Are You Feeling Anxious and Overwhelmed?

Research shows how this simple practice can help right now.

Posted Aug 05, 2020

Image by Diane Dreher
Source: Image by Diane Dreher

Wherever You Go, There You Are, the title of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s (2009) book on mindfulness, offers a powerful reminder: wherever you go, your energies and awareness inform everything you do. Today, when so many of us are dealing with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can benefit from this simple practice: taking short mindfulness breaks.

In these uncertain times, millions of us have been feeling distressed, fearful, and anxious. Yet research shows that chronic stress weakens our immune system (Cresswell & Lindsey, 2014). Stress also undermines our ability to respond to the people and situations around us. It prevents us from seeing the big picture, engaging in long-range planning, and coming up with new solutions to the problems in our lives. Stress triggers us to react defensively when people disagree with us, sabotaging our relationships at home and at work (Dreher, 2015; Lupien, McEwen, Gunnar,  & Heim, 2009). Have you experienced one or more of these reactions?

To better understand how our attitudes and energies affect those around us, researchers in Singapore measured the mindfulness of 96 supervisors along with their employees’ health, well-being, and job performance. These researchers found that the employees with leaders who practiced mindfulness were not only significantly healthier and more balanced, but also demonstrated better job performance (Reb, Narayan, & Chaturvedi, 2014). Like the ripples from a pebble tossed into a pond, the mindfulness of these leaders rippled out to touch everyone around them.

Beginning a simple daily mindfulness practice could make a positive difference in your life. Whenever you feel stressed, you can try this brief mindfulness break:

  • Pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and, if possible, close your eyes.
  • Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Name the feeling—stress, anger, fear, disappointment, overwhelm. Whatever it is, simply naming the feeling without judging makes it manageable. Just notice it and let it go.
  • Then return your attention to your breathing.
  • Now expand your attention to your body as a whole. How are you feeling—your shoulders, your neck, your muscles, your breath? Just notice this and let it go.
  • Take another long, deep breath and release it as you feel your body gradually release the tension you’ve been holding. Are you feeling less stressed, more present, more in touch with your body?

With greater mindfulness, you can begin transforming your response to life’s challenges, bringing greater clarity, compassion, and cooperation to your world. The answer is as close as your next breath.

This post is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.

References

Cresswell, J. D., & Lindsay, E.K. (2014). How does mindfulness training affect health? A mindfulness stress buffering account. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 401-407.

Dreher, D. E. (2015). Leading with compassion: A moral compass for our time. In T. G. Plante (Ed.). The psychology of compassion and cruelty: Understanding the emotional, spiritual, and religious influences (pp. 73-87). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2009). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hachette Books.

Lupien, S., McEwen, B. S., Gunnar, M. R., & Heim, C. (2009). Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour, and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10, 434-445.

Reb, J., Narayanan, J., & Chaturvedi, S. (2014). Leading mindfully: Two studies on the influence of supervisor trait mindfulness on employee well-being and performance. Mindfulness, 5, 36-45.