Mindfully Managing Stress
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Mindfulness is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”
Many of us strive to practice Mindfulness by engaging in practices like yoga or meditation. Some practice Mindfulness in other ways, like while walking, or during exercise.
Most people agree that being Mindful is a challenge, even on our best days. But what happens when stress hits? That’s usually when we feel like our stress-management tools go out the window.
I’m here to share what I consider to be the very first step in mindful stress management. This comes originally from Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy (DBT). DBT was invented by Marsha Linehanoriginally for the treatment of people with high levels of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Since it’s development, it has been expanded to include anyone who is looking for strategies to improve their quality of life. Mindfulness is a core-component of DBT, and DBT also shows some similarities with Eastern philosophies and spiritual practices like Buddhism.
Mindful Stress Management, what are our options?
If you re-read the definition of Mindfulness, two of the most important words that may stand out are “nonjudgmental” and “awareness.” Whenever we are faced with stress, the first step is acknowledging that we are overwhelmed, and looking at the situation from a place of nonjudgement – towards the situation, and towards the way we are handling it. While practicing this nonjudgmental awareness, we can ask ourselves the following questions:
- What exactly is the problem I am trying to solve, in this exact moment?
- What are my options in handling this problem?
According to DBT, we have FOUR options to choose from, whenever we are faced with any problem. They are:
- Do nothing. Stay Miserable, and Stay Stressed.
- Solve the Problem. Do something to make the external stressor go away.
- Feel Better About the Problem (or Regulate our Response to it). Change our perspective, or focus on where we DO have control and make our lives better, so that the problem doesn’t bother us so much.
- Tolerate the Problem. This doesn’t make the problem go away, and we are likely to still feel frustrated by it, but if we learn strategies to tolerate the problem, it decreases our chances of making it worse (and therefore making life even MORE stressful).
So the next time you find yourself stressed out and overwhelmed, ask yourself “What’s stressing me out right now, and how have I been handling it?” Have you been tolerating it? Doing nothing? Trying to change your perspective? Then, ask yourself if choosing one of the other problem-solving strategies might be more effective for you today. If you’ve been tolerating a problem that’s been happening over, and over, and over again, maybe you want to give solving the problem a try, or seeing if you can add in some positive life events that will develop your emotional resilience and give that problem less power.
Mindful stress management is about learning to ask these questions and make these decisions day-by-day, moment-by-moment. However, in order to do so, we must practice those core components of Mindfulness: nonjudgmental awareness, so that we can take a look at our problem-solving strategies in a balanced and effective manner.
If you live in the Rhode Island area, and would like to learn more about Mindful Stress Management, check-out my upcoming workshop at Breathing Time Yoga on Saturday, March 4th in Pawtucket, RI, titled “Riding the Wave: Mindful Stress Management and Stress Tolerance.” The drop-in fee for workshop participants is $17. You can register by creating an online account and then reserving your space.