Stress Reduction in Nature
Stress Overload in 21st Century Human Living
We 21st century human beings could all use a little space of calm and quiet in our day. We are so busy at work and in life. Nobody wants to admit that they are “going through the motions” of life, but sometimes we are all guilty of it. We all want to know how to manage stress.
We go from task to task usually unconsciously caught up in very busy ‘doing’ – so we might even understand ourselves more as human yes we should be called human ‘doings ‘ rather than of human ‘beings’. Maybe you are rushing between appointments, getting home depleted after your commute, stretching time to stay connected with loved ones, and just barely reminding yourself to take that toilet break you needed an hour and a half ago. If you’re looking to improve your productivity and overall well-being at work, I want to invite you to consider incorporating regular brain breaks into your workday. Maybe for you it will be taking a short walk outside, engaging in a different type of activity, or perhaps just taking a few deep breaths, a little break can go a long way in improving your overall job performance and well-being.
Why Brain Breaks?
Brain breaks are an evidence based powerful tool for improving workplace productivity, reducing stress, and promoting overall well-being. In recent years, there has been a growing body of research exploring the science behind the benefits of workplace brain breaks.
Pauses, or breaks, are a powerful and effective way to manage stress because they give your mind and body a chance to rest and recharge. When you’re under stress, your body releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that can prepare you to respond to the stressful situation. While this can be really helpful is in the short term, if these hormones are constantly present in your body, they can have negative effects on your physical and mental health. Taking a pause even for a few minutes, can help reduce the levels of these stress hormones in your body. This can help you feel calmer and more relaxed, reducing the physical and emotional symptoms of stress. Additionally, taking a pause can give your mind a chance to shift its focus away from the stressor, which can help to break the cycle of negative thoughts and feelings that can accompany stress. Taking a pause can also give you the opportunity to engage in stress-reducing activities, such as deep breathing, stretching, or going for a walk. These activities can help release tension in your body and clear your mind, making it easier for you to cope with stress.
This seemingly simple evidence based practise of pausing is a powerful strategy for managing stress because each pause:
- Gives your body and mind a chance to recover from the effects of stress hormones
- Break’s the cycle of negative thoughts and feelings, and
- Builds the habit of engaging in stress-reducing activities.
By taking regular pauses throughout the day , you will improve your ability to cope with stress and promote your overall well being.
What exactly is Mindful Pause or a Brain Break?
A mindful pause is a way to come off ‘auto-pilot’, and to be in the present moment, noticing what is here now. You are in touch with your feelings, thoughts and physical sensations which brings you into the para sympathetic nervous system – the place of calm, clarity and focus. The pause can be as simple as taking a deep breath and slowing down for a moment, and identifying what is going on inside you before you take the next step forward.
How to do a simple mindful pause right now
Pause and feel your in-breath and out-breath for 10-15 seconds.
Finish with the question: What do I most need now?
What are the benefits of mindful pause?
The mindful pause actually integrates our actions. Even for a moment it allows us to be here now which automatically calm our body and mind.
This power of taking pause is well researched. Not only does pausing promote relaxation, a break from noise and doing, but it also refreshes and re-energizes our mind, body and spirit for hours. Taking time to just be still and quiet gives our nervous system a chance to regain balance.
People love short mindfulness exercises. Most people don’t want to take much time out of their schedule to practice mindfulness but everyone has a couple of minutes.
It can take less than a moment.
Are you waking up about to start your day? Eating lunch? Talking with your boss on the phone? Sending an email? Driving home from work? Cleaning the house? Playing with your children? Or supporting an ageing parent? No matter what you are doing a simple mindful pause can bring you back to the present moment and puts you in touch with the rest and relax parasympathetic nervous system.
The benefits continue throughout the day.
Even a tiny mindful pause will help you to be ready for challenging moments, to respond more wisely to stressors, and to be more in touch with your natural mindful leadership qualities. It readies you for each new moment in your day–all of your transitions–from getting up to eating to working to driving to dealing with a difficult communication, or an overfull to do list, to typing to supporting another or stepping up to fill a gap .
Evidenced based brief pauses and abridged mindfulness-based interventions are gaining traction in peer-reviewed research studies. We know now that you do not need to meditate for at least an hour a day in order to find benefit so that you can circuit your autopilot mind, mindlessness and the barrage of spinning thoughts. With a simple practise you refocus and get clarity on what matters most in that moment.
The Evidence is gathering
You might like to read a little more on the growing body of research that supports the benefits of brain breaks in the workplace. Here are some examples of evidence and data demonstrating the positive impact of brain breaks or mindful pauses.
- Increased productivity: A study published in the journal Cognition found that taking regular breaks throughout the workday can improve productivity on cognitive tasks. The study found that participants who took breaks were able to sustain high levels of performance compared to those who worked straight through.
- Reduced stress: A study published in the journal Occupational Medicine found that taking frequent, short breaks throughout the workday can reduce physiological markers of stress, such as cortisol levels. The study also found that taking breaks can improve mood and job satisfaction.
- Improved creativity: A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that taking breaks that involve engaging in a different type of activity, such as walking outside or engaging in a hobby, can promote creativity. The study found that participants who took these types of breaks were more creative than those who did not.
- Improved physical health: A study published in the journal Preventive Medicine found that taking frequent, short breaks throughout the workday can reduce the negative physical impacts of sedentary behaviour. The study found that taking breaks can improve blood flow, reduce muscle tension, and increase overall physical activity levels.
- Improved job satisfaction: A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that taking regular breaks throughout the workday can improve job satisfaction and well-being, even for those with high work demands. The study found that breaks were particularly important for employees who had little control over their work.
Some examples for you to try
Power Pause Practice
- Place your feet on the floor and your hand on your thighs, and close your eyes. And if you’re driving, just keep your eyes steady
- For a moment, bring your attention way down to your feet. Just notice your feet on the ground, notice your seat in the chair, notice your hands on your legs.
- Now find your heart beating, find your pulse somewhere in your body. Bring your mind, your attention, into your body as quickly as possible.
- Now place a light attention on the natural rhythm of your breath. With your mind resting on your breath, you may start to notice a sense of ease. You may start to notice, as you exhale fully, that there’s a little bit less tension. A little bit less noise.
- There’s not much to do when all you need to do for the next few moments is notice your feet, notice your hands, notice your heartbeat and notice your breath, landing on any one of those areas in your body is just perfect. A perfect way to take a pause.
- And now open your eyes if they have been closed and just notice what a few moment of pause can do. Our bodies are magnificent, brilliant, stabilizing systems when we give our body and our mind the opportunity to balance and align.
The acronym STOP can stand for:
S – Stop and be still
T – Take Notice
O – Options
P – Proceed
You can integrate this STOPing into your daily life as a transitional pause between activities. Giving you a minute of breathing space as you move from one activity to the next.
This is what you do:
In between activities STOP for a minute or two
- Put your phone into Airplane mode;
- Try to switch off any notifications, close your door, try to set yourself up for a couple of minutes of silence;
- Sit on a chair with your feet on the floor;
- Place your hands gently on your lap/knees;
- Look down and if you may close your eyes;
- Ask yourself: What is my internal landscape like right now? What thoughts are present? What do I feel? What sensations do I feel in my body;
- As you notice your internal weather right now simply observe without judging, analysing or trying to change anything – be the observer;
- Take notice of your breathing perhaps you may want to put your hand on your belly and notice the in-breath and out-breath. Again we do all this without any effort, rather simply just breathing in breathing out, breathing in and out and simply observing;
- You may want to expand your awareness to the room and your entire body and breath in and out. Perhaps you may be aware of sounds or noise nearby. Whatever you notice is OK and simply be aware;
- As you come to the end of the short meditation you may want to thank yourself for stopping for these few minutes. Its a time to nurture yourself and care for yourself;
- Before you open your eyes you can ask yourself: what is the most important thing that I want to do now when I open my eyes;
- Open your eyes and smile if you may – you are ready to move into your next moment.
Most of us rely on a warm drink to calm for our nervous systems. But if you are like me you might often make a cuppa and then let it go cold as you continue in your busyness. So why not pay attention to what’s happening on a sensorial level from when you are preparing it to when you are sipping away?
- Slow down
- Take three mindful breaths
- Notice the cup you choose
- Listen to the water pouring onto the cup
- Notice how the water’s colour changes as it mixes with the tea
- Find a comfortable place to sit – notice the warmth of your hands in contact with the cup, and take a moment to appreciate the teas aroma and taste
- Bring your focus to your body and notice how pausing with your cup of tea makes you feel .
Doodling is what it sounds like – making marks on a page. This could be working with lines, making patterns, or just free doodling.
For this you need: A sheet of paper and a pencil, pen or crayon.
Try to not be judgemental about what your doodling does or doesn’t look like. Work on no ‘shoulding’. You are not trying to do anything, to produce anything or to get anywhere in particular. Rather the aim is to slow down and work freely, with no object in mind.
This brain break can be extended and expanded on as a way of building an attitude of acceptance towards having an unfinished – and what you might judge an ‘imperfect’ – piece of work.
Physical movement Pause
- Lift your arms up to the sky.
- Keep them lifted and relaxed.
- Observe any physical sensations that arise.
- Gently nod your head from side to side.
- Breathe deeply.
- Explore the how the sensations shift and change.
- Release your arms.
- Pause and notice how you feel.
- Carry any new insight or awareness gained from this exercise into the rest of your day.
Some other Pause or Brain Break activities for you to try
- Dance to a favourite track
- A simple yoga pose
- Look out the window – focus on sky, or a tree or one thing you can see
- Go outside – focus on sky, or a tree, or one thing you can see
- Feel your feet on the floor
- Notice your hands
- Bring to mind a loved one – wish them well
- Listen to a short guided meditation
- Run in place
- Take a mindful walk – inside our workspace or if you can go outside
- Spend a few minutes drawing or colouring something
- Breathing exercises: Although some may associate this with mindfulness, simple deep breathing exercises can help calm the body and clear the mind without the spiritual aspect.
- Play some music
- Five senses – what can I see, hear, touch, smell and taste in this moment
- Mindfully eat even one bite of your lunch – slow down enough to notice the sight, smell taste, after effect of the bite.
A brain break or a pause begins with you disengaging from work – intentionally stepping back from screens and people! This is hardest to do , and most challenging, when you are busy and stressed. That is why you need to cultivate the practise.
Choose one practise and bring it into your day – ideally taking a short break to do this practise three times during each work day, and stick to this for six weeks before beginning to integrate a new practise. The more you repeat this, the closer you will get to approaching a quieter space of being.
As a busy person you will need a reminder – set an alarm on your phone, stick a post it on your computer, or habit stack the practise. Habit stacking is a great way to help us to integrate a new habit. It means I bring the new habit into something I already do everyday…eg When I turn on my computer I will…..,before I go into each meeting or after each meeting I will……., straight after lunch I will…..,
It’s not magic. You will not transform your relationship with the stress of over busyness overnight, but you will in a relatively short time. You will not remember to do it every time – this gives you an opportunity to practise another great stress buster and resilience builder – simple kindness to you.
You will need a special SOS emergency brain break or pause exercise to use in times of stress overload. My next blog will explore this introduce you to a variety of SOS practises, but the initial work is in understanding the power of the pause and gently bring it into your day.
Do let me know how you get on and come back to me if you have any questions or if I can support you to integrate this stress busting practice into your everyday( [email protected])
If you would like a consultation to see how I might support you in your journey away from stress to blossoming you you can book a complimentary call here
Some of our other Posts
Mindfulness Exercises For The Beginner
Develop your resilience and wellbeing with a programme to suit you.
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