Two-thirds of Americans say they need help for stress. But stress itself is not the problem. It’s how we relate to stress. The stress response is critical to our survival. It can save our lives or enable a firefighter to carry a 300-pound man down 20 flights of stairs. Of course, most of us don’t encounter a life-or-death threat all that often. We usually experience stress reactions in response to thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations. If we’re actively worried about whether we can put food on the table or get the perfect exam score, presto: the stress reaction activates. And if the bodily systems involved in stress don’t slow down and normalize, the effects can be severe. Over time, we can succumb to, among other things, high blood pressure, muscle tension, anxiety, insomnia, gastrodigestive complaints, and a suppressed immune system.
Creating space in the day to stop, come down from the worried mind, and get back into the present moment has been shown to be enormously helpful in mitigating the negative effects of our stress response. When we drop into the present, we’re more likely to gain perspective and see that we have the power to regulate our response to pressure.
Here’s a short practice you can weave into your day to step into that space between stimulus and response.
For a .pdf version of this practice, click here.
For more on mindfulness practice, visit our mindfulness practice page.
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This article also appeared in the August 2013 issue of Mindful magazine.