Why incorporating a Mindfulness based practice can help you with your stress and anxiety. Five tips to incorporate.
We’ve all experienced it. The mountain of laundry that never seems to go down. We sigh, resigning ourselves to this chore that we've decided that we hate. Do you even know why you hate it? It doesn't matter, it just has to get done. We tell ourselves, “well I’ll watch one of my favorite TV shows, that will help pass the time”.
Then we start watching something that gets us upset. Your brain starts to think “that housewife is so lucky because she has so much money and can hire a person to do all this stuff for her”. “Jesus, another stain that didn’t come out, now I have to order new shirts”. “Arggghh, another tear, I have to find time to mend these pants”. “I wonder how my mom is doing, I should call her tomorrow.” “Oh crap, I have to remember to get a gift for Mary’s birthday party”. “Oh, that credit card bill is due in two days, how am I going to pay this?” “I hate politicians, they are always taking advantage of the little guy”.
And on and on it goes, down the spiral. And you wonder why you dislike laundry so much. The reality is that laundry, like most things is a part of our lives, but we add stress to our lives by the mental chatter that accompanies everything we do.
Have you ever noticed how sometimes you can be doing a task or driving somewhere and don’t know how you finished it, or how you got there? Your mind wandered into the past, present and future all in the span of 30 minutes or however long I took you to do that task.
And while it seemed mindless, your mind went to work creating stories and subsequently creating anxiety and stress without you even realizing it. By realizing that you’re doing this, you become better equipped to train yourself to stop from mindlessly going down the rabbit hole. This is where mindfulness comes into play.
Many people think that mindfulness is this sitting around Buddha style doing deep breathing and emptying your mind. While that can be a part of it, mindfulness actually tries to make you an observer of your thoughts.
By settling down and watching your thoughts, you come to realize “holy crap, there is a LOT going on up here”. And with that realization, you can begin to explore the judgments, beliefs and feelings you have to these thoughts. You then work to simply focus on reducing and eliminating the stories and judgements you have to an event.
So, in the case of doing the laundry, check in with the thoughts, feelings and judgments that you have around it. The reality is, it’s laundry, it’s clothes that we have worn and have been cleaned. They need to be folded and put away.
Look at the image above. Consider really quickly what thoughts showed up. Did you wonder what she was thinking about? Did you make a judgement? "Oh that poor woman" or ""She's beautiful" or "Ew, I hate the color yellow". it's just a picture of a woman holding an article of clothing, but in 30 seconds, we just created a whole story in our minds. And we do this with just about everything that we do.
Can you imagine, that if you eliminate all of the hemming and hawing, the stories, and “I hate laundry” judgement and self talk, you reduce any anxiety and stress because none of that chatter is allowed to show up and take hold.
Perhaps, you choose not watch anything that could elicit emotions, instead choosing music or nothing at all. While folding laundry, try to focus on the folding of the clothes, mindfully. Feel the texture of the clothes, the towels, ask yourself how they feel and objectively come up with a description of the feeling (i.e. soft, coarse, etc.). If you notice a stain or a tear, just notice it, trying not to create a judgment or a feeling, rather having awareness, putting it to the side for re-wash or throwing out.
This is a small example of how we can use mindfulness to reduce stress and just focus on the task at hand. When other thoughts and feelings start to show up (and they will), simply recognize it and acknowledge that it showed up, trying to remind yourself to focus on the task at hand.
By practicing these breaks from our constant thinking, we reduce our stress, allowing ourselves to reduce the constant feeling that we can’t get anything done, there’s too much to do, we have to do this and that, we have to be this and that. Instead, we just allow ourselves to be, allowing ourselves to b present. Try it out and see what happens.
Tips for a daily practice:
1. Set a timer for 5 minutes and just allow your thoughts to flood your mind.
Recognize the volume of thoughts, feelings and sensations show up, reminding yourself to be an observer, not to engage with the thoughts. As you become more comfortable with the practice, increase the time to 10 or 15 minutes.
2. Allow yourself a few opportunities to sit in silence while you do tasks.
Turn off the TV or radio while doing every day tasks, like laundry, cooking, driving. Can you tune into the thoughts that show up? Can you focus on what your 5 senses are experiencing while you’re doing the activity?
3. Ask yourself how the random thoughts that show up are serving you.
You may get a response that says, “we’re just reminding you not to forget X, Y, Z”. Notice if you’re having a physical reaction (i.e. shortness of breath, a headache, worry).
4. Take some deep breaths, focusing your inhale and exhale on your belly, not in your chest.
Perhaps you can count backwards from 10 to 1, or simply repeat inhale, exhale.
5. Focus on reframing your experience.
Things are not “good” or “bad”. They just are. Shift the narrative from “I have to do this” to “I am focusing on this one thing right now”. Find a mantra or object that keeps you grounded in the present, not in the past or future. You may even benefit from a timer that goes off every 5 minutes during a task to bring you back to the moment.
With practice, you can help reduce your anxiety and worry, allowing yourself to enjoy your life as it comes, without having it hijacked by your thoughts.
My name is Eddie and I am a mindfulness-based therapist in Bordentown, NJ who specializes in trauma, anxiety and Mom stress. I provide online counseling throughout the state of NJ and specifically in Mercer and Burlington County, NJ (Bordentown, Chesterfield, Robbinsville, Hamilton and Princeton). Find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.