Your to-do list makes you want to cry.
Your emotions are escalating.
Everything is happening too fast.
You can’t think straight.
You’re multi-tasking and making mistakes.
Your heart rate is starting to increase.
Stress is overwhelming you and you just don’t know what to do.
In those moments, it can help to take a step back. Slow down a little. Remember to breathe. Show yourself compassion.
You can also use a mindfulness technique to become present with yourself and the world around you. By being mindful, you can give yourself some space to experience the now – just as it is. No need to eliminate stress, or change it, or push it away.
Sometimes, it’s important to give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel in a non-judgmental way and simply tune in to your senses or your environment, mindfully.
Below, you’ll discover five simple mindfulness techniques you can use anytime. However, they can be particularly helpful when stress starts to feel overwhelming.
By focusing your attention on the present moment in a non-judgmental way, not only will you be practicing mindfulness, you’ll also be taking a break from spiraling stress thoughts, slowing yourself down and perhaps, gaining a little clarity.
Take 10 mindful breaths.
Move your attention to your breath. Count each breath slowly in your mind – “one… two… three…” and continue until you reach ten. As you take these ten breaths, pay attention to the sensations of them. Notice the air filling up your body and perhaps feeling a slight sense of relaxation as you exhale.
Your mind might wander, which is okay. Re-focus on your breath and continue counting from the last number you can remember.
2. Listen to different sounds.
Tune in to your sense of sound and simply listen to everything you can hear.
If you’re inside, you might hear the hum of an air conditioner, or people talking, or rain on the roof. Random sounds might pop into your awareness, like a dog barking, or a plane going overhead, or a phone notification. If it’s really quiet, you might even hear the soft sound of your own breath.
If you’re outside, you might hear birds chirping, the wind in the trees, or traffic.
Try not to label sounds as “good” or “bad” - just listen to them.
3. Be aware of your emotions.
Sometimes, you might feel overwhelmed without even really knowing why. This can be a great time to become aware of your emotions and gain a better understanding of what’s unfolding for you, internally.
Shift your awareness to your emotions by just noticing what you’re feeling.
Does your emotion have a physical sensation?
Where can you feel it in your body?
For example, some people notice that stress has physical sensations like a racing heart, sweatiness, tightness in the body, or a sick feeling in the stomach.
As you notice the physical sensations, try not to judge them as “wrong”. Notice them as non-judgementally as you can by just observing – for example, “I can feel my heart beating faster than normal, I have a sick feeling in my stomach, my back and shoulders have become tense”.
Allow yourself to be curious about your emotions and to explore them as open-mindedly as you can. Seek to understand yourself and your emotions more, rather than to change anything.
4. Do a body scan.
This can be a simple and effective mindfulness technique to use, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed. By focusing your attention on your body, you can give yourself a break from external stimulation, to-do lists, or anything else which might be triggering your experience of stress. Simply move your attention through your body from your toes up to the top of your head (or vice versa).
Here is an example of how to go about this:
Focus your attention on your toes. Feel any sensations in your toes, just letting your attention rest there for a few moments.
Notice the rest of your feet; the arches of your feet, the tops of your feet, your heels. Ankles.
Move your awareness up your legs. Notice your shins and calves. Observe your knees and the backs of your knees. Hamstrings, quadriceps, inner thighs, outer thighs.
Notice your groin, buttocks and pelvic region.
Observe your lower back, middle back and upper back. You might like to let your attention flow over your spine, visualizing it as a string of pearls.
Move your awareness over your stomach, ribcage, chest and shoulders.
Allow your attention to move down your arms; armpits, upper arms, elbows, elbow creases, lower arms, wrists.
Notice the backs of your hands, the palms of your hands, your knuckles and each finger and thumbs.
Move your attention to your neck, head and face.
Notice all the different features of your face, including your forehead, eyebrows, eyes and eyelids, cheeks, nose, lips, tongue, chin and ears.
Take a little bit of time to observe your entire body, as a whole.
You can take as long as you like with this practice and change it to suit you – feel free to explore each body part in more depth or observe sensations as you move your awareness over your body (like temperature, tension and relaxation).
If you like, you could even record yourself reading the body scan so you can listen to it with your eyes closed.
5. Notice the weather and the season.
Either go outside or look out a window and notice everything you can about the weather and the season.
Observe drops of rain on a window or feel the sunshine on your skin.
Notice the temperature.
Look at the trees – are they bare, or colorful, or green and thriving?
Observe the shapes of any clouds in the sky.
Listen to the different sounds of nature.
Non-judgmentally experience the weather and the season for a simple mindfulness practice at any time!
Keep in mind that some mindfulness techniques might resonate with you more than others. Some techniques might suit different situations better. Some techniques might challenge you. Some might feel simple and effortless.
Experiment with these mindfulness techniques and develop a regular practice to find out what works best for you so that when stress starts to feel overwhelming, you’ll know just what to do.
Which mindfulness technique will you be trying out first?
Written by Rachael Kable.
Rachael Kable is a mindfulness and meditation teacher from Mount Beauty, Australia. She is the host of The Mindful Kind podcast and her first book – also called The Mindful Kind – was published in early 2019. With a background in psychology, coaching and meditation, Rachael whole-heartedly supports people around the world to implement mindfulness and manage stress.