Technical Advisor at Bio-Kult, Andrea Burton, gives us their top 5 ways to beat stress using mindfulness techniques.
Mindfulness involves paying attention to what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. It is thought that paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing.
Studies have found that mindfulness decreases stress sensitivity, increases stress management, improves concentration and improves physical resilience. Mindfulness therapies have more recently been used for healthy people, and for employees and managers in healthcare settings, and other stressful occupations, with promising results for stress reduction.
Here are a few different techniques that can be utilised in order to practice mindfulness.
This is a wonderful technique to encourage you to pay attention to yourself and the present moment. Lying comfortably, slowly move your attention through different parts of the body, starting from the top of your head moving all the way down to the end of your toes. Focus on feelings of warmth, tension, tingling or relaxation of different parts of your body, the texture of clothing against the skin, the contours of the surface on which the body is resting, the temperature of the body and the environment.
Find a space at a window where there are sights to be seen outside. Look at everything there is to see. Avoid labelling and categorising what you see outside the window – instead of thinking ‘bird’ or ‘stop sign’, try to notice the colours, the patterns or the textures. Pay attention to the movement of the grass or leaves in the breeze. Notice the many different shapes present in this small segment of the world you can see. Try to see the world outside the window from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with these sights. If you become distracted, gently pull your mind away from those thoughts and notice a colour or shape again to put you back in the right frame of mind.
Five Senses Exercise
This is a quick and relatively easy exercise to bring you to a mindful state quickly:
- Notice five things that you can see. Look around you and bring your attention to five things that you can see. Pick something that you wouldn’t normally notice, like a shadow or a small crack in the concrete.
- Notice four things that you can feel. Bring awareness to four things that you are currently feeling, like the texture of your jumper or the smooth surface of a table you are resting your hands on.
- Notice three things you can hear. Take a moment to listen and note three things that you hear in the background.
- Notice two things you can smell. Bring your awareness to smells that you usually filter out, whether they’re pleasant or unpleasant.
- Notice one thing you can taste. You can take a sip of a drink, chew a piece of gum, eat something, or notice the current taste in your mouth.
60 Second Meditation
You can calm and centre yourself anywhere anytime with a simple 60 second meditation practice. Meditation is used to help focus the mind, improving clarity, concentration, decision making, stress management and a general sense of well-being. You could put a 1 minute timer on your phone, close your eyes and concentrate on your breath as it first enters your nostril and as it leaves the body. Notice the rhythm, how your chest and stomach rise and fall, the experience of breathing in and expelling. Don’t try to change the way you are breathing but rather just hold gentle awareness of the breath.
The digestive system is especially vulnerable to the presence of chronic stress, and digestive discomfort is often an early warning sign that stress might be affecting you physically. When our ‘fight or flight’ stress response is activated, the blood supply to the digestive system is suppressed and instead sent to other organs of the body, making it harder for us to digest our food. A recent study showed that our stress levels have a negative impact on our gut microbiome which can lead to an imbalance in gut bacteria (dysbiosis). Dysbiosis can then affect the regulation of our neurotransmitters and increase the permeability of the gut lining, leading to symptoms such as constipation and diarrhoea, stomach cramps, bloating and acid reflux.
So, set aside time for meals away from the computer, phone, tv and make sure to sit at a table whilst eating. Chewing food well will help to stimulate digestive juices, so put your cutlery down between mouthfuls, and focus on the textures and flavours of your meal. Another study suggested that mindfulness can decrease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) severity, but it is mindfulness and physical activity together that can affect the severity of IBS symptoms, so perhaps go for a short walk before eating.
Clinical trials indicate that live bacteria supplements such as Bio-Kult may be of benefit in helping to manage symptoms of stress. Regularly consuming traditionally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt and kefir may also be of benefit.
Read more advice from Bio-Kult on how to manage IBS.