How to Be Mindful Even When You’re Super Stressed Out

What? How did this happen? I can’t do this! This is too stressful!

Sound familiar? Our lives are crazy busy these days, so it’s important we can anchor ourselves to the present and mentally clear out whatever is worrying us or stressing us out. Dealing with feelings of stress, anger and anxiety is super hard, so what can we do?

We spoke with Harriet Sciberras, a yoga teacher with experience in mental health support work and health psychology research, and Elisa Phillips-Turner, who works as a crisis supporter with Lifeline Australia, to get the best tips for staying mindful in these five situations.

You’re stressed at work

Whether it’s a looming deadline, countdown to a presentation, a frustrating boss or a pile of work that keeps growing, it’s no fun stressing about work. How can we best cope with it?

Sciberras recommends practicing breathing techniques. One of her favourites is ‘box breath’ or ‘four square breathing’. Here, you inhale for the count of four, hold for four, exhale for four and hold the breath out for four. You can even close your eyes and imagine you’re drawing a box with the breath. She also suggests setting an hourly reminder in your calendar to remind yourself to practice breathing. This means consciously thinking about your inhale and exhale. This exercise will help to re-centre, focus and slow down the heart rate and improve your overall efficiency at work.

If you have a little more time (and the weather allows), Phillips-Turner suggests going for a walk outside. Fresh air and stepping away from the stressful environment will work wonders for clearing your mind, and allow you to return and focus on the issue.

You can’t focus in a yoga class

Our minds are super busy and it can be hard to switch off and be mindful in a yoga class, particularly if it’s during your lunch break or after a busy day’s work.

Try focusing on different sensations in the body: the feel of the mat beneath you, making your breath lengths equal and longer. Sciberras says using these cues as a ‘hook’ will help you to be mindful during your yoga practice.

Phillips-Turner also suggests thinking actively about each muscle you are using. Are they contracting, loosening or stretching as you are doing the workout? It’s also important to listen to your body. Maybe what is being offered isn’t for you at this time and it’s best to take a few breaths in child’s pose or another position you like.

You’re stuck in traffic

It’s peak hour and you haven’t moved. Your blood is starting to boil and the stress, anger and anxiety starts to kick in. These bad feelings aren’t going away, just like the traffic, so what can we do about them? Unfortunately flying cars aren’t available yet, so let’s use some fun strategies to calm us down. Sciberras suggests chanting or singing. Turn up the radio or plug in your favourite tunes and sing it all out!

If you think you’re going to be stuck in traffic, plan for it. Download interesting podcasts, an audio book or mediation tracks (make sure they’re driving-appropriate). If you’re with others, there are plenty of mindful fun games to play like eye-spy or try and spell the alphabet using the car plates around you.

Phillips-Turner also says to sit with the moment and remember that there is nothing you can do to change the situation and that it isn’t permanent.

You’re going through a tough breakup or divorce

During these times, we often think about the past and it can be hard to stop the voices in our heads. Phillips-Turner recommends allowing yourself to sit with the acknowledge how you feel with the distressing feelings first occur. Take time to think about the breakup or divorce and what it means for your life moving forward. By spending time thinking about how why the relationship didn’t work, you will eventually accept your new reality, and grow from the experience.

To help us move on, Sciberras suggests also moving the body and practicing visualisation. Practice mindfulness of movement by taking a slow walk outside and focus on each step connecting with the earth. This aims to bring the ‘monkey mind’ back to focus on the present.

Bringing a soft, gentle, kind attitude to yourself is also extremely crucial. While in bed or on lying on the couch, bring your hand onto heart for support, and visualise a bright light in the heart centre glowing brighter as you breathe in and strengthening the muscle of the heart as you breathe out.

You’re moving house

Anyone who’s tackled the exercise of moving house will agree it’s a physically and emotionally challenging event. The best way to start is to plan ahead to reduce potential stresses. Will there be peak-hour traffic? Do you need help from family, friends or a removalist?

Phillips-Turner recommends taking the time to think about what moving house means to you. Is this a transitional phase of your life where you may be embarking on a new chapter? Are you moving for a reason – a new job or partner? Focusing on the positives may help relieve some of the stress of the administrative duties associated with moving!

When stressed or anxious often we breathe shallowly and through the mouth. So during the move, Sciberras suggests consciously focusing on making your exhale breath longer. This encourages the body to shift out of fight-or-flight or freeze mode and helps support your body to remove stress hormones like cortisol and adrenal, also reducing post-move fatigue.

Don’t forget, it’s always important to talk to someone if you’re feeling extremely overwhelmed or distressed, even it’s just a friend, family member or colleague. Just talking about what is stressing you out for five minutes will immediately make you feel calmer, and allow you to constructively think about your problem.

Jacqui Minell manages professional standards for a wealth management business and is a yoga teacher who loves sharing mindfulness and well-being practices in the workplace and with family and friends. When she's not in her corporate or gym gear you'll find her boating and fishing, eating an over-catered for picnic spread with her favourite Champagne and catching up on Home and Away or Madam Secretary.