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living with mindfulness - managing stress

A Healthy Hearts Guide  WHF red heart corporate logo ®

woman stretching

  • Stress is a normal part of every day life.

  • While you may not be able to prevent many stressful situations, you can control your reactions to them. Practicing mindfulness each day can help.

Reactions to stress can have a negative effect on health. It can lead to high blood pressure, a rapid resting pulse rate and can cause heart rhythm disturbances. Reactions to stress can weaken the immune system which then leads to a variety of illnesses. It is important to learn how to handle stress. Mindfulness Meditation has been shown to help a person manage stressful situations by increasing one’s awareness and by making the mind more receptive to one’s current situation and internal states. It is a method of fully embracing with minimal resistance one’s current life situation and internal states. One can bring about increased awareness to any activity. Here are some examples:

  • Being Mindful of Emotions
    With Mindfulness Meditation, one can learn to be less judgmental. Being less judgmental helps to bring about a more relaxed state. One can learn to watch anger and other emotional states with compassion. This enables one to eventually let go of these states or, at least, keep from intensifying them.
  • Being Mindful of Eating
    Increasing one’s awareness of eating may benefit those who are trying to make changes in their eating habits. Here is how to increase your awareness of eating.
    • Look at the food you are about to eat. Focus on what it consists of. Ask yourself,"Do I still want to take this food into my body?"
    • Pay close attention to every bite. Food eaten mindfully will be easier to digest and you will be less likely to overeat.
    • Just after eating, notice how the food you ate affects your digestive system. Does it agree with you? Notice how you feel when eating a low fat meal versus a high fat meal...a candy bar snack versus a raw vegetable snack.
  • Mindful Stretching Exercises
    Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises done very slowly with moment to moment awareness of breathing and of the sensations that arise is yoga. Yoga seeks to unite the body, mind and spirit. This can result in improved health and vitality.
  • Mindful Breathing and Sitting as a Meditation
    Mindful breathing and sitting (meditation) helps to relax and focus the mind. Just 5 minutes a day can make you feel more refreshed and energetic. Here are some guidelines for practicing mindful breathing and sitting:
    1. Make a special time and place for “non–doing”.
    2. Adopt an alert and relaxed body posture.
    3. Look dispassionately at the reactions and habits of your mind.
    4. Bring your attention to your breathing by counting silently “1” on inhalation and “2” on exhalation, “3” on inhalation, etc. When you reach number “10”, return to number “1”. (If you go beyond the number 10, then you know your mind has wandered).
    5. When your mind wanders, name what it wanders to and come back to the breathing.
    6. Once you have practiced focusing on your breathing, you can use sensation, sound or watching thoughts as your point of concentration.

You cannot prevent stressful situations in life, but you can control your reactions to them. Practicing mindfulness can help.

The beliefs surrounding Mindfulness stem from the Buddhist faith. It is used by many Eastern cultures. The practical use of Mindfulness outlined herein was extrapolated from the teachings of Jon Kabat-Zinn.

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1999-2000; updates: 2002, 2004, 2005, 2007 Women's Heart Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited. The information contained in this Women's Heart Foundation (WHF) Web site is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment, and WHF recommends consultation with your doctor or health care professional.