Health and Wellness Promotion

Stress Management Through Mindfulness

by Sakinah Master, ’21, HAWP Intern

Summer 2020 is atypical to say the least. A lot of the things that we used to do, we can’t anymore. See friends, see family, go on holidays, even summer jobs and internships have taken a turn for the unexpected. And no one saw it coming. For me, the year started off on a high note with life exactly the way it was — I was even studying abroad. Change came quickly, and we had to adapt for the safety of our lives and the lives of people around us. A new normal has slowly, but gradually set in place however, with most of us still stuck at home waiting for this to pass. All of this is bound to cause stress. Stress is normal — it is even healthy sometimes — but the stress of uncertainty, if not dealt with, can become worse in the long-run. 

The summer is meant to be relaxing, a break from the routine where we spend time with people we don't see most of the year, spend time with family, do fun activities, go on hikes, picnics, etc. It was certainly not meant to be this. Staying healthy and staying balanced has become important, now more than ever. A lot of things can be a cause for stress this summer.  The loss of normal, the uncertainty of what is going to happen, the current world climate, the loss of jobs or internships, maybe even an unhealthy routine of sleep and eating that developed while being at home for too long. Dealing with stress is not only important but necessary. Things that cause stress from the outside are known as external stressors. Dealing with the stressor but not stress itself does not solve the problem. It is vital to remember that dealing with stress is not an intellectual decision but a psychological shift. It is important to listen to your body, and finding a good stress management strategy will bring healthy levels of tension. Wellness means having healthy coping mechanisms. 

There are the usual methods to deal with stress that we have all heard and tried. Exercise and physical movement release endorphins that are mood elevators. Making a schedule and sticking to it, keeping your space organized, creative expression like dancing or doing art, and positive self affirmation are all strategies that help alleviate stress. However, many times, people forget about simple breathing. Deep breathing turns off your “fight, flight, freeze” response, it sends a signal to your brain that the threat (the stressor) has passed. It is hard to believe that something so simple and mindless as breathing can help alleviate stress, trust me I didn't’t buy it either. Until I tried it. 

Mindfulness is the practice of staying present and calm. It is simply focusing on your breath and trying to remain grounded. Grounding exercises aim to decrease stress and anxiety by diverting your focus on what is going on inside your head to what is going on inside your body. Mindfulness can even be practiced while drawing or coloring. It can be done through dance, walking, listening to music, and simply anything that allows you to focus on breathing.  The essential idea is to be free from “doing” and instead focused on “being”— letting your body be guided by inhaling and exhaling. People often mix this up with meditation, during which you have to sit still for minutes on end with your eyes closed, in stillness. While meditation helps us focus on the energy and tension in our bodies, it takes a while to reach that kind of discipline. Mindfulness is a step easier, it is simply breathing and being focused on that breath. It is a practice we all should already be doing as it helps us remain grounded and present. The first step to dealing with long term stress management is mindfulness. 

Studies have shown that being mindful for even 5-10 minutes a day has, not only mental, but physical benefits. The body is healthier, fitter, and more calm and focused. Overall work productivity is increased and you are able to deal with pressure, stress and anxiety in a healthy manner. I would encourage you to start —breathe and the effects will follow with consistency. Choose a time of day that suits you best, I personally practice right before going to bed. This time not only allows me to be reflective of my day, but calm down before going to bed. There are many apps that are available for free and easy to use; visit HAWP's list of virtual wellness resources for suggestions. I would also recommend Calm or Headspace. Brandeis Zen Zone, offered through the Center for Spiritual Life, is on hiatus for the summer but will be back in the fall. You can also find guidebooks online with day-to-day plans to help you progress with your mindfulness. 

Stress is inevitable, life isn't perfect, and we all have reasons to be stressed everyday. Mindfulness is a simple activity that allows you to be present while doing the things you love. Moreover, the summer is the perfect time to start this practice with the little extra time on our hands that we have. I hope you try it out — the results will be long-term and tremendously change your life.