5 Mindfulness Techniques for a Stressful Day

A to-do list filled out with mindfulness techniques.

"Live less out of habit and more out of intent."

Let’s be honest. Being mindful is not always easy, especially on a stressful day.

The act of being mindful is simple: it means to be present. But some days that’s easier said than done. It’s especially hard when most of the things we’re stressing about have already happened or have yet to happen — in other words, not the exact moment we are in. 

Taking a step back, especially on those stressful days, can be vital for our mental health.

There are simple techniques you can work into even the busiest of days to help prompt mindfulness and, maybe even a little bit of tranquility. These acts don’t require lengthy morning journal sessions or dropping everything to pamper yourself. While those can be important aspects of mindfulness, the techniques in this post are meant to be used when the day is a little bit hectic and you're short on time.

Say an affirmation

Although saying something doesn't always necessarily make it true, taking time to repeat a positive affirmation can give you a quick boost of positivity and put you back in the present moment during stressful times.

There’s a catch, though. You must use affirmations that you actually believe. If you don’t believe them, research shows that they can backfire. A quick way to test if an affirmation is right for you is whether it gets to your core values. You should have a gut reaction when you land on the right affirmation for you. Listen to your instinct - it's probably right.

So why are affirmations good mindfulness techniques? There’s a lot of science about which parts of the brain affirmations trigger, but basically they are rewarding and focusing.

You’re slowing your thoughts down to focus on the words that are meaningful to you. Letting those words resonate, especially in the stressful moments, will bring you back into the present and help you through a taxing day.

While they may change from day to day or be completely different from what works for your friends or coworkers, here are a few affirmations you might find helpful:

  • I trust the path I am on. 
  • I direct my energy toward things I care about.
  • I do not give up.
  • My life is fuller when I am open-minded. 
  • I am making the decisions that are right and true for me.

Take a walk

You might think you don’t have time for a walk on a stressful day, but think again. A quick stroll can have so many benefits to stressful days.

The practice has its roots in Buddhism and has many benefits.

First, it puts you in the moment. You physically separate yourself from the tasks and people that were surrounding you. When you break from all of your responsibilities, you’re able to let your thoughts meander a little around your mind - you don't have to keep an iron grip on them like you do while you're working. This process of release can be extremely relaxing - and can even spark new good ideas that will improve your work when you return.

Taking a few moments away can help you return to a stressful task with clarity, new ideas, and energy. Research has shown that people who take daily walks tend to have better moods, sleep better and experience less depression.

The practice can mean a little bit of calm in a crazy situation. Focus on your steps, your breathing, or the scenery around you.  

Make a list 

Stop. Drop what you’re doing. Make a list. Whether it be a to-do list, a gratitude list, or a grocery list, taking a pause to organize your thoughts on a stressful day can make all the difference. 

Science tells us that our brains were not built for multitasking, so when we add more and more tasks into the mix, it’s often stressful to our nervous system. We feel that stress at a deep level. 

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, making a list of tasks can be helpful. You’re forcing yourself to pause from all of the noise and think through what exactly is stressing you out. When you can give names to the specific tasks you have on your plate, you give them a place to land and come into focus.

Add notes and deadlines to a to-do list. That will help you put all of that work into more manageable time slots that you can actually achieve.

A list is something you can use to take control of the stress.  

An easy tool to pull out during these times is the Ink+Volt Priority Pad. It breaks everything down into the must-dos and helps keep you centered on your goals all on one page. It helps you remember why you started! That's a reminder we could all use once in a while.

Even when we’re not overwhelmed, we can be stressed by things other than work. On those days it’s good to remember how we got here or what we're looking forward to. Make a list of things you're grateful for, or some accomplishments that you are proud of. You will most likely walk away with a fresh outlook.

Breathing techniques 

There is a reason why breathing techniques are so closely associated with mindfulness. Focusing on your breath brings your attention inward and to the present moment. You can’t worry about the breath you just took or the next breath; only the one you’re taking right now. 

There are a bevy of breathing exercises available on apps and Youtube, but you don’t necessarily need a complicated, expert-level technique to practice breath work. The best part about this mindfulness technique is that the only thing you need to do is breathe. You don’t even have to leave your desk.

Find a comfortable position in your chair, or if you can, lie down. Take notice of your body and let it relax (think: jaw, shoulders, hands). Notice the natural rhythm of your breathing. Count to three while you inhale, maybe. Then count to three while you exhale. Try not to worry about your surroundings or the things you need a break from; just focus on the breath. 

Focus on your breath for several minutes before returning to work or a task. 

Say “no”

It can be hard to say “no”, but it’s oftentimes necessary. It’s really easy to become overly committed to other people's requests if we're not careful. When we are overly committed to other people's requests, we become so consumed with getting through one task just to move on to another that we can't be thoughtful and focused on the tasks that truly matter to us.

So when you need to introduce some mindfulness back into your day, practice saying no, sometimes even to yourself. Creating boundaries is a healthy an easy way to practice mindfulness, especially on a stressful day. 

Even a simple “I can’t talk right now” to a chatty colleague is an easy mindfulness technique that helps you stay on track and avoid another stressor. A "no" doesn't have to be the start of a conflict. Look for gentle ways to push back and establish your boundaries, so you have the space you need to be a full self.

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