By Emma Martin
After surviving the last 18 months in one of the most challenging times many of us have faced, it’s no surprise that overwhelm, work related stress and burnout are on the rise. (According to HRD online– In the UK, the search term for ‘Symptoms of stress’ grew more than 5000% vs the previous year)
In both my personal life, and professional life there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not hearing about people struggling to manage their stress levels, or being concerned about their emotional wellbeing. I’ve also been close to burnout several times in my life. Often the symptoms can creep up on us unknowingly, or we don’t want to admit that there may be something wrong, and ignore the potential warning signs, putting them down as a ‘one off.’
The NHS Symptom checker for stress, explains that we can suffer Mental, Physical and behavioural changes as a result of stress, so how can we try and prevent burnout from (re)occuring? Firstly, we need to admit to how we may be feeling. Sometimes this could mean talking to a loved one, or a trained professional to get an understanding of how and why we might be feeling a certain way. (A list of helplines can be found on my website here)
If you’ve not yet tried Mindfulness before, or aren’t sure of the concept- It is all about the art of being present in the moment. Mindfulness helps us to train our minds to become more aware, and in turn , can help to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression and low mood- as well as cultivating a sense of calmness and gratitude.
The way in which I teach mindfulness, is to provide quick, easy and effective practices to make a difference in our busy lifestyles. You don’t need hours to meditate or hit the yoga mat (although useful) but simply to dedicate a few moments each day or week to your mindfulness experience.
My top 5 tips for using Mindfulness to help reduce our stress levels:
1. Take a Mindful Pause.
It’s far too easy to keep running on autopilot throughout our days, and not stopping to take notice of how we feel. To take a mindful pause, I like to find a moment where I’m alone and take some cleansing, deep breaths . Try breathing in for a count of 4, and out for a count of 6. This calms the nervous system and lowers the heart rate, which is extremely useful when we may be in a stressed state. You can enhance the experience by placing a hand on your chest, or by closing your eyes for a few cycles of breath. This mindful pause can ground us, and help us to feel more aware of our emotions, and give us a more level-headed view of them once we have slowed our pace for a moment.
2. Try a Body scan meditation
Try a body scan. If you’re new to meditation, or find yourself easily distracted, this is a great way to tune into ourselves, and take an escape away from the ‘To-do’ lists and busy brain. You can choose whether you want to perform this laying down, or seated. Plus, you can complete this exercise anywhere which makes it great for work or home practice! Moving with your breath, take your awareness to the top of your head. Notice any physical sensations, and gently relax the eyebrows if your forehead feels tense or furrowed. Make your way down each part of your body, concentrating on how it feels, what sensations you are experiencing and how it connects to the surface beneath you or other parts of your body. If you notice yourself becoming distracted or your mind begins to wonder, then that’s great because you are already becoming more self aware, you can simply acknowledge the thought and return to whichever part of the body you were at! Once you’ve made your way down to your toes, feel your feet grounding you and take a few deep breaths to end your meditation.
Journaling is a wonderful way to release pent up emotions, thoughts and feelings from our body and onto paper. Also it gives us the opportunity to really be honest about what’s going on in our lives. Whether you want to free flow, and just write about your day or week and get it off your chest, or you’d prefer to answer some prompts to dig deeper into certain areas of your life, it can be very cathartic. I like to journal about not only my challenges, but my idea’s and hopes for the future. I also enjoy writing down a little list of things i’m grateful for each day. It can sometimes be the catalyst for change if we notice what we may need to act upon to reduce causes of stress in our lives. As well as giving us a sense of control and achievement by taking the time out to write.
4. Don’t forget your self care!
Self care will look different for all of us. Not to sound like a cliche, but it is the act of filling up your cup, as you simply cannot pour from an empty one! For me as a mother, I recognise the value in my acts of self care, by knowing that the more I look after myself, the more I’m able to look after my family too! My go- to acts of self care are:
- Drinking more water, this helps keep headaches at bay, aswell as improving my energy levels and allowing my body to function properly!
- Taking a long soak in the bath. I love to light a candle, put on a facemask and switch on some relaxing music. It’s like a little sanctuary away from work, chores and parenting!
- Reading instead of scrolling. I’m trying harder to limit my social media and phone usage before bed, I’ve found that reading a few pages of a book before bed helps my mind to switch off more easily, and help me sleep better. (Until the baby wakes me up of course !)
- Meditation. Sometimes I only have a few moments, other times I may try a 20minute practice, regardless of the time spent, I ALWAYS feel better after meditating.
- Yoga, after spending many years of thinking it was a pointless form of exercise, I now couldn’t be a bigger fan. The art of working your body alongside your mind just feels so empowering!
- If you’d like some self care tools with a mindful guide, check out my ‘Mindfulness in a box’, wellbeing and self care gifts here.
5. Pace yourself.
Don’t feel like you need to make a million changes all at once. You’ll end up feeling more stressed if you suddenly try to cram a whole new regime in on top of your existing routine! One small step at a time will help you ease into new habits, and make you more likely to stick at them. Think along the lines of, one extra glass of water per day or two nights of reading or journaling before bed. You can then increase your time spent being mindful and practicing self care as and when it feels comfortable to do so. Before you know it you might even be enrolling in a new class, or a mindfulness course with a newfound outlook on life. Rome wasn’t built in a day, be kind to yourself. One of the key principles of mindfulness is to be non judgemental, so don’t be hard on yourself if it takes a while to get there. When I teach mindfulness workshops in small businesses and schools to staff , we talk about making ourselves a ‘toolkit’ that includes some easy mindfulness techniques, alongside self care and work/life balance idea’s to empower ourselves to take back control when things feel a bit too much. But also, to prevent ourselves from getting to the point of burnout.
I hope that you’ve found this post useful, and I’d love to hear if you’ve tried any of these techniques yourself and if they work for you? Emma xx