Reduce stress and anxiety during pregnancy with these simple mindfulness and meditation techniques.
These concepts might seem strange and like something for hippies, sitting cross legged on a mountain, but they are actually useful, practical concepts that can improve your everyday life. If you’ve ever had a tension headache or felt sick and shaky before a meeting or struggled to fall asleep, then you could benefit from learning more. Mindfulness can be used to both stop you from becoming anxious and help reduce anxiety when it is occurring.
Our bodies are really well designed and have an emergency system that kicks in when we are threatened. This helps us to stay safe when we need too. Most of us live with this system on alert at times when we are not in danger. This means that our bodies are tense, and our breathing is shallow, and we can have pain and anxiety, because our brain can trigger this response by overthinking.
Mindfulness simply means paying attention to the present moment. This means letting all thoughts about the future and the past drift through your mind without giving them attention and being aware of right now. Think about when was the last time you felt completely present in the moment? Learning this skill allows your body to relax and switches off your emergency responses.
There are many ways to become more mindful. Any activity can become mindful if you pay attention to the process and consciously do all the components. In any moment use all your senses, what can you see, feel, taste, smell, hear? Focus on the most relevant sense or include all of them. This is very immersive and takes you out of your head and into the moment. For example, listen to music, being aware of all the patterns and instruments and feelings the music evokes, or making tea, hear the kettle boiling, see the steam, smell the tea, watch the milk make clouds in your drink.
Another way to become more mindful is to focus on your breathing. This can be done anywhere at any time. Simply feel yourself breathe. Feel the air enter and leave your body and your chest rise and fall. This brings you into the present and into your body. You don’t need to change your breathing, just pay attention to it. If you notice that your breathing is fast and shallow you may want to try a few long slow breathes.
A third method is to focus on your body and allow the muscles to soften and your body to relax. This is especially useful if you are feeling panic as it’s hard to manage your breathing then. Mentally run your focus over your body. Drop your shoulders down, smooth your forehead, drop your tongue down in your mouth. Unclench your hands and jaw, let your legs feel heavy and relaxed. This is a great one to try lying in bed if you are struggling to fall asleep.
These methods are circuit breakers and bring you into the present, turning off the emergency systems. You can do these whenever you remember too.
You can extend these ideas out into a meditation, where you sit quietly for a longer period, allowing your thoughts to enter and leave your mind without any judgement, coming back to your breathing and body whenever you lose focus. This practice can increase the feelings of calmness and control over thoughts and anxiety responses, creating a longer-term effect of self-regulation. If you want to do longer meditations with some guidance in the form of instructions or music, there are some great scripts on calm, headspace, and other apps.
Mindfulness and meditation are quite simple concepts, but they may take some practice. They do not have to be done perfectly, there is no real right or wrong way to do them. Make them your own and do your best. The goal is to make yourself feel more in control of your body and thoughts and to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and increase calm.