LEARN TO COPE WITH
The ability to manage stress well is a key part of academic success. Our “Managing Stress at University (Undergraduate)” materials are thorough and will help you choose from a variety of strategies to gain perspective, find balance, and manage your stress at university.
Looking for something short and sweet? Read our quick tips on stress management.
If you prefer to jump straight to the tools or if you already know what strategies you want to learn about, feel free to open one of the following:
Note that, since the above are pieces of the larger document, some internal links may no longer work in the individual tools. If you would prefer anything in .docx format, please email us and we can send it along.
1. Identify your sources of distress (e.g., behind in work, poor understanding of new material, unclear expectations on assignments, ESL demands, tight finances, loneliness, trying to do too many activities).
2. Determine what sources of stress may be under your own control, and what isn’t. Aim to “control the controllables.”
3. Anticipate stressful events and plan ahead:
- Reduce or eliminate optional activities or responsibilities
- Set priorities, deadlines and timelines to reach your targets
- Build in extra time for unexpected events or to catch up.
4. Change your mind set or attitude:
- Ask yourself “are things really that bad? What’s the worst that can happen?”
- Keep things in perspective.
- Stop catastrophic thinking.
- Determine the most important thing to do right now.
5. Change your behaviour:
- List your academic accomplishments each day and acknowledge them.
- Promote your health: eat well, sleep enough in the night, exercise appropriately.
- Break big tasks into small manageable steps.
- Make room for some fun!
6. Change your situation:
- reduce e-distractions
- study somewhere else
- sleep earlier at night
- review your course or program with your prof. or Career Services
7. Learn relaxation techniques or do yoga, T’ai Chi, go for a run, etc.
8. Do what you know works for you: use your healthy “stress buster” activities.
9. Get involved with one of the Queen’s Academic Resources.
FOR UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS
FOR GRADUATE STUDENTS
STRATEGIES AND TOOLS
How well am I taking care of myself?
Rate yourself: 5=Frequently 4=Occasionally 3= Rarely 2= Never 1= Didn‘t occur to me
__Get regular medical check ups
__Get medical care when needed
__Take time off when sick
__Get massages/ body treatments
__Dance, swim, walk, run, play, etc
__Take time to be sexual
__Get enough sleep
__Wear clothes I like
__Make time away from phones, computers
__Spend time in the company of those I enjoy
__Stay in touch with important people in my life
__Give myself affirmations, praise
__Revisit favourite books, movies
__Seek out comforting activities, objects, people, relationships, places
__Allow myself to cry
__Find things that make me laugh
__Make time for self-reflection
__Have my own personal counselling
__Write in a journal
__Read literature unrelated to school/work
__Try something I am not expert in or in charge of
__Notice my inner thoughts, judgements, beliefs, attitudes, feelings
__Let others know different aspects of myself
__Engage my intelligence in a new area
__Practice receiving from others
__Say ‘no’ to extra responsibilities when I need to
__Make time for reflection
__Spend time with nature
__Find a spiritual connection or community
__Be open to inspiration
__Be aware of non-material aspects of life
__Try at times not to be the expert or in charge
__Be open to not knowing
__Identify what is meaningful to me
__Have experiences of awe
__Contribute to causes in which I believe read or listen to inspirational literature
School/ workplace self-care
__Take a break during the day
__Take time to chat with colleagues/ other students
__Make quiet time to complete tasks
__Identify exciting, rewarding projects
__Set limits with clients, colleagues, friends
__Arrange a comfortable work space
__Get regular feedback from mentors, supervisors, etc
__Negotiate my needs e.g. schoolwork, extension, deadlines, etc.
__Have a peer support group
__Strive for balance within my academic and work life
__Strive for balance within my WHOLE life: family, relationships, school, play, rest.
From the activities above, highlight five you would like to start now.
|Date||What increased my stress/tension? (e.g. event, person, mood, etc.)||Stress Level (1=low stress, 10=high stress)||What did I do to decrease my stress/tension level?||How useful was this strategy?
(1= not useful, 10=very useful)
Ten ways to relax your stress away
- Breathe deeply.
- Stretch. Try yoga or tai chi.
- Exercise aerobically.
- Take a warm bath.
- Get a massage.
- Eat healthfully.
- Let it all out: Laugh, Cry, Sing, or Talk.
- Have guilt-free fun.
- Hang out with people who you can relax with.
- Drink calming liquids (e.g., chamomile tea, warm milk).
Photo by Matthew. Used under Creative Commons International Attribution License 4.0.
Take a deep breath and relax
How breathing for relaxation works
While babies breathe from the belly, adults tend to breathe from the chest causing shallower breathing. Consequently, less oxygen is taken in with each inhalation and the blood is forced to move through our system very quickly so that enough oxygen gets to the brain and organs. Deep breathing can reverse these effects.
Calming breath exercise: 5 in – 5 hold – 5 out
This breath exercise will help you achieve a deep state of relaxation relatively quickly. Use it when you feel anxiety coming on. It will also reduce panic reactions such as hyperventilation. A note of caution: avoid taking excessively deep breaths repeatedly and stop the exercise if you feel faint.
- Sit, stand, or lie down — up to you. If sitting, ensure both feet on planted on the floor. Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
- Breathing from the abdomen, inhale slowly through the nose to the count of 5. 1…2…3…4…5 as you inhale. Imagine a balloon in your belly beginning to fill slowly with air. You may wish to put a hand on your belly to feel this sensation.
- Pause and hold your breath for 5 breaths.
- Exhale slowly, through the nose or mouth, to a count of 5. Feel the ‘balloon’ in your belly deflating slowly. Exhale fully.
Do this for about 2 minutes or more each time. As you relax more and more, you may increase the counting to 6, 7, or more. Here is a visual guide to help you focus.
- Use words
- Use words on the inhalation and exhalation. For example, inhale saying ‘in’ and exhale saying ‘out’. Or, try the word RELAX: Inhale say ‘re’; exhale say ‘lax’.
- Use imagery
- Adding a peaceful, safe scene to your breathing will increase the effect.
- Imagine breathing in ocean air, the scent of the forest, a flower.
Effects of breathing for relaxation
Because it releases the body‘s own painkillers (endorphins), deep breathing can relieve muscular-skeletal tension, headaches, stomach aches, and sleeplessness. It allows blood pressure to return to normal, which is good for your heart. Practice daily. By extending your practice to a month or longer, you will begin to retrain yourself to breathe from the abdomen.
Your breath goes with you wherever you go so you can use it anytime, anywhere.
Progressive muscle relaxation – script
This exercise asks you to tense and release various muscles. If you have a special problem with any muscle group, you can either skip that part or do it gently. You can keep your eyes open or closed, whichever is more comfortable. Take a moment to get comfortable. If you are in a chair, you may wish to uncross your arms and legs and ensure your back and neck are comfortable.
Feet & legs
Begin by lifting the feet slightly off the floor. Point your feet and curl the toes inward until the toes are scrunched into a little ball. Curl as far as you need to feel the tension without strain. Concentrate on the toes and count to 5. Now uncurl your toes and gently drop your feet to the floor. Feel the blood rushing into the feet, thighs and calves. Can you feel the difference between tension and relaxation?
Next, slowly draw your knees together and imagine placing a penny between them. Explore the sensation of your knees pressing into the coin. Can you feel its edges? Its smooth, flat face? While you press, breathe in and out, slowly and evenly. Now hold for 5. And release. Study the difference between the tension and the relaxation in the buttock, low back, and pelvis.
Imagine your navel. Take a deep breath in and watch the navel push outwards. Exhale evenly and pull the navel towards the spine till you have squeezed all the air from your lungs. Hold for 5. Release and let the navel settle into its normal resting place. Now let the breathing go back to its natural rhythm and the stomach totally relax. Relax into the heaviness of your stomach.
Shrug both shoulders up to the sky as high as they will go without straining. While you hold, listen to the tension. What is it saying to you? Hold for 5. Drop your shoulders back to their normal resting place and enjoy the calming breath. Allow the warmth and heaviness of the relaxation to suffuse this area.
Clench your fists and bend your elbows, bringing your fists towards your chest. While you hold be aware of the tension in your hands, forearms and biceps. Breathe in and out while you hold for 5. Now, open the hands slowly and feel the blood racing back into each finger. Study the warmth created by the fresh surge of blood or any other sensations you experience.
Playfully make a big frown. Feel the corners of your mouth pull down till you look like a sad clown. At the same time, you may squint your eyes, clench your jaw and wrinkle up your nose. Whichever feels right for you. Enjoy imagining what you look like at this moment as you hold for 5. Let go and return to a relaxed expression. Be amazed by the softness of the face.
We are now finished relaxing the muscles of your body. You are now feeling completely relaxed and at peace. Let all residual tension leach out of your body slowly. If you find that there are places of tension, just note them. Then if you wish, breathe into those areas and let the breath help you loosen the tension.
Do-anywhere stretching exercises
These exercises take only a few moments, and can help melt away mental and muscle tension. For exercises in your chair, sit up straight, pelvis in neutral position, and feet flat on the floor.
Rag-Doll Dangle: Stand or sit, legs apart, and bend at the waist. Shake your arms and hands loosely. Let your head hang and sway. Slowly straighten, one vertebrae at a time.
Head Roll: Drop your chin to your chest. Rotate your head to the right and turn your chin to your shoulder. Repeat in the opposite direction.
Head Tilt: Keeping the shoulders down, tilt the left ear to the left shoulder. Place your left hand on the right side of the head and allow the weight to pull your head GENTLY to the side. Extend your right arm down and flex your right hand. Hold for 10. Repeat on the opposite side.
Head Nod: Let your head fall forward so your chin almost touches your chest. Link your hands and place them at the back of your head. Apply GENTLE pressure.
Head Lift: Curl your fingers around the sides of your neck, fingers meeting in the back. Lift straight upward and forward as though you were trying to lift your head off your shoulders. Turn your head slightly from right to left while you continue to lift.
Full Body: Extend your right arm straight up and reach as high as you can. Spread your fingers. Feel your right side stretching. Lower the arms and repeat with your left arm.
The Butterfly: Lace your fingers around the back of your head. Wing your arms wide and hold in place. Slowly bend forward until your chin is close to your chest. Hold. Come up slowly.
Pelvis Tilt: Tilt your pelvis forward so your lower back rounds, and then tip your pelvis backward so your lower back arches and your belly protrudes a little. Keep your neck, shoulders and stomach relaxed. Repeat several times slowly.
Basic Twist: Sit up straight on the edge of the chair. Slowly twist to the right side, turning your head in the same direction while keeping your shoulders relaxed. Observe how other muscles besides the twisting muscles near the spine jump into action. The right shoulder may rise up toward the ear or move backward. Relax more each time. Do the other side.
Basic Twist with Variation: Do the same slow twist to the right while turning the head to the left. This is impossible to do with hunched shoulders. An excessive arch in the lower back will also make it a struggle. Sit tall yet relaxed. Observe how muscles around the shoulders and chest may want to force the motion. Try to resist this, and activate only the twisting muscles.
Visualization: Springtime in the forest
You are walking in the forest in early spring. Allow yourself to feel the soft, moist ground of the earth under your feet. Drink in the dark, earthly colours grounding you with Nature. You see fresh young green shoots springing up from the moist earth after their winter hibernation. Allow yourself to be drawn closer to one of these shoots near to the earth‘s floor. Be interested in every detail of this little creation. Your hand reaches out to touch the leaves of a young plant. Perhaps a droplet of moisture clings to your finger like an infant to its mother. You draw your finger to your mouth and touch the droplet to your tongue. Allow your tongue to come alive with the replenishing liquid. Allow its hydrating properties to refresh your mouth as well as your spirit. You sense the warm sun touching the top of your head and it is time to continue on.
You might wish to stand up and stretch your body up to the sky, where the tops of the tall trees meet the vastness of the universe. Notice how the dark greens and browns of the trees contrast the oceanic blue of the sky. You hear the songs of birds flying overhead. Allow yourself to be one with Nature as you listen to what the birds are saying to you. Surrender to the stillness and quiet in the forest now.
Scan the soundscape for other noises and be amazed that there is life everywhere around you. Come alive with the feeling of being part of Nature‘s rebirth. You walk deeper into the forest‘s mysteries now and take deep invigorating breaths of the damp, cooling air. Your nostrils fill with Nature‘s springtime delights. Focus closely on subtle smells of what a new season brings– perhaps the sweet aroma of wildflowers or mossy peat. The heady smell makes you feel slightly giddy and fully alive.
Now it is time to leave the forest. You might wish to walk more briskly now. Notice how alive you feel with all the oxygen coursing through your veins. Even though it is time to leave this place, trust that you can hold onto the lessons of spring. Everything has a fresh new perspective. Allow the many possibilities in life to dance around you.
Written by Barbara Fretz, 2005
Using eye movements to reduce stress & improve recall
When a person is retelling a personal story, a lot of emotions arise. If you look closely at the person‘s eye movements, you will notice that he/she is periodically looking upwards. This involuntary action functions to reduce the stress associated by these emotions. When the stress is reduced, the mind can open up to more unconscious memory work (see Kevin Trudeau‘s 5Stages of Information Processing in Mega Memory).
Here‘s the quickest way to relax and get out of the thinking stage:
- Relax and take a breath.
- Look up to the right and hold for a few seconds.
- Look up to the left and hold for a few seconds.
- Continue back and forth for a few seconds.
Trudeau, K. (1997). Mega Memory: How to release your superpower memory in 30 minutes or less a day. NY: HarperCollins.
12 rules for better sleep hygiene
- Sleep as much as needed to feel refreshed but not more. Excessively long times in bed can lead to fragmented and shallow sleep.
- Have a regular wake-up time in the morning. This strengthens circadian cycling and leads to regular times of sleep onset.
- Exercise daily to deepen sleep. Occasional exercise does not necessarily improve sleep the following night.
- Use a fan to provide background ‘white noise’ if occasional loud noises disturb your sleep.
- Keep room temperature a little cool. Too hot or too cold rooms disturb sleep.
- Hunger may disturb sleep so a light snack may help. Try low fat, non-spicy snacks.
- An occasional sleeping pill may be of some benefit, but their chronic use is ineffective in most insomniacs.
- Use deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises to divert the mind from anxious thoughts and list making, which interfere with falling asleep.
- Avoid caffeine, including coffee, tea, pop and chocolate. Caffeine disturbs sleep even in those who feel is does not.
- Avoid alcohol. It may help tense people fall asleep more easily, but the ensuing sleep is then fragmented.
- If you feel angry and frustrated because you can‘t sleep, don‘t try harder and harder to fall asleep. Turn on the light and do something different (but no electronics or rigorous exercise!).
- Reduce number of cigarettes your smoke; chronic smoking disturbs sleep.
Adapted from “11 Rules for Better Sleep Hygiene” in Peter Hauri‘s (1982) book, Current Concepts: The Sleep Disorders.
STRATEGIES AND TOOLS
How self-talk affects stress
Our internal dialogues or ‘self-talk’ direct our thoughts and behaviours. Becoming aware of your self-talk and how it affects you is the first step to rewriting or ―reframing‖ dialogues that cause you stress.
Positive or negative?
Self-talk is like a self-fulfilling prophecy, that is, if you think about something long enough, you can actually make it come true! So, when your self-talk is positive, (e.g. “I can get a good mark on the midterm”), you give yourself permission to be successful. Conversely, negative self-talk (e.g. “I‘m lousy at math”) can turn into you giving up on yourself and your chances of success.
Thoughts and behaviours
Self-talk can direct your thoughts and behaviours. For example, if you say “I can learn these problems to pass the physics test,” you‘ll be more willing to put the effort—in even when it‘s tough going—and improve your chances of success.
Negative self-talk can cause or increase your stress and our bodies respond with aches and pains (or worse!). Negative self-talk may also encourage you to behave foolishly or destructively, putting a further strain on your body. The good news is that positive self-talk has the opposite effect— it lowers stress and relaxes the body.
How to rewrite your script
- Become aware of negative or destructive thoughts, especially longstanding ones.
- Reframe your negative thought into a positive or more realistic one.
- Repeat your new, positive thought as an affirmation or mantra. Eventually you will start to believe it.
- Congratulate yourself for caring for yourself.
Source: Self-Talk: How Self-Talk Affects Stress from Parlay International.
Parlay International provides information on health, education, safety and productivity training.
Identifying your stress-inducing self-talk
The next time you have a stress reaction (large or small), pause to analyze what thoughts were going through you mind about the situation, i.e., identify your ‘self-talk’.
- Write down some of the examples of your self-talk.
- Why is this situation a problem for me?
- What’s really upsetting me?
- What was I saying to myself that caused my stress to increase? Is my self-image or self-esteem feeling threatened?
- Am I feeling intimidated or rejected?
- What fears, beliefs, insecurities may be operating here?
- Notice if there are any patterns to your self-talk (bet there is!)
- Notice whether your stress level lowers after you understand why you got upset.
Adapted from: Posen, D. (2003). The Little Book of Stress Relief. Toronto: Key Porter Books Ltd.
|Situation||Mood||Automatic thoughts (images)||Evidence that supports the hot thought||Evidence that does not support the hot thought||Alternative/ balanced thoughts||Rate moods now|
|Who were you with?
What were you doing?
When was it?
Where were you?
|Describe each mood in one word. Rate intensity of mood (0-100%)||Answer some or all of the following questions:
What was going through my mind just before I started to feel this way?
What does this say about me?
What does this mean about me? My life? My future?
What am I afraid might happen?
What is the worst thing that could happen if this is true?
What does this mean about how the other person(s) feel(s)/ think(s) about me?
What does this mean about how the other person(s) feel(s)/think(s) about me?
|Circle hot thought in previous column for which you are looking for evidence.
Write factual evidence to support this conclusion.
(Try to avoid mind-reading and interpretation of facts.)
|Ask yourself the questions in the Hint Box to help discover evidence which does not support your hot thought.||Ask yourself the questions in the Hint Box to generate alternative or balanced thoughts.
Write an alternative or balanced thought.
Rate how much you believe in each alternative or balanced thought (0-100%).
|Copy the feelings from Colum 2.
Rate the intensity of each feeling from 0-100% as well as any new records.
|What does this mean about the person(s) or people in general? What images or memories do I have in this situation?|
How to use the Thought Record
Column 1 Situation: Write down your anxiety-provoking situation.
Column 2 Moods: Describe what you felt (e.g. panic, anxiety) and rate each mood‘s intensity 1-100%.
Column 3 Automatic Thoughts: Write down what was going through your mind, including images, just before you started to feel this way. Then, circle the ‘hot thought,’ i.e., the thought that caused your anxiety to peak. Column 4 Evidence ‘For’: Starting with the ‘hot thought’ you circled in Column 3, look for factual evidence that supports this conclusion. Try to avoid interpretation of facts.
Column 5 Evidence ‘Against’: Now look for evidence which does not support your hot thought. If you are having a hard time finding this evidence, try asking: “If my best friend or someone who loves me knew I was having this thought, what would they say to me?”
Column 6 Alternative Thoughts: Now look at the evidence, for and against. If the evidence does not support your hot thought(s), ask “Is there an alternative way to thinking about or understanding this situation?” Write an alternative view of the situation.
* If your hot thought is partially true, combine the evidence, for and against, into a balanced thought. e.g. Hot thought: “I can‘t get this thesis done.” Balanced thought: “Writing a thesis is a large project, but I have completed other projects of this scale in the past.”
** If your hot thought is true, ask: What is the worst outcome? What is the best outcome? What is the most realistic outcome?
Column 7 Rate New Moods: Finally, rerate the intensity of each feeling and compare to the intensity in Column 2.
You might notice that the mood‘s intensity has decreased.
Source: Greenberger, D. & Padesky, C.A. (1995). Mind Over Mood. NY: The Guilford Press.
Ways to accept
Love your problems
Accept the problem by experiencing it, telling the truth about it, describing it in detail. Unconditional acceptance: this is not giving in to the problem, or giving up, but is a way to be with it and get to know it.
Loving your problem frees you from it by draining it of its power, rather than denying its existence or struggling against it.
Reach for help when you feel the problem is too big to handle by yourself. Trying to control a problem can result in the problem controlling you.
Surrendering is not quitting, or resignation. You can use your resources to handle the problem and then surrender (e.g. to the outcome) with a trusting spirit. Surrender to a higher power or to the self.
Detach and watch from a distance without judgment. Letting things happen rather than making things happen leads to inner peace.
Celebrate your mistakes
Celebrating allows us to notice the mistake. Mistakes are valuable feedback.
Mistakes demonstrate that we‘re taking risks and are willing to learn and grow.
Celebrating mistakes reminds us that it‘s OK to make them.
Celebrating mistakes includes everyone.
Mistakes occur only when we aim at a clear goal.
Mistakes happen only when we‘re committed to making things work.
Celebrating mistakes cuts the problem down to size.
Source: Ellis, D. (2000). Becoming a Master Student. Canadian 3rd Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. pp 186-87.
Stress inoculation procedure
- i) An anxiety hierarchy: Before practicing this procedure, build an anxiety hierarchy, from least to most anxiety-provoking scenarios. Using this hierarchy will help you learn to cope with increasingly stressful situation.
- ii) Coping statements: Choose coping statements to say to yourself before, during and after the interaction or stress situation. For a list of example coping statements, go to the Coping Statements tool in our Managing Stress at University module.
- Before: Preparing for the situation
- During: Confronting the situation
- During: Coping with negative effects
- After: Reinforcement: Reward yourself even though you were very anxious about it.
- i) Get mentally and physically relaxed: e.g. deep breathing, muscle relaxation, imagining
- ii) Visualize the first scene in the anxiety hierarchy: Describe your anxiety-provoking situation as clearly and with as much detail as possible
Identify escape routes
iii) Start to cope: Once the visualized scene is clear in your mind, begin relaxing and using your coping statements/ thoughts. Continue for 30-60 seconds –unless anxiety becomes too high.
- iv) Rate your anxiety 0 to 10 (0 = no anxiety 10 = major panic attack)
- v) Do more deep relaxation as you picture yourself successfully handling the situation. vi) Repeat above.
vii) Rate your anxiety 0 to 10.
viii) When anxiety is low, move onto the next most stressful scene in the hierarchy. Don‘t forget to reward yourself for having the courage to try new ways of coping with stress.
Stress Inoculation Training: Coping statements
Although it‘s better to create your own stress-coping statement and memorize them, here are some examples to get you started. These coping statements were designed as part of Meichenbaum‘s Stress Inoculation Training program.
- There‘s nothing to worry about. I‘m going to be all right.
- I‘ve succeeded with this before.
- I know I can do each one of these tasks.
- It‘s easier once I get started. I‘ll jump in and be all right. Tomorrow I‘ll be through it.
2. Confronting the situation
- Stay organized
- Take it step by step.
- I can do this; I‘m doing it now.
- I can only do my best.
- Any tension I feel is a signal to use my coping exercises. I can get help if I need it.
- If I don‘t think about fear, I won‘t be afraid.
- If I get tense, I‘ll take a breather and relax.
3. Coping with negative effects
- Relax now!
- Just breathe deeply.
- There‘s an end to it.
- Keep my mind on the task at hand.
- I can keep this within limits I can handle. I can always call _____.
- I am only afraid if I decide to be. I can decide not to be.
- I‘ve survived this and worse before.
- Being active will lessen the fear.
4. Reinforcing success
- I did all right. I did well.
- Next time I won‘t have to worry so much.
- I am able to relax away anxiety.
- It‘s possible not to be scared. All I have to do is stop thinking I’m scared.
Source: Davis, M., Eshelma, E.R. & McKay, M. (2000). 5th edition. The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
STRATEGIES AND TOOLS
Mindfulness: Focusing & awareness
Mindfulness incorporates both focusing and awareness. Focusing is an excellent place to start training your mind. In order to change, though, you will want to shift from focusing to becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings. At any time, you may go back to focusing.
Inward: “eyes on the road”
Anchor on an object (e.g., breath) to keep the mind centred
Outward: seeing thoughts and feelings from the outside. You see yourself and your mental dynamics in more detail from this perspective. You notice things you‘ve never seen before.
“Seeing the scenery”: watching the mental traffic as if it belongs to someone else.
Imagine the mind as a stream of consciousness. When there is a deluge of thoughts and sensations and you are at risk of being drowned in the stream, that‘s when focusing comes in.
Shifting emphasis from focusing to awareness
- watch the stream of consciousness, dispassionately
- pluck something from the stream and deliberately focus on it (e.g., a dream imagine, a memory, a pain)
Start by taking your mind inwards for a moment by focusing on the breath. Take a few gentle deep breaths, from the belly. In and out. Relax… Continue to breathe for as long as you wish.
Now take your mind outwards. See your thoughts, feelings, moods, and sensations as objects floating down a stream, coming into view and vanishing from sight. Simply watch without judgment or analysis. Just watch them pass by.
Now pluck one of these objects from the stream and take a moment to focus on it. Let the other sensations and thoughts go by in the background. Note any new thoughts or feelings that arise from observing this object. Sit with these thoughts/feelings for a moment.
Whenever you are ready to leave this object behind, simply deposit it on a leaf and let it float downstream.
- Body Scan: Lie down with your eyes closed. Slowly scan up and down your body for tightness/ soreness. If you find a tight spot, stop and breathe into it until it relaxes. You might also imagine healing, white light radiating into the spot.
- Object Meditation: Choose a favourite or interesting object e.g. a stone, a flower. Spend some time observing the object: its shape, hues, textures, smells, tastes. Go for detail.
- Mindful Eating: eating slowly, mindfully. Be aware of all the sensations of the food: taste, texture, sounds, weight.
- Walking Meditation: While you walk, focus on sensations of the body moving. Soften the eyes and look at the ground a few paces ahead of you. Pay attention to how you walk. Aim to walk with no tension: relax into it, letting your hips and shoulders swing easily. Breathe with your footsteps. It can help to scan your body as you walk allowing the movement to free up tensions. You may also consider saying a mantra or affirmation in time with the steps.
- Mindful stretchingg. slow, gentle Hatha yoga
1. Simply watching
This is a particularly useful activity when your mind is very busy and you are finding focusing difficult. Watch the passing thoughts without judging them. Just watch them like the clouds passing by. Identify (or say out loud) each thought, feeling, and sensation that comes up: e.g. sore neck, pizza, best friend, anger, tingling, empty stomach, pizza again, grandma, I miss her…
2. Practice new thought statements to detach:
Thought are not facts. I am not my thoughts.
3. “Urge Surfing” for cravings and urges.
Be aware of the warning signs, i.e. the urge or craving is approaching. Imagine the wave as an urge, i.e. the urge crests then falls. Ride the wave without giving into the urge. Let the urge pass. Celebrate your effort to ride through the urge. Accept that new urges will appear.
Riding out your emotions: worry surfing
Imagine for a moment an ocean wave as it approaches the shore. It’s steep and tall and hasn’t crested yet into a breaker. Now imagine the wave nearing a group of gulls floating on the water. The birds don’t fly away. They simply ride up the facing slope, round the top, and drift down the long back of the wave.
That’s what you can learn to do with your worries, anxieties, and fears (WAFs). All emotions are wave-like and time limited. They ebb and flow. Life’s a wave: emotions build up, eventually reach a peak, and drift away. WAFs come and go in a similar way. They don’t last forever, even if it feels like they will.
In this exercise we will invite you to ride the wave of one of your WAFs.
Now think of a recent event where you felt afraid, panicky, nervous, worried, or upset. Visualize the scene and remember how you felt. Notice the worrying and disconcerting thoughts. Perhaps you’ll notice images of disaster, too. Keep focusing on the upsetting scene as well as on the judgments you make about it and what is happening inside you.
Let you anxiety rise till it’s at least a 4 or 5 on a scale of 10.
Observe what your body might be doing. Notice the sensations and how your mind evaluates them. Simply label them all with “I am noticing…”. Notice the sensations of warmth and tightness. If there‘s a thought that it‘s dangerous, that you‘re losing control, just let your body and mind do their thing.
As you do this, notice the emotional wave in the room with you. At this point, the wave is tall and scary. You may feel that it will go on forever; that you may drown. Just allow the wave to run its course without controlling or blocking it. If you refuse to ride out the wave and try to fight it, you‘ll never get over the top. You‘ll stay stuck on the wave‘s leading edge.
Notice the emotional wave with you. Be aware of the point where it stops climbing. Feel it leveling off and starting to diminish. Experience the slow ride down the back of the wave. Accept wherever you are on the wave. Don‘t hasten to get past it. It moves at its own speed—all you can do is let go and let it carry you.
Keep watching this until it completely passes.
Source: Forsyth, J.P. & Eifert, G.H. (2007). The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Meditation is about being present. It is all about slowing up, about being fully present to your life, as it is right now, without trying to change it in any way. You‘ll be glad to know that mindfulness is not all about closing your eyes and focusing on your breath all day long.
Just remember… there are no expectations. This exercise is mindful and that means that you remain detached and non-judgmental of whatever comes to mind. If you find this hard, be mindful of your (perceived lack of) mindfulness. Doing a mindfulness exercise means you‘re doing it right – so you can’t go wrong.
Some people use walking meditation instead of breathing meditation. All you do in walking meditation is walk and focus on the sensation of walking. That is your focus as opposed to your breath. In walking meditation, you are not trying to get anywhere. To reinforce this, you walk in circles around a room or up and down a hall. This gives your mind the message that there‘s no use hurrying since you are not going anywhere anyway. Walking is generally a relaxing experience for both mind and body, and an excellent way to release stress or restless energy.
You can begin by focusing on your legs, feet or your whole body. It isn‘t the walking speed that matters so much as focusing fully on the activity. Some people find it helpful to slow their walking and pay attention to each part of each step while others wobble when slow and need to speed things up. Just go with whatever feels right to you.
If your mind wanders from the focus, notice where it has gone, then respectfully escort it back to the walking. People who are agitated may find walking meditation a good meditation to do (there‘s a reason we pace when we‘re agitated). Preferably do your mindfulness activities in a private spot, either in your home or in your yard.
Now let’s start…
Stand straight, head up, feet about shoulder width. You’re forming a solid stance, firm base.
Feel your balance, how you’re shifting slightly back and forth, from side to side. Normally this happens automatically. Become aware of these minor movements.
Feel the soles of your feet, roll gently back and forth to emphasize the sensation of your feet against the ground.
Focus on a point in front of you. It’s time for your first step…
Rolling forwards, push off with your right foot and s-l-o-w-l-y take a step.
For a couple of seconds, feel how your leg moves through the air. The sensation of impact as your heel touches the ground.
Slow, fluid movements…
Now push off with your left leg. Feel how your right leg muscles are balancing your body as your left leg travels through the air and touches the ground.
Take 5 slow, fluid steps like this. Then halt and turn around. Now walk back to your starting point, close to normal speed this time. Did you feel the difference? This time you relied more on sight and less on feeling your balance and your senses didn’t you?
Slowing down the pace, we tend to become aware of other, lesser used senses. Now repeat the slow walk and return.
Let’s have some fun.
Pretend to be running in slow-motion. You’re now the hero of a movie chasing down the bad guy. OR pretend you are a model walking in slow-motion down the catwalk. Walk, look… and turn!
After you‘re done stand still for a minute and feel your mind and body.
Simply observe any sensations or feelings. Whenever you become aware of any thoughts or sensations, remain mindful and detached and let the sensations go. When a new thought or sensation comes, let that one go.
Become aware of the gentle, fluid movements within your mind.
Thoughts and sensations are replaced by other thoughts and sensations – a perpetual, impermanent cycle. This is natural, just as the moving, changing sensations in your body, coming and going as you walk.
Hopefully your mind enjoyed the break from habitual patterns and thinking about what-to-do- next. You didn’t walk, you were just moving. Mindfulness is more about living than exercising. If you can learn to establish awareness during walking meditation—when you are physically moving with your eyes open—then it won’t be difficult to arouse that same wakeful quality during other activities, such as eating, washing dishes or driving. It will be easier for you to arouse mindfulness when you walk to your car or during any other time. Your mindfulness will become a habit that will begin to permeate your entire life.
Mindful eating: A craisin
- Hold the craisin in the palm of your hand. Feel the weight of it.
- Look at this craisin. Notice any unique features of your craisin. Let your eyes explore every part examine the highlights where light shines, its crevasses, its folds and ridges.
- Hold the craisin between your fingers and turn it. Notice its texture.
- Hold the craisin to your ear. Squish it a bit. Does it make a sound? Take note of any sensations that you feel.
- Hold the craisin beneath your nose, and with each inhalation drink in every smell, noticing as you do this if there is anything happening in your mouth or stomach.
- Notice your thoughts (for instance, like or dislike) without trying to push them away.
- With awareness, slowly bring the craisin to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know where to be, perhaps noticing saliva as you bring the craisin to your mouth.
- Gently place the craisin in your mouth, without chewing noticing how it gets into the mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments exploring the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.
- Notice to which side your tongue pushes the craisin.
- When you are ready prepare to chew the craisin.
- Then very consciously, take one or two bites into the craisin and notice what happens in the aftermath, experiencing any waves of taste as you continue chewing.
- Resist the urge to swallow. Notice the sensation of taste-the juice and texture of the craisin and how these change over time, as well as any changes in the craisin itself.
- See if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that you experience this sensation consciously before you actually swallow the craisin.
- Finally, swallow the craisin – see if you can feel it going down towards your stomach and even entering your stomach. Perhaps noticing what it feels like to be one raisin heavier.
- Sense how the body as a whole feels after completing this exercise.
What did you notice, what did you like/dislike about the activity?
What might you do to notice the food you eat? How could you invite intimacy in the moment while eating? How would this change mealtimes? How about at other times of the day?
There is nothing magical about mindfulness. Often when we do one task, we are already thinking of the next task. Most of us do different things while we eat – talk or watch television.
Notice how slowing down and tasting your food helps bring you into the present moment and can change the nature of your experience.
Though it sounds simple, mindfulness takes practice, and the longer you practice the easier the process becomes.
Photo courtesy of Bernard Goldbach under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No-Derivations 2.0 license.