Handling stress and anxiety with mindfulness

by Nicola MacDonald, Mindfulness expert

Are you suffering from stress or anxiety during this unprecedented time? There are tried and tested techniques out there that can help you during particularly challenging times. Mindfulness is an excellent coping strategy to help you to handle stress and anxiety. Here are a few tips which you may find useful...

Focus on the present moment whenever you can
Mindfulness involves tuning into the present moment time and time again. When we do this we are not fretting about the future with questions such as when will this situation change? Will my loved ones be safe? Will my finances be ok? Etc. and we’re not dwelling on the past such as remember when we could just get out and about whenever we wanted? When we’re in the present moment we’re truly in the here and now.

Just breathe

Sounds easy, doesn't it? Yet so many of us take it for granted. I mean conscious breathing. Noticing in your body how it feels as you breathe in...and breathe out. This could be in your nostrils on each in-breath and out-breath or in your chest area as your ribcage expands and contracts or in your tummy as it rises and falls. Conscious breathing can help you to remain centered time and time again. It can help you to check the facts rather than indulging in the stories that you may be telling yourself in your head. For we all make up stories all the time, this is what minds do. And they race around making up stories more than ever when we’re triggered by stress. There is a part of the brain called the amygdala which fires off (our alarm bell/fight or flight mode).

It sparks our bodies to release cortisol and adrenaline which sets off a chain of reactions in our bodies...heart pounds, chest squeezes, shoulders tighten, sweat glands fire off. Conscious breathing allows us to turn down the stress reaction and instead ignites the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest system) which says to the body, ‘hey, everything is ok’. It can make a huge difference to your day. So try it the next time you feel stress creeping in....take a few conscious breaths.

Be compassionate with yourself
Now more than ever. This is an emotional rollercoaster of a time. Some days you may feel like this is all fine, perhaps even pleasant at times. Some days you may feel like you’re going to explode at everything or start rocking in a corner sobbing uncontrollably. This is all totally natural.


Our emotions are going to be all over the place. So go easy on yourself. If you start adding further pressure to your life by setting unrealistic goals you will only crumble. So please, be compassionate with yourself. Be mindful of the goals you set and your internal dialogue that may push you to impress others at your own expense.

Take in the Good

Try to stop and take in the good parts of your day whenever you can. This can help to balance out the negative with some positive. It could be anything that makes you smile. How about a stunning sunset or hearing the birds in the morning? Nature has a habit of stopping us in our tracks, taking us out of doing mode (task-oriented mode) and into being mode (mindful presence that grounds us in the here and now).

Try to let go of old attachments
“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” Jon Kabat-Zinn

Some of us may not realise it but we are gradually letting go of some of our long- held attachments. Attachments to ways of life we had before. Perhaps it was going to the gym twice a week, catching up with our friends every Friday or visiting our families regularly.

The frustration that comes with limitations can trap us in a whirlwind of suffering. We can go round and round in our heads with negative stories about having been ‘wronged’ in some way. This doesn’t help us and only serves to cause us more suffering. So...slowly but surely we’re bending to the times; adapting to the present moment. We’re finding new ways to exercise. We’re using our kids as weights for push-ups. We're scheduling catch-ups with our friends via Face Time. We're going to the theatre in our pj's. We’re doing a ‘big shop’ for the week. We’re bending. We’re letting go of attachments that no longer serve us. We are learning to surf the COVID-19 waves one by one. We’re getting through. So let’s pat ourselves on the back. We’re taking each day as it comes and we’re succeeding.