Did you know practicing mindfulness for even just 10 - 20 minutes a day helps you manage stress? According to recent studies, stress management helps keep you healthy. The challenge is finding the time.
No wonder so many people are interested in mindful practices like yoga, meditation, and tai chi! However, busy people often feel they just don't have time for mindfulness.
Research from Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine indicates that busy people see significant benefits from as little as 10-20 minutes a day.
We caught up with Author and mindfulness teacher Julie Potiker to learn ideas on how we all find more time for mindfulness. She specializes in helping busy moms find time for themselves and their health. However, her tips apply to any busy person.
"Drop into mindfulness throughout your day, and do it every day. Even the busiest people can carve out one minute! The more mindfulness you create in your life, the more you will rewire your brain to easily tap into that sense of calm." Poriker explained.
According to Julie Potiker, mindfulness helps use manage stress and actually rewires our brains for happiness.
"It’s wild to consider it, but what we think can change our brain. Neuroscience has shown that the way we direct our attention — like we do when we practice mindfulness — can shape the way our brain works, including changing the brain itself. So when we train our brain to focus on positive experiences, for example, we condition our brain to have more of those positive experiences."
Some people are skeptical of mindful practices or are concerned that these practices might conflict with their personal beliefs. Potiker reminds us, "Mindfulness doesn’t require you to believe in anything; you just have commit to regular practice… and when you do, your brain rewards you. It really is that simple!"
Tips To Include More Mindfulness Into Your Day
1. Use a Here-and-Now Stone.
Julie Potiker recommends using a simple object like a stone to help ground you in moments of stress.
She explains: "One of my favorite tools for getting through stressful moments — wherever they occur — is a Here-and-Now Stone. This can be a stone you find on the ground on a walk or one you buy from a craft or gem store; any stone will do if it’s one that feels good to you. Choose a stone, then bring it everywhere with you.
Place it in a purse or pocket, string it up and wear it as a necklace, or come up with your own creative way to carry it with you — just carry it! Then when something or someone stresses you out, reach for your stone.
You’ll be surprised by just how much it helps to ground you in the sensation of touching the stone, bringing your awareness to the pleasant feeling of holding it rather than letting your thoughts and emotions run rampant."
2. Name the Emotion, Soothing Touch, and Ask Yourself "What Do I Need Right Now?"
If you feel negative or anxious emotions, Potiker recommends taking a moment to give yourself space to distance yourself from the feeling to soothe yourself. This starts by naming and recognizing the emotion.
Next, place your hands somewhere that you find soothing. This helps "regulate the cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones) and releases oxytocin and endorphins (feel good hormones) into your system. Then ask yourself, what do I need right now?"
"I teach the acronym R.A.I.N. – Recognize that you are having the emotion; Allow it to be there; Investigate gently what’s going on; Nourish yourself by giving yourself compassion for your suffering." Potiker said, "After you’ve done all that change the channel by calling up a happy memory or looking at a photo that evokes a happy memory."
3. Remember You Can Do Anything Mindfully
"You can do anything mindfully. Sitting down for a 15-minute mindfulness meditation is wonderful, but that’s not the only way to experience mindfulness. You can fit it into everything you’re already doing throughout your day.
Brush your teeth mindfully in the morning, noticing all the smells, tastes, and sensations. Shower mindfully and really tune into the way the water washes over your skin.
Cook and eat mindfully to more fully experience your food. Breathe mindfully while sitting in traffic, waiting in the car line, or walking across a parking lot. The more you incorporate mindfulness into your daily life, the easier it will be to drop into that space when you really need it in a moment of emotional overwhelm."
How Practicing Mindfulness Improves Heart Rate Variability & Biometrics
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measures offer a way to gauge the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) function. ANS consists primarily of two parts.
1. Sympathetic nervous system - This function revs you up in times of stress, danger, crisis, or excitement.
2. Parasympathetic nervous system - This functions to restore calm and balance after resolving the danger, stress, or excitement.
Both sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system work together as a team.
For example, Sympathetic nervous system offers focus and energy when facing competition, danger, or possibly even just a deadline. This fight or flight response drives you to act quickly. It helps a firefighter save a child from a burning building or it may help you crush your next presentation. Once the situation passes, PNS restores the normal state of calmness.
HRV is especially helpful in checking parasympathetic nervous system as this relates to relaxation. According to Harvard Health, sometimes repeated and chronic stress results in Maladaptive stress where PNS doesn't function as well as it should.
Typically high HRV reflects optimal levels of rest and stress relief. Heart Rate Variability metrics are based on the variations in space between each heartbeat. Worrying, stressful thoughts, and anxiety affect our heart rhythms, nervous system function, and breath. The issue is not just the external stress, but it is also how we react to it. This is why some people cope better with stressful situations than others do.
How Measuring Your HRV Helps You Improve Stress Levels
It also offers a peek into how practicing mindfulness helps people manage stress and in turn helps restore HRV to optimal levels. Typically a healthy heart speeds with our inhales and slows with our exhales. HRV readings at the upper end of your baseline range indicate low stress levels and a state of well being.
Healthy heart rate variation reflects a state of resilience and flexibility. This is why people use HRV readings to track wellness, workout recovery, heart health, and stress levels. Of course, a variety of factors influence HRV and other biometrics.
Different people may see improvements inspired by different practices. This is why improved sleep, fitness, nutrition, and various stress management practices all may help optimize HRV. Recent studies indicate that mindful practices can help restore PNS which results in improved HRV scores over time.
About Julie Potiker
Julie Potiker's study of mindfulness started after she had a brain tumor scare. After a thorough exam, she received good news but her neurologist suggested she might benefit from Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. This led her to further study with the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program at the University of California, San Diego. She went on to graduate from renowned mindfulness programs such as Mindful Self-Compassion and Positive Neuroplasticity Training. She teaches mindfulness and recently released her new book: “Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm In the Midst of Chaos.”
Sources and Resources
What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?, Scientific American