Did you know: Stress is a proven cause of heart disease, the number one killer of men in the United States. (FYI stress can also lead to high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.) Yet less than a third of American men report success in their efforts to manage stress, according to the American Psychological Association.While the grip of stress and anxiety can feel crushing — both mentally and even physically — we are not powerless to it. In fact, simply being more mindful of our stressors can help us overcome them.
“Mindfulness is a basic human ability we all possess to be fully present — aware of where we are and what we’re doing — while not being overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us,” says Joy Dushey, a holistic lifestyle coach, breath-work teacher, and the founder of The Joyful Approach.
Mindfulness has been proven through research, including a 2014 meta-analysis of 47 clinical trials, to help ease anxiety and depression. And at a time when 77% of people report regularly experiencing physical symptoms of stress, according to the American Institute of Stress, it’s no surprise to see mindful practices like meditation gaining steam in the mainstream.
Here are Dushey’s top nine ways to conquer stress with mindfulness.
1. Take a (Deep) Breath
“Breathing from the diaphragm, or belly breathing, is the basis for almost all meditation and relaxation practices, and has a number of benefits that affect your entire body,” says Dushey. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, sit down, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Focus on the breath moving in and out of your body. “Sitting and breathing for even just a minute can help. It can lower your stress levels, reduce blood pressure, and help regulate other important bodily processes,” Dushey says. “Continuing to practice this technique will promote greater calm and a myriad of other health benefits.”
2. Ground Yourself
Stress has a way of sweeping your legs out from under you. So take a moment to regain your footing. “Bring your focus to what is happening to you physically, either in your body or in your surroundings, instead of being trapped by the thoughts in your mind that are causing you to feel anxious,” Dushey says. “The simplest technique I teach is to sit on a chair and feel your feet firmly rooted to the ground below you. Imagine a strong chord rooting you to the earth below, and feel the density of the earth supporting you.”
3. Do a Body Scan
Mindfulness is as much about being aware of your external surroundings as it is about getting in tune with your body. “One of the best ways you can become more aware of your body is by doing a body scan meditation,” Dushey says. “The whole goal of this type of meditation is to focus on one part of the body at a time and tune into how it feels without trying to change it.” Performing regular body scan meditations can help you identify any unaddressed pain—physical or mental—that might be holding you back.
4. Go on Airplane Mode
“The present moment is all we have, and it becomes the doorway to true calm,” Dushey says. It’s important to remember that while stress can manifest physically, it is primarily mental. Getting out of your head and refocusing on the present as often as you can is an essential part of your stress management strategy. And the more you do it, the more you’ll find it happening automatically. “Try to intentionally bring an open, accepting, and discerning attention to everything you do,” says Dushey, who suggests walking in nature for those who have trouble disconnecting from the Matrix.
5. Take Stock
Stress can often arise when we feel like we’re struggling to achieve or maintain a certain lifestyle or appearance. Having goals is productive, but failing to recognize wins or acknowledge certain realities will only handicap your ability to experience lasting happiness. “When we’re mindful, we accept ourselves, our lives, and everybody else just as they are,” Dushey says. “We’re not trying to be perfect. We’re not trying to be somebody we’re not. We’re not trying to distract ourselves from our problems. We can allow our feelings, whatever they are, and experience being authentic with inner freedom.”
6. See It, Believe It
From athletes to artists, visualization is used by some of the world’s most elite performers to execute at a high level. You can use it to draw the blueprints for a stress-free life. “Visualization is a healthy way of bringing positive energy into your mind, body, and spirit, and expanding your capacity for creativity,” says Dushey, who recommends meditation as the perfect environment for practicing visualization. “When the mind is clear and the body is relaxed, you can engage the imagination to visualize images and ideas that bring you to a state of calm and inspiration.”
7. Reinforce the Positive
Affirmations are positive things that people tell themselves in order to spark a change in behavior. They are designed to incrementally alter our beliefs about ourselves and, consequently, our actions. “They can have a significant impact on our overall quality of life,” Dushey says. “When you change your thinking process, everything in your life changes. You rewire your brain.” Affirmations don’t have to be the cheesy bathroom-mirror confidence boosters we’ve all seen in movies. Dushey cites “I am grateful for all I have in my life” as one effective affirmation for cultivating genuine gratitude.
8. Create a Zen Den
Especially when you’re just getting into mindfulness, turning your attention inward and maintaining focus can be a delicate operation. Dushey recommends, if possible, creating a “zen zone” or dedicated meditation space in your home—somewhere you can go to look inward and block out all the distractions of the day. “It becomes a place you look forward to revisiting, because of its association with the calmness it provides for you,” she says. “It becomes your sanctuary.”
9. Exercise Your Equanimity
As you gain more experience with mindful practices like meditation, taking note of growth in areas where you may have struggled before. Some improvements are easier to see when you know what to look for, like equanimity—defined as mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, and one of many virtues associated with a regular mindfulness practice. “Equanimity is a wonderful quality; it grows naturally with our meditation practice, and can be cultivated in a systematic way,” Dushey says. “Once you begin to meditate regularly, you will notice the way you experience equanimity naturally through responding more calmly in situations throughout your daily life.”
[source: ask men]