Stress is a common feeling that every person experiences at times, resulting from a demand on the brain and body. It can be beneficial, for example when a person is faced with a life-endangering hazard or needs to prepare for a test at school. But an over abundance of stress can also be harmful to your overall health and mental wellbeing. Fortunately, there are ways to manage stress through mindfulness and meditation techniques.
When is Stress Unhealthy?
When people experience stress they react to issues differently than under ordinary circumstances. They come from a place of fear and reaction versus thinking about and analyzing the situation. In fact, stress is the natural response that helped our ancestors survive in the wild against predators. If you feel like you are losing control or are overwhelmed, it could be your body’s way of saying it needs help.
The American Psychology Association lists the following warning signs and symptoms of unhealthy stress:
- Headaches, muscle tension, neck or back pain
- Upset stomach
- Dry mouth
- Chest pains, rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Loss of appetite or overeating “comfort foods”
- Increased frequency of colds
- Lack of concentration or focus
- Memory problems or forgetfulness
- Short temper
Managing Stress through Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a technique that can be used to help people who struggle with elevated levels of stress by refocusing the mind away from nature’s fight-or-flight response. It is the mental state of being aware of your feelings and accepting experiences, rather than reacting to them with aversion and avoidance.
At St. Louis Center for Family Development, we weave the practice of mindfulness into the treatments for all of our clients. We also practice what we teach! In the spirit of National Stress Awareness month, our therapists, mental health professionals and fellows share how they manage their own stress through mindfulness:
- “I practice paying attention to my physical health by exercising. I make sure to make time in my schedule and notice that it helps reduce my anxiety and stress while also boosting my self-confidence and sense of mastery.” Ruth Cajahuaringa – Outpatient Therapist
- “I notice the intensity of my anxiety and physiological sensations of feeling overwhelmed. I breathe in deeply and notice my exhale and focus on my breath. I see an immediate shift from being braced for threat to a state of willingness to approach. It helps my stress decrease and I’m more able to achieve my goals.” Ryan Lindsay – Chief Operating Officer
- “I like to stop what I’m doing and take a deep breath. I let go of thoughts and connect with what my body is telling me, focus on the rise and fall of my breath. This is especially helpful when I find myself frazzled and worried about too many things at once. It slows down my racing mind and helps me focus on an action step.” Brianne Serdar – Leader of Clinical Services
- “To practice mindfulness I close my eyes and imagine a place that is peaceful, and focus on my breathing. When I feel anxiety it steals my ability to focus and stepping out of it helps me re-enter the chaos and deal with it more effectively.” Kathy Emmert – Mental Health Professional
- “When overwhelmed I like to observe my emotion and the physical components of it and label the experience. It helps me become more aware of exactly what I am feeling and the impact on my body and mind. Once I can label my experience I can usually figure out how to manage it. It helps prevent me from spiraling into emotion.” Jenna Kruse – Outpatient Therapist
- “I practice the skill of One Mindfully when I am becoming too overwhelmed and frazzled. I focus on one thing in the moment and give it all my attention. This helps me refocus on what I am doing and center myself.” Yvonne Hertich – Mental Health Professional
- “The skill One Mindfully, turning my attention to one thing in the present moment, is useful in keeping me balanced. I tend to ruminate on tasks I need to get done and I try to bring myself back to focus to be more effective in moving forward.” Emily Dreher – Supervisor of Clinical Services
- “The most helpful mindfulness skill for me is One-Mindfully, focusing on one thing in the moment. I have found it to be helpful when I am stressed about too many things at once and not being able to concentrate on any of them well. When I use this skill I find that the tasks feel more manageable.” Brittany Haus – DBT Fellow
- “I like to use mindfulness when I am uncomfortable in social situations or I need to feel more connected to the person I am communicating with. I practice willing hands, face my palms upward and embrace the moment and listen to the other person’s point of view.” Alisa Harris – Advanced Clinical Social Work Fellow
- “To practice mindfulness I enjoy focusing on exercises that encourage being engaged in the present moment such as practicing yoga or snuggling with my dog. I practice breathing exercise to better address stress and problem solving.” Jenni Nestor – Outpatient Therapist
- “I practice mindfulness by being present in the moment, regardless of what else I have going on in my life. I give my full attention to the task at hand, the conversation I am engaged in, or even if I’m just driving to my next appointment. It provides an opportunity to slow down when life feels too busy.” Amanda Wylie – Advanced Clinical Social Work Fellow
- “When I’m feeling stressed, I will often take a mindful walk with my dog. This practice helps me reconnect to my body and refocuses my awareness on the present moment. After this mindful break, I feel calm and centered, ready to move towards the next task.” Alix Weitman – Mental Health Professional
- “To practice mindfulness I like to go for Mindful Walk. A slow and purposeful walk that can help me focus on my body and breathing, which can alleviate the stress of the day. I can take a walk anywhere, down the hall at work or home, around the block, or on a nature trail!.” Victoria Childers – Director of Business Operations
- “I often practice mindfulness by connecting with nature. I will sit on my patio, hike, or camp and observe the what is occurring around me by watching birds, feeling the breeze, smelling the trees or campfire and doing my best to be present in that moment. I notice this helps me decrease stress and feel more content with life.” Nicole Wood – Director of Clinical Operations
For more information about how to manage stress through mindfulness and to set up a consultation with one of our professionals, contact our office today.