Stress Awareness, Mindfulness and Coping

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

So, we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic. COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference is happening. We are more aware than ever of the unfolding climate and ecological crisis, and the vast inequalities and social injustices in our world.

And this week is International Stress Awareness week.

This prompted me to think about what an interesting time this is, and what role mindfulness has to play.

The two key ways I find mindfulness supportive for coping with stress are:

1. Awareness of what stresses us and how we react

2. Awareness of what resources us and gives us inspiration and hope

Before elaborating further, I invite you to orient to the space around you. Let your eyes and head move and take in sights: objects, colours, light, shade, shapes, textures. Let any thoughts or feelings that come up be present too. Notice what sounds are present, near and further away.

Now grounding - feel the support under you. Feet on the ground, maybe the feel of a chair under your legs and buttocks. Feel free to move around. Sense the contact of your hands, perhaps with a device you are holding.

Know that orienting to the space around you, and feeling the ground under you, are potentially ways of resourcing yourself as you reflect on stress and how you react.

Now let’s go back to:

1. Awareness of what stresses us and how we react

I reckon there are three locations of stressors, from the more individual and personal to the wider world. Here’s a little model that illustrates them:

Areas of Stress

a. Internal – what’s happening in our body, heart and mind. Physical experiences like pain. Physical and mental health conditions. Our trauma history: wounds, hurts from the past, baggage – whatever you want to call it. Emotional difficulties. Feeling “too much”, or not being able to feel. Etc...

b. External – our life circumstances. Relationships with loved ones, friends, family, community. Work, housing, money. Etc...

c. Wider world – what’s happening more broadly in our region, country and across the globe. Culture, society, environment, history. The news. Awareness and direct experience of the climate and ecological crisis. The culture of consumerism, requiring that we are never satisfied. Technology we interact with that has been designed to be addictive and push our buttons – e.g. social media, YouTube, Netflix. All the “isms” in our society – sexism, racism, class discrimination, etc etc. Social injustice, poverty, inequality. Collective history. For example many in the UK having relatives who lived through two world wars. Etc... We tend to talk about mental health as an individual, personal issue - but it is connected to everything outside us too.

Take a moment to reflect on these areas of stress, and notice if any reactions are coming up.

We all have our own unique experiences of stress reactivity. We might feel a tightness in the chest, a constriction in the throat. Churning in the stomach. Feel agitated, or become very tired. There may be a lot of thoughts or strong emotions coming up. Or we might feel nothing – disconnected, numb.

The various stress reactions we can bring awareness to, are a whole mind-heart-body experience:

Numbing out