Episode 11: Mindfulness For Stress | A Path to Mindfulness

Hi Friends. Maria and Jackie here with another episode of our Becoming Mindful Podcast. This episode is the first in a series of episodes in which we explore the different paths people take into mindfulness.

First, we dive into how people find mindful practices while trying to manage stress. 

Show Notes & Links


e11 Stress as a Path to Mindfulness

Maria: Hello, and welcome to the becoming mindful podcast. Today we want to talk about how stress leads us to taking up mindfulness. This is part one of a series that we’re starting called paths to. Mindfulness.

Jackie: Yeah. There’re so many ways that people find mindfulness. So periodically we just want to dive into what a few of those paths are and how people find it and how it’s helpful and just explore it a little bit further.

Maria: Exactly.

Maria: I’m Maria

Jackie: and I’m Jackie and we are becoming mindful.

Maria: Wonderful. Before we start. Do our check in, like we always do. How have you been with your mindfulness practices, Jackie?

Jackie: I have been pretty good. I’ve been actually prioritizing it a lot. I’m expecting a baby in a little over a month. And so, I’ve been really leaning on mindfulness practices to prepare for that and to just, get through this last month as well.

Jackie: So, I feel like I’ve ramped up my practices a lot and it’s helping me manage distress and kind of settle into all of the new things that are going by way, I guess. So, I feel like leaning on those practices in a time when life is changing so much has been really liberating and freeing and really helps out because it can so easily get overwhelming.

Jackie: So yeah, it’s been going pretty good for me.

Maria: Awesome.

Jackie: Yeah. how about you?

Maria: Yeah. I kind of have the same feeling. I’m doing pretty good recently. There’s been a lot of things going on in my life. Between summer starting for the kid and her having some issues at school.

Maria: And me trying to focus some energies in my art business on the path I wanted to go and things I wanted to achieve. And I’ve really been leaning a lot on mindfulness practices and finding the present moment whenever possible and connecting with the feeling of mindfulness and the feeling of being in the moment. Especially with the weather being nice and being outside in the sun and being in my yard a lot.

Maria: So, I’ve been leaning into that quite a bit as well recently. And also, with my child and growing the connection there and focusing on her social development. So yeah, I’ve been really diving into that quite a bit and it feels like it is more moments throughout the day where I feel like I’m tapping into that.

Jackie: That’s great. Sounds like we’re both in a good spot right now, at least with our personal practices. Well, let’s talk about the path to mindfulness that we wanted to talk about today. The first path we wanted to explore as the way that a lot of people find mindfulness and get into it and start exploring it is through stress management and looking for ways to, to manage stress and using mindfulness as a practice to manage it, regain some control, maybe reduce our stress.

Maria: Yeah. So how does stress lead people to mindfulness?

Maria: Maybe let’s backtrack a little bit. What does stress actually mean?

Maria: Stress is really the body’s response to some sort of challenge, or a change or high demands and stress can be positive. It can be negative. But it really is the natural response to danger.

Maria: So, we have hormones that are increased and let out into the body that are there from a fight or flight response. Right? So, something that makes you act to actively avoid danger or, solve the problem that you are in at that moment.

Jackie: And, and that is your sympathetic nervous system, which is doing the fight or flight response. On the other side, we have our parasympathetic nervous system, which is our rest and digest system. And, and those were kind of two different modes that our body lives in and like you said, stress can be good, and we need to be in that action taking state at times.

Jackie: But we also need to dive into that parasympathetic, that resting phase as well. So, I think like what you said, we need to be able to manage it and we need to be able to balance it.

Maria: If it is not dealt with or not managed, it can become chronic and that will inevitably damage your body: things like high blood pressure, heart rate increases or resting heart rate and blood sugars and increase. So, all kinds of heart issues. But also, mental health is impacted severely if stress is not managed well.

Jackie: It is easy to see that that’s a big problem because you’re describing all of the main ailments of our Western culture, right?

Maria: Yes.

Jackie: I know, personally for me, that was one of the things that brought me to these practices. I think it is kind of encouraged in our culture to be stressed and busy and always thinking about how productive we can be and using all of our time in the day. It is hard to give yourself permission to slow down and not be productive and just rest for a while.

Jackie: I hope – I think that is changing. I think that culture is changing, right? Maybe?

Maria: I feel that as well because you hear about this mentality shift quite a bit. Just all-over social media and also in the workplace. Which is really where this focus on mindfulness has come in because people are stumbling upon the benefits of mindfulness or finding mindfulness through this path as we are about to describe. Because really mindfulness is our way to increase resilience and have an effective coping mechanism versus ignoring what was pretty much the mindset or is still a high percentage of the mindset. But it is changing for sure.

Jackie: yeah. Especially when I look at people younger than us, I mean, younger people seem to have a much healthier view on self-care, but maybe that’s just the people that I follow now and what I’m exposed to. But it feels like the younger people are better at this than maybe we were. But I think that’s a really good thing.

Maria: Yeah. That might also be some sort of bias because we were diving a lot into the mindfulness.

Jackie: Right. I look back at when I first got into meditation because I had a really bad mindset where I was getting really stressed.

Jackie: I was getting really overwhelmed and I thought that was a marker of I’m working hard and I’m doing all these things I’m supposed to do, but at some point, like you said, when you’re not managing it or balancing it, it starts to do the opposite and you’re getting less productive and you can’t handle it anymore and you start to burn out.

Jackie: I think that’s why Mindfulness, especially to me back then, was really woo woo. And kind of weird kind of meditation. I don’t know. I just had some judgements about it.

Maria: Yeah. And I think that’s definitely changing. Or maybe as we said, it might be the people we are now exposed to. But I have the feeling that in the last couple years, three years, maybe five years it’s gradually changed.

Maria: I feel now, when I look around, it’s like almost everyone that is like our age or younger is really doing these kinds of things or looking into these kinds of things. Or maybe it was just inevitable because it wasn’t sustainable to live this high stress life and never rest and never allow yourself to complete the coping, complete the stress response, right?

Jackie: So maybe as we’re discussing why stress brings you the mindfulness, we’re at some sort of critical point in our culture where the bubble popped. Maybe we’ve realized that we need to balance, that culture with self-care. The younger generation is taking it on but as you mentioned before, too, we’re also seeing it in workplaces and it’s seeping into the culture all over the place.

Maria: Yeah. It’s kind of interesting. You can kind of see this progression from the total hustle culture to self-care. And now I’m actually seeing even the next step where people are saying self-care is even incorrect because we’re not going to the root of the problem.

Maria: And we’ve discussed this before, too. just meditating won’t really do the trick, right? Or you take your bubble bath and that’s not really it.

Jackie: I was listening to a book this morning, actually that was talking about learning mindfulness and learning mindfulness techniques.

Jackie: And the person who was talking about it was just realizing that we learn these mindfulness techniques, but they’re not meant to be an isolated practice. We practice mindfulness in these isolated moments, but the idea is that we’ll be mindful all the time and we learn how to live that way. Versus, it’s 10 minutes a day and you’re done.

Maria: Yeah. To embody that essentially, to become, like our podcast was named to become mindful, to become a mindful being.

Jackie: Always be present.

Maria: This reminds me of this: recently, I heard this: someone said we are not tryings, we are beings.

Jackie: oh, I love that.

Maria: Yeah. So, we are not trying to be mindful, or trying to achieve something, but we are being. That’s where it goes deeper and deeper from the surface level.

Jackie: For sure. Yeah. So, I think we’re talking a lot about being really self-aware of your own stress and understanding that that’s how you find mindfulness, but I think there’s a lot of ways that stress can bring us to mindfulness practices.

Maria: Yeah. Why don’t we talk a little bit how this path looks like? What happens when you turn to mindfulness because of stress?

Maria: So, I think most of the time, when we have this path entry and we are stressed, we have symptoms of stress. Most of the time we get there through a medical professional or some sort of research we do, and we get to simple things like certain mindfulness techniques like breathing, right? Breathing exercises, body scan exercises, meditation.

Jackie: Yeah, for sure. There’s a lot that you can do. And I think there’s a lot of mindfulness practices that are safe to research and try out on your own that are available on the internet. you have YouTube or classes you can take, or even on social media there’s a lot of mindfulness teachers on there that are sharing practices.

Maria: And for me personally and I think probably for you as well, we talked about this at that time, is when we read the book burnout. I think that was probably my main connection of stress to mindfulness. That book. There’re others, but that was definitely one of them.

Maria: And a lot of the time people experience burnout especially in the corporate world and this book specifically targets this issue of burnout and how to alleviate or heal from burnout. And there were quite a few examples of what a stress response really is.

Maria: It is your body telling you that you’re in danger and that oftentimes the burnout happens because we don’t finish the stress response.

Jackie: Your body’s still in fight or flight, it never concludes. We never finish the cycle.

Maria: Although your mind knows the stressor is gone your body doesn’t know that. And your body doesn’t listen to thoughts really. Your body doesn’t understand your thoughts. Your body only understands signals that are body specific. So, there’s this example that was mentioned, where you often see when animals are in this freeze response- they play dead or whatever- and when they’re done or when the predator is gone you often see them kind of twitching around or shivering. So, kind of like muscle spasms, which is the release, The finishing of that stress response, which also causes the hormone regulation so your body can actually release those hormones that signify this stress state. And they mentioned a lot of options of how you can do that as a human being.

Jackie: I see my dog do that when she’s playing or she’s task switching, and she’ll just shake off completely. And it’s kind of like putting a period at the end of the last task and moving on to the next one.

Maria: Yeah. Are they yawning?

Jackie: Yeah. That too. Personally, I first got into mindfulness stuff through meditation, but then that led me into yoga. And yoga is kind of like that as well. you have breathing techniques; you have body awareness and I’ve definitely noticed that it’s kind of like that period at the end of a stress sentence. If you tap into your body through your breath or through a movement, and yoga’s a great way to do that, it can kind of reset everything and end that stress cycle and tell your body it’s okay to rest and digest now. You can go into parasympathetic we’re okay and you can move on. It took me a while to learn that, but yeah, that body connection is huge because that’s how your body understands things. It doesn’t understand thoughts and ideas and commands verbally.

Maria: The only way to tell it that you’re safe is to do things that feel safe, right? Like, exercising or even crying, just releasing that. And science has proven that too. Crying definitely has an influence on your hormone levels and releasing different hormones that are the Safety and connection hormones like serotonin and oxytocin and dopamine. Right?

Jackie: Yeah. Think about a baby or a toddler when they get hurt or something and they realize they’re okay and then they start crying? Like just wrapping it up.

Maria: And then we have things like hugging. Hugging it out. Just having that connection. Laughter is also a good one to release because being able to laugh is a very safe thing.

Maria: And definitely the connection part. Having the human connection. Oftentimes mindfulness exercises are kind of done by yourself. But the connection part is also important. We mentioned the hugging, but there’s definitely a lot of exercises on the mindfulness side that allow that as well. Like a loving kindness exercise.

Jackie: For sure. Or things like doing yoga in a studio or meditating together or singing or just having another person there, another connection. Just adds a whole other element to it.

Maria: Yeah, absolutely. And therefore, it’s also important to not disregard having other people with you on this path.

Jackie: I’m glad you brought up that book burnout, because that was such a really great book. And there’s so much information available whether through books or through the internet, that’s a really great way to get started down this path.

Maria: And oftentimes there’s also local resources. You have some sort of mindfulness classes or yoga or meditation classes in your community that will even allow you to get closer to people that are directly in your community.

Jackie: Yeah. I know locally by me we’ve got several of those options. We’ve also got a local Tai Chi teacher who does classes. And then, I’m not a religious person, but if you are, maybe there’s classes through your church or maybe a choir or something you can join or something like that.

Maria: Absolutely. And then as you said, books, definitely the burnout book, that is by Emily and Amelia. Nagoski.

Jackie: We can link in the show notes.

Maria: Yeah, we will. And another book that I’ve personally also found very helpful was the book “Mindsight” by Dan Siegel.

Jackie: Yeah, that was a good one too.

Maria: And pretty much anything from Tara Brach, I think.

Jackie: Oh, she’s great.

Maria: I know.

Jackie: I think a really great resources sounds true. The sounds true network. They have a website, but they’re an organization that’s trying to get transformative practices to the masses regardless of your financial situation. So, they, they do a lot of free talks and things like that, if you sign up for their email. They’re really great. They’ve got classes even on like MBSR too. I mean mindfulness-based stress reduction. so that kind of a program you can access through there or find a therapist who specializes in MBSR. There’s I think there’s also mindfulness based cognitive therapy. A little bit different from MBSR. It’s just a little bit of a different program. That focuses a lot on inner work and really thinking about separating yourself from your thoughts, becoming the observer of your thoughts and working really with your own mind, I guess, is really what it focuses on. But you could find a therapist who, who specializes in that as well.

Maria: For sure. All right. Let’s talk about results. We were talking about stress, we have techniques that you can apply, but what really happens? What happens if you apply these techniques? what do they actually do for you?

Jackie: How do they reduce stress?

Maria: I think one of the biggest ones is that, from research, we know that mindfulness does help some of the, the exact symptoms that stress negatively impacts, right? If you’re talking about blood pressure and those kinds of things.

Maria: We know from research that the mindfulness-based stress reduction does prevent burnout, reduces exhaustion. It also increases decision making, which is very interesting because a lot of mindfulness exercises allow you to pause so you can engage your higher brain functions versus your reptilian brain, which is more of the reactive state.

Maria: And when you get this pause, when you train yourself to get this pause, you don’t have to react immediately. And if you don’t have to react immediately, you can make better decisions because you have time to think about what is the best response, right? And not just out of your gut reaction.

Jackie: I think that was one of the coolest things I ever noticed when I started doing meditation regularly. And you’ve suddenly realized that you have that space between your experience and your reaction. And it’s like you’ve been given this time or this opportunity, like there’s this whole new perspective.

Maria: And I also have this feeling that the more you do this, this space that is created out of nowhere. Before you have this feeling of anxiety, like you’re rushed, almost haunted, right? Like you’re all over and have to get this done and you have to do this, and you have to do that. And it just like eats you up. You feel like there’s no time. I’m just running back and forth like a headless chicken. And when you do these practices, suddenly you have all the time in the world.

Maria: That’s this feeling that you get from it. it’s so profound- feeling that feeling. It’s like, no, this moment is really long, and I have so much time to react and get these things done and.

Jackie: That was perfectly described. It’s like everything’s lighter.

Maria: When you find that space. And time is expanding somehow.

Jackie: Yeah, it also works the other way, too. Mindfulness practices will help to reduce Actual stressors like mindfulness practices have been shown in studies to reduce things like chronic pain and increase immunity and help with depression and things like fibromyalgia.

Jackie: So, you can imagine, having any of these things every day is going to cause you stress. So, if the mindfulness practices can help alleviate those issues and those things. I was also reading this study when I was preparing for this episode. they did a study on children who studied mindfulness and had witnessed some kind of trauma. In this study, it was they had been through a hurricane. And the kids who had studied mindfulness had less incidences of PTSD than the children who hadn’t. So, it actually seemed that mindfulness helps us manage stress that we have, but also protects us against stress in the future too. So, that’s pretty cool.

Maria: Yeah. Especially, in tandem with trauma therapy, I think it alleviates some of those symptoms and it can really amplify the impact of this therapy, right? There’re definitely proven results of these mindfulness practices to stress. I mean, it’s even said that it’s reduces symptoms of depression as well.

Jackie: Yeah, anxiety. I mean, there’s studies that show that it directly reduces cortisol, which is your physiological response to stress. So, it’s acting directly on that, on that feeling of stress.

Maria: Yeah, exactly. And when we have things like loving kindness meditation, which is releasing one of those hormones. I forgot which one it was the bonding one.

Jackie: Oxytocin?

Maria: I think so.

Jackie: Alright.

Maria: So that is released doing this, by exercise as well. And similar to if you’re hugging someone, which is also counteracting some of these effects of the stress hormones.

Jackie: Right. And other things too. Mindfulness is shown to increase creativity and innovation. Those are each stress relieves, being more creative and expressive can reduce stress. So, if you’ve got an extra boost there.

Maria: Right. Essentially also being able to redirect some of this stress to action that is good action.

Jackie: Yeah. And I’ll just throw this in my personal experience is, yeah, it definitely works to reduce stress. The perspectives that I had about work and stress that I mentioned at the top of the episode Are remarkably different than they used to be. I think a lot of people worry that, oh, if I get rid of this drive or if I slow down, I’m not going to have the same productivity. And like you said, it actually kind of creates time. So, I feel like I can be more productive and also be calmer, also have more Balance in my life and more grounding.

Jackie: And I notice too, when my practice falls off that my stress level rises, and I have to get back to it. So personally, just from my own experience, absolutely, it is a huge tool for stress.

Maria: Yeah, definitely. And slowing down is, as we mentioned before, because you make better decisions. You are more productive and make less mistakes, for example. You’re more deliberate, right? And it also has an effect on your relationships and how you react to someone, if you are more mindful if you practice mindfulness. How close you are with someone and how conversation go.

Maria: Because if you have drama or misunderstandings because of rushing or being stressed out, then that just leads to more of the same, right?

Jackie: Yeah. Good point. It gives you the opportunity to be more empathetic for sure.

Jackie: so yes, mindfulness for stress relief. It is, I think, a really beautiful path into mindfulness and the proof is in the pudding. Is that the saying?

Maria: yes, it is.

Jackie: It’s a really accessible way to find mindfulness and if you’re interested in heading down that route, we will link some of the things we talked about in the show notes and check out some of the books we talked about and the programs that we mentioned and just start exploring and looking down that path.

Maria: Yeah. And as always, we love to hear feedback. If you have any questions, want to have more detail, more hints on where to go. Or maybe you want to share your own past mindfulness or startings with mindfulness, feel free to contact us comment on our posts. Or contact us on our website at becoming mindful podcast.com.

Jackie: Visit us on social we’re at becoming mindful podcast on most social media. Thank you for listening. And until next time.

Jackie: Be well.

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