot of relaxation. And physical exercise. I have to get used to a new rhythm. It saves us a lot of money now our youngest daughter is studying in Amsterdam. When we commute together we don’t have to pay for public transport for her.

So tonight I was awake again, feeling stressed and anxious about how this would affect my day, my ability to work in the team. My joy in working. And so I turned to my breathing. Instead of fighting the stress I decided to welcome it fully. Just breathe in this dark grey cloud of overwhelm.

Breathing in stress…

Breathing out peace…

Breathing in stress…

Breathing out trust…

Watching anxious thoughts go by, but not believing them.

I know how this works. At such times, nothing useful is being produced by my mind. Just be patient and allow. Allow the stress to be there and to go away by itself.

Allowing…

Allowing…

Breathing…

Breathing…

After a while, I was much more relaxed. I still couldn’t sleep, but that didn’t matter. My thoughts were much calmer and I felt better up to facing the day.

Although this may seem like a negative experience, it actually isn’t for me. Every moment I’m able to stay present and mindful when experiencing difficult emotions contributes to my confidence that I can deal with them. And the good part is, over time those moments of stress and anxiety pass more quickly. They don’t last days anymore like they used to.

At the moment my body enters fight-or-flight mode, I now have a third option which feels very counterintuitive, and that is

  • to stop
  • to refuse to believe my current thoughts. And to trust that much better thoughts are there for me and I will experience them once I’ve calmed down.
  • to use the awareness of my breathing to stay present with whatever stressful physical sensation I have at the moment. And to do this as long as that sensation is bothering me.

This helps me greatly and I hope it will help you too.


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