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News  •  4 min

8 ways to relieve stress... one breath at a time!

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Did you know that Quebecers are more stressed than ever with everyday life? In 1990, 38% said they were stressed. Today, that number has jumped to 45%.

We’re on a treadmill morning till night, barely catching our breath, and it affects every aspect of our lives: we spring out of bed like jackrabbits, rush to get to work on time and hardly ever finish the day’s long to do list—trying to do everything all at once, feeling guilty for not doing enough and hoping we’ll get to relax and savour the present moment at the weekend or during the holidays. But, come that time, we think we have to do something to make the most of the present moment. Argh! We’re always thinking about the past or future: what someone said yesterday, the shopping list or phone calls we need to make. We’re virtually never in the present moment.

This hectic pace is the everyday norm for a lot of us, and it affects our physical, mental and emotional health. As my colleague, Julie Tremblay, says so well in her post, Éloge de la lenteur (ou comment survivre au 21e siècle) [Eulogy to slowness (or how to survive the 21st century)], “In the pursuit of achievement and profit, trying to do more with less and in less time, we’re losing ourselves, as individuals and societies. Just as there are only so many resources on the planet, there are only so many hours in the day.” So doesn’t it make sense to try to live sustainably? And to adopt a sustainable attitude towards human resources, in other words, ourselves? To me, this is one of the most important—and exciting—areas of experimentation!

What’s more, when we’re relaxed and feel at peace, we’re not so overcome by the feeling that we need something else to feel good, which often drives us to consume. We’re also less likely to search for happiness and satisfaction outside of ourselves. Cultivating mindfulness—consciously focusing on the present moment without passing judgment—helps you to get off autopilot and live the present moment instead of trying to fill it.

Here are a few simple, effective mindfulness techniques you can practise everyday:

1. Don’t jump out of bed!

When the alarm goes off, don’t jump out of bed like a jackrabbit! Bring your hands to your heart and take a few deep, conscious breaths before getting up. This will help you feel more grounded during the day.

2. Practise mindful walking

When you walk to work, to the daycare or anywhere else, synchronize your steps with your breathing. For example, take three, four or five strides (double steps) for each inhalation then take the same number of strides for each exhalation. Instead of running through the to-do list, focus on your breathing, the sensations in your body or your surroundings. Leave in good time so you can walk at your own pace. You’ll notice a real difference when you get there.

3. Do micro-meditations

Get into the habit of taking about 10 deep breaths before an important meeting or a challenging, stressful task. This will help you to focus on your work and step back from destructive thoughts whirling in your head, which can take away that inner peace and fuel overwhelming emotions.

If you feel stressed during the day, focus on your breathing for a minute. This helps to slow down your thoughts and brings you back to the present moment.

4. Do mini digital detoxes

Smartphones, tablets, e-mails and other technologies are entwined in our everyday lives. We’re connected and available for most of the day. As a result, our thoughts are all over the place. Is this a choice or has it become the new default?
For just half an hour, stop multitasking. Don’t answer the phone and close your inbox. That way, you’ll be able to concentrate better on what you’re doing. Or why not just take a break and relax?

5. Cultivate tranquility and silence

All the great leaders will tell you they have a sanctuary where they can take time out to think. For some, it’s their den; for others, it’s a park bench at lunchtime. Find your sanctuary, somewhere you can be silent for at least 10 minutes each day.

6. Do one thing at a time

You can practise mindfulness at any moment of the day. When you eat, just eat. Pay attention to the taste, smell and texture of the food. Gradually train yourself to not cling to thoughts about work and your schedule. Be mindful when you’re washing the dishes, taking a shower, tidying up or on the go. Notice the sensations in your body—of all five senses.

7. Listen with your full attention

Listen without thinking about how you’re going to reply or your next question and you’ll be more present and able to give your full attention. Try to set aside your own perspective, too. This type of listening allows you to gather a lot of relevant information and establish a climate of trust that builds meaningful, lasting personal and professional relationships.

8. Want to take it a step further? Meditate every day

Taking 15 minutes a day to sit down and bring your awareness to the present moment will deepen your sense of fulfillment. If you can, meditate in the morning. You’ll develop a clear mind and bring calm and effectiveness to your day. Believe me, it’s 15 minutes well spent! You can listen to a guided audio meditation, relaxing music or just meditate in silence. Focus on your breathing, and when your mind wanders—which it will!—gently and patiently guide your awareness back to your breathing, without passing judgment or trying to control your thoughts. Not wanting things to be different will do you the world of good. You’ll notice a real difference between the days you start by centring your mind and those you start with your thoughts scattered.

Meditating in the morning helps you to let go of stress—the stress that makes us want to do everything at once—and focus on one task at time.

If you practise regularly, you’ll become more aware of how you feel when faced with a problem, and not just react (or overreact). You’ll get better at welcoming different emotions that arise and be able to name them, without clinging to them. And you’ll experience a greater sense of peace and freedom.

Mindfulness techniques will help you improve your well being—and our collective well being. A calm mind means a calm world. Now it’s up to you!

Nadine Bachand, Équiterre employee (Project Manager - Agriculture and Pesticides) and specialist in wellbeing and stress reduction