Stress is emerging as one of the most important health problems in modern societies. Its effects are evident on both the physical and mental levels. The demands of society and the need to reconcile professional and personal obligations and desires are factors that increase stress in daily life.
Indeed, in recent decades there has been an increase in the study of not only the factors that influence the amplification of stress and its effects, but also the factors that act protectively in its management. Research has shown that training in mindfulness-based exercises can reduce feelings of distress and increase resilience to stress.
The aim of mindfulness-based techniques is to de-centre one’s negative thoughts, recognise the emotions that accompany them and adopt a tolerant attitude towards them.
The following three techniques for reducing anxiety begin by focusing on the body, as physical reactions to anxiety are the most common and easily identifiable symptom. The first stress management exercise is therefore the body scan, a technique that involves paying attention to your body and senses in a systematic way. Starting from the toes and working up to the head with breathing techniques, the person is asked to pay attention to how all parts of the body feel.
It is often impossible to focus on the body in everyday life because of the fast pace of modern life. We treat the body as if it were only an instrument of performance, when in fact it is an equal part of ourselves. This “scan” will help the person to get in touch with the body that they do not notice during the day. It is suggested to repeat this exercise for 4 weeks, about three to six times a week.
A second exercise to manage stress as part of one’s daily routine can be the “three-minute break”. This is a technique that helps the person to focus on the present experience at times when they feel they are on ‘autopilot’. By systematically repeating the exercise, the person learns to find moments in their daily life when they focus on :
- the experience they are having in the present
- the breath
- and the body as a whole, dedicating (to start with) one minute to each step
It is essential that the person is in a quiet, safe place and has a comfortable posture, so that they are aware of their physical condition during the exercise.
The third and final exercise is “the daily break”. This is a technique that allows the person to take a 20-minute break in their day and engage in an activity that relaxes them (for example, morning coffee, a walk by the sea, a hot shower, yoga, crafts, etc.).
During the exercise, it is important that the person focuses their attention on as many of the stimuli present at the time of the break as possible (images, smells, auditory stimuli) and keeps them in mind as “injections of positivity” for future moments of stress.
Daily rhythms can be difficult and pressurised, creating a need for the person to focus on a future that will bring them pleasure, which causes particular anxiety. However, by focusing on the present and giving one’s routine moments of self-focus that act as positive baggage, one actively contributes to building resilience to stress and improving one’s quality of life.