You may feel stressed-out when waiting in a line at the bank or the post office, when driving in traffic or along an unfamiliar route, when facing a deadline, or when having an uncomfortable conversation.
You can even experience stress reactions as a result of anticipating or remembering such events.
Though these stresses seem fairly minor, they can cause all sorts of symptoms, such as muscular tension, headaches, insomnia, gastrointestinal upset, and skin conditions. Long-term stress can also be a factor in serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and dementia, particularly if you rely on unhealthy strategies to cope with stress, such as smoking, substance abuse, overeating, or overworking.
One of the gifts that mindfulness offers is helping you recognize that there are choices in how you respond to any stressful situation.
Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, describes this eloquently: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” (Pattakos 2008, viii).
Even amidst Frankl’s imprisonment, he found ways to provide comfort and healing to those around him, underscoring that, with awareness, everyone has freedom of choice how to respond. The key is awareness.
Of course, conditioning is a powerful force that can make it difficult to change. Just as water finds the path of least resistance, you’ll tend to fall back on habits because in many ways this is the easiest course to follow. This includes habitual ways of seeing and reacting.
To help provide motivation for the challenging work of turning off your autopilot and resisting habitual reactions and behaviors, mindfulness activities such as Mandala art , meditation or breath awareness will help you explore how stress is impacting your life.
Becoming truly aware of the stress in your life and how you interact with it is a necessary first step in choosing new responses that will serve you better.
Let me ask you today – Are you aware in the present moment? And from a scale of 1-10 how aware are you?
(Adapted from the book- Mindfulness Stress Based Reduction workbook)