Written By Ang Yin Li
As a university student, you find yourself constantly performing a balancing act – from assignments to extracurricular activities to revising for your exams. You wear a smile on your face, but deep down you know that you are tired and stressed out. Little things can trigger a volcano eruption from the inside, effortlessly. You wake up in the morning, study, sleep; and the process repeats itself automatically as if you were programmed to do so forevermore.
We are so often caught up in this hustle and bustle of life. How often do we stop and pay our full attention to the things around us? When was the last time we tuned in to our bodies, our minds, and our emotions?
I used to get overwhelmed by stress, especially during my early days in college. Being a worrywart, the most commonly used word in my dictionary was ‘what-if’. Not only that, I also tend to empathise with others’ emotions easily, fuelling my stress and agitation. But now, mindfulness provides an outlet for me to tame my wandering mind and be more aware of my feelings.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness helps us to focus on the present. Various studies have proven that mindfulness has many benefits, such as reducing stress and anxiety, increasing our focus, and enhancing our relationships with others. This leads to an overall improved well-being.
Here are 4 simple mindfulness exercises that you can practice anytime. The best part? They only take 20 minutes.
Breathe in… breathe out…
When you breathe, oxygen enters your body and releases endorphins, stress relief hormones which help you calm down. One method you can try is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. This technique works like this:
Sit upright. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge (like a long, narrow part of a mountain) of the tissue behind your upper front teeth and keep it there throughout the entire exercise. Breathe out through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight¹.
Now inhale again and repeat this three more times. You can speed this exercise up if you find it difficult to hold your breath as long as the ratio remains at 4:7:8.
- Pick something!
Pick an object that you see and focus on it. Say the object is a piece of paper. Look at the surface of the paper. It could be blank or have some lines on it.
Next, choose a song that you like and listen to it. Listen to the vocals and the instruments in the background. You can listen to slow classical music, nature sounds, jazz instrumentals or acoustic music. These genres are known for their relaxing qualities.
This exercise helps us take our minds off stressful thoughts and pause to appreciate the present moment.
- You’ve got a love letter
Our bodies are constantly flooding us with love letters sending us messages about how our bodies feel every day. Open one and read it now. Ask yourself: How am I feeling? Am I feeling tense anywhere? You may feel better after a stretch or a five minute walk. Do what best suits you. Remember to keep yourself hydrated by drinking some water. Self-care is vital because we can function at our best when we are healthy.
The same goes with our emotions. First of all, we have to accept them for what they are. It is okay to feel ___. Then, we learn to recognise our feelings and manage them properly. We can express them in a healthy way, like writing them down. When you notice that similar problems keep troubling you, list down all the solutions you can think of. Try each of them to see whether they work. Some of us might find it better to share our concerns with a trusted person.
Expressing our emotions are important because if they are left unchecked, we may react on impulse, eg. saying something hurtful to someone when we do not mean it, only then to regret doing so. Deliberately suppressing our feelings causes them to gradually build up over time, making them more intense. This creates more tension in our body, increases our blood pressure and may lead to serious health problems in the long run.
While doing these exercises, you might find that there are countless thoughts buzzing in your head. This is completely normal. Your role here is to be an observer of thoughts. Imagine the thoughts as fluffy clouds floating above. Do not judge them: you are not a critic.
The key is to know which thoughts are thoughts that we can act on. If you are worrying about an assignment deadline, you can reduce your worries by allocating time to complete the assignment and stick to the plan.
Thoughts that do not serve us well such as I can’t or I am hopeless are unhelpful thoughts. It is best for us to let them float away. Being mindful of our thoughts can prevent us from listening to our self-limiting beliefs and acting on them subconsciously.
The first few times practising mindfulness were not as easy as I’d initially thought. I found myself ruminating over my thoughts. It was hard to let them go. My inner critic told me: You just wasted 10 minutes doing nothing. However, I started to find the exercises useful and the results were worth the time spent. I can now concentrate better with a calmer mind.
Over to you
Try the above mindfulness exercises and see whether they work for you. Just like any other skill, keep practising until you are good at it.
How would your life be different if you could handle stress better?
¹Breathing technique mentioned was taken from this website, where more breathing techniques can be found!