How Mindfulness supports the skillful response to stressful times:

There is no doubt that practicing mindfulness supports a skillful response to stressful situations. In this article, I explain five ways mindfulness increases self-management and resilience while reducing stress, overwhelm and burnout.

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment in a particular way, on purpose and non-judgmentally. Practicing mindfulness supports us in noticing what is present within and around us. This is helpful because, in this state of awareness, we notice what is present beyond the autopilot awareness and have more control over how we respond.

Here are some of the key ways mindfulness can support you to respond skillfully to stressful situations:

1. Have a Daily Mindfulness Practice.

Without a doubt, daily mindfulness practice is the best way to build your mental and emotional resilience. Studies show that even practising for ten minutes a day can reap positive benefits, reducing stress and increasing mental and emotional resilience and wellbeing.

Perhaps consider what time of day is best to commit to your daily practice – stay open and re-evaluate what’s working and what’s not. You might find that you fall asleep when practising in the evening, and morning time is more suitable for you instead. Practice patience while you find the ideal times for you. What’s important is that you give yourself the gift of daily practice.

2. Anchor Anchor Anchor

In mindfulness, our anchor is a safe and ever-present place to rest our attention. Effectively, placing the attention on the anchor gives the mind a rest and brings us into the present moment. From here, we can choose a skillful response over a reaction.

The great thing about the anchor is that it is mobile and accessible anytime and anywhere. Examples of the anchor are placing our attention on our breath, feet, hands, contact with the seat we are sitting on, or something we can see, hear, smell, or touch.

One analogy compares the mind to a little sailing boat. When the boat is anchored, it has some flexibility, yet safe in the bay. Without the anchor, the current can sweep it out to stormy seas. Much like the sailing boat, the anchor enables presence and flexibility of mind without getting carried away into stormy thoughts and emotions that can cause unnecessary anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, and stress.

3. Healthy Perspective 

Mindfulness enables us to notice what is present. This includes becoming aware of our unhelpful reactions to situations. I certainly know of more moments than I care to recall where I became aware of how my reactions added to and prolonged problems. Although welcome awakenings, at times, they were bittersweet too.

Noticing the urge to explode into unhelpful reactions allows the space to pause and take a moment to look beyond the autopilot reaction and choose a new and healthier response to challenging situations. For example, imagine you are stuck in traffic and late for a meeting. The autopilot reaction will create movies in mind, full of judgement, fear, blame, catastrophe and dread (or maybe that’s just me!). Instead, the mindful response enables us to notice the tension and stress rising in the body, the unhelpful thoughts and emotions associated with the fortune teller within. Yet, within the mindful pause (anchoring), you can also engage the rational mind, accepting that there is nothing you can do about the traffic or the passage of time. Your healthier perspective also enables you to gather yourself for the meeting and arrive grounded, calm and most likely meeting the realization that everyone else was late too due to the same traffic disruptions.

4. Healthy communication and relationships with yourself and the world around you.

Mindfulness supports us in noticing what is happening, internally and externally and choosing skillful responses.

Have you ever been in a situation where you reacted, immediately regretted your reaction, and later hindsight presented all of the more helpful woulda coulda shoulda’s? Practicing mindfulness enables us to notice and catch our triggers before they run away with us. While also choosing a more skillful response to what is happening. The mindful response also increases our ability to accept what has happened and let it go, increasing resilience and reducing rumination. Therefore, it creates space for healthier communication, more authentic and genuine conversations, and relationships with yourself and the people around you.

5. Increased compassion and self-compassion.

Compassion is empathy with action/ Therefore, feeling what’s present and tending to the situation with a solution-focused approach. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, mindfulness is not mindfulness without compassion. Being mindful enables us to address what needs tending to in skillful ways. Overwhelm and worry may also be present, but managing ourselves and others with compassion enables stability and presence without becoming lost in helplessness. Instead, moment by moment, we can manage ourselves and the situation in skillful ways, as best we can.

These are some of the benefits of practicing mindfulness. However, on a personal note, I cannot emphasize the importance of personal daily practice. If you miss a day, remember the next day is a new beginning and opportunity to begin again. Daily practice builds our mental and emotional muscles to notice what’s present and choose the skillful response over the automatic pilot. Managing ourselves in this way leads to the formation of new habits that support holistic wellbeing, healthy relationships and ultimately, the experience we create in this journey called life, moment by moment by moment.

About the Author

Hilary Connor is a Mindfulness Teacher and Life Coach. She has a Master of Science in Mindfulness Based Wellbeing and H. Dip in Coaching Psychology from University College Cork. Hilary’s passion is helping her global client base increase their mental and emotional wellbeing, find direction, identify purpose and improve their relationships through positive psychology, coaching and mindfulness-based interventions. She regularly holds mindfulness-based wellbeing retreats and courses, including the MBSR.

Hilary also works regularly with the Dept of Education, Health Service Executive and South Dublin County Council sharing her skillset, compassion and a warm welcome to all who attend. Hilary is a member of the MTAI and EMCC and practices under the organisations’ codes of ethics.

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