The first thing to point out (without it sounding too obvious) is that we are only human, and being human means we have been given some pretty basic brain equipment that was ideally designed for living in tribes on the plains where wild animals and other real physical dangers were present every day.
In an ideal world, we would have scrapped the initial brain and started again but unfortunately evolution doesn’t work that way and instead we had to grow a new section (neocortex) on top of the ancient part of the brain.
Today stress is no longer associated with running from wild animals but it is still very common for us all and we need to find ways to manage that stress in our lives to prevent it becoming chronic, which is when it leads to other issues such as burn out, anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness helps us manage our stress better. It helps us keep calm, focused and resilient to external stress. It helps us step out of negative thinking and anxious thoughts that can run through our mind day and night.
We can become more mindful through meditation and also through practicing mindfulness and breathing practices.
Here’s are 5 of the easiest and quickest exercises to try today:
- Be still and quiet for five minutes
We are not machines and it’s an important skill to be able to rest and recharge. Professional athletes do this for peak performance and we also need to treat our mind in exactly the same way. Especially when we are learning. Resting gives our mind a chance to process and store our learning.
Meditation is the perfect exercise where you sit in a comfortable position and follow guided instructions to focus on your breath and learn to let the busy mind fade into the background.
Here’s the link to a short meditation from the Time To Flourish mindfulness channel on Youtube for you to try.
- Get outside
Nature is healing and energising and boosts our mood (as well as out vitamin D if it’s sunny enough). Mindful walking is a lovely exercise where you go outside and focus your mind on your senses and surroundings.
Try this guided walking mediation from the Time To Flourish mindfulness channel on Youtube:
- Get creative
Creative tasks such as cooking, painting, writing, photography or even rearranging our rooms and changing pictures on the wall help us find that lovely flow state; the state where we are fully engrossed in the task at hand. This is both restful and energising and in the end, you also get that lovely hit of feel good chemicals when you complete the task and enjoy the finished result (especially if it’s baking chocolate cake!).
- Slow your breathing
Anxiety is commonly associated with uncertainty around the future. Teens are still experiencing extra high levels of uncertainty and change which is manifesting as anxiety for many. Anxiety switches on the stress response and a great way to find the off switch is through our breathing.
If we can slow and deepen our breathing then we can send a signal directly to our body that we are ok and there is no need to get ready to fight or flight.
This simple breathing practice called 4 square breathing is perfect for this and is also great to try with younger children.
Four square breathing
Breathe in for a count of 4
Hold for a count of 4
Breathe out for a count of 4
Hold for a count of 4
Repeat 4 or 5 times
- Remember the limitations of the mind
Our minds are made to think. We are also programmed with a negativity bias because being cautious maximises our chance of survival. The humans who were cautious survived and passed these cautious genes down to the next generation, which is why they are so common today.
In general, we don’t like uncertainty and change brings uncertainty so as soon as change is present we feel out of our comfort zone and try to predict the future in our minds, normally in the form of imagining different scenarios.
The big issue here is that this is when the negativity bias kicks in and we often end up inventing all sorts of worst case scenarios in our minds. Even worse than that is the fact that our minds often can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined so the thought of an unfavourable outcome is enough to trip the stress switch and get us in a state of panic or anxiety.
The answer is to keep our minds focused on the present moment and to stop us from drifting into autopilot where the mind is left in charge.
Meditation trains us to keep in the present moment, so regularly practicing it can have a real and lasting benefit on our mindset – it literally rewires our brain for positivity.
To learn more about starting a mindfulness practice, take our free introduction course.
Or sign up for our next 8 week group mindfulness courses starting in April. All parents and teenagers are welcome on their own, or together.