When stress levels go up, take a mindful breath

Beach Day at the Cape, MA ~Photo by Sofia Reddy
When I feel my stress levels start to creep up I imagine this beautiful day at the beach and look forward to my next escape. 

I’ve been listening to a guided meditation about relieving stress on the Meditation Oasis podcast by Mary Maddux. In it she reminds us that “things can be accomplished in a calm and relaxed way.” It doesn’t always seem like that is the case though, especially when we are faced with daily care-giving responsibilities at work and at home. However, we can use the moments in between the busyness to practice mindful self-care. We can take a moment or 2 to close our eyes and breathe or stretch, or we can give ourselves the gift of using our lunch break to take a brief walk or eat a healthy snack.

When we take mindful breaks we are able to replenish our energy by cueing our bodies to trigger our built in relaxation response. When we tame our stress levels it helps our minds think more clearly to tackle the challenging tasks competing for our attention. Many of my clients and students have shared that “there is no time for self-care, I have so much to do.” Maybe you can relate. However, I find myself being more productive and less irritable and prone to health issues when I practice regular self-care. I find that my energy levels increase, and that my mood and health improve and then I’m able to accomplish even more.

Recently, when my computer was being slow, I noticed my heart rate increase and breath become shallow, as thoughts of anger and frustration raced through my mind. Instead of reacting in the old way and fueling the frustration by lashing out, I chose to respond with mindful self-care. Instead, I closed my eyes and listened to calming piano music while remembering to breathe slowly and deeply. I noticed my stress levels and irritation steadily go down. When I opened my eyes the email message I was trying to send had gone through. Hooray!

Let’s take time this summer to practice awareness of when our stress levels increase so we can then take healthy action – mindfully.

Take a moment now to reflect on these questions:

  • When your stress goes from moderate to severe, where do you feel it in your body? Do you notice your chest tighten or your jaw clench? Maybe you start to breathe more rapidly or get headaches. Notice where you feel stress in your body. Remember, not all stress is bad because at mild-moderate levels it helps motivate us to take action when needed. However, chronic severe stress can turn toxic and wreak havoc on our bodies when it’s not well-managed.
  • What can you do in the moment to stop and allow your nervous system to calm itself down? What helps you the most? Is it meditation, walking, breathing, stretching, or praying? Think of ways you can clam your mind and body down both at work and at home.
  • Do you need some time off? When was the last time you took a mental health or self-care day? Sometimes just a day off to do whatever you want can be restorative. Think about what you need in the short and long term and make a plan for it. Talk about it with healthy supports and take action!

What did you try for self-care? How did it work for you? Share with us by commenting below or through my Facebook page @Sofiasanctuary


Mindfully managing work stress and conflict

Quote of the Day:

“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone,
including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”

~Pema Chodron


One of the most common complaints from employees in the self-care workshops I lead is the challenge of working with different personalities. Whether you are actually supervising people or not, a top stressor in the work environment is dealing with people we work with. We each have our own personalities, temperaments, motivations, and communication styles that we bring to the table. These differences can be complementary and become one of our teams’ greatest assets or they can lead to division, tension and ultimately conflict. I appreciate Pema’s wise words on dealing with others. I think if we approach the work environment from this compassionate perspective it can diffuse intense emotions that might otherwise lead to toxic interactions that create a corrosive work environment.

Sometimes we are lucky and end up with colleagues who are a great fit, but what do we do when that isn’t the case? My experience has taught me that using the skills of mindfulness can help us navigate challenging relationships in the workplace. For example, the skill of present moment awareness without judgment helps us to understand others and use compassion instead of anger. Could it be this person is having a bad day? Perhaps he or she is struggling with something I don’t know about. Perhaps this person is triggered or feels anxious, stressed or worried. Practicing compassion doesn’t mean we passively accept toxic behavior from another, but it does allow us to soften a bit. When we seek to understand others, they might soften a bit too. I am not saying we don’t assert our own needs and preferences. We must absolutely be willing to speak up about any inappropriate behavior. However, in a work setting we usually have shared objectives that we can use as common ground to stand on. We can then choose to interact with others using a collaborative approach (“let’s problem solve together using our strengths”) instead of an argumentative one (“you’re wrong, I’m right, now just do what I say”).

One of the most important skills we can practice at work (and at home) is recognizing each other’s strengths and contributions. We can strive to foster an environment of mutual respect, while promoting healthy boundaries and limit setting when needed. Sometimes saying no to a request is necessary. Taking time off and taking mindful breaks is also important.  Being mindful of our own needs and preferences and learning to communicate them is critical. After all, we are not responsible for other people’s behaviors, only our own. Finally, when all else fails, understanding when it might be time to move on from an unresolvable situation is important. We can make healthy changes in our lives when necessary – one mindful step at a time.

Today’s Practice:

Seek to understand before being understood. If a difficult situation arises with a peer, boss or client try to put yourself in that person’s shoes for a minute. Consider what this person is trying to communicate. Even if you don’t agree with their style of communication you can extend the gift of compassion in the moment. Notice if any of your defense mechanisms come up. Recognize your body sensations and emotions. Ground yourself by taking a deep breath and don’t cave in to the urge to counter-attack, argue or get your point across right away. Take a break if you have to. Ask for time to think it over. Say, “I’ll get back to you” or “I need some time to think this over.” Go out for a walk and fresh air or go to the bathroom and splash water on your face. Take time to unwind and think it through. Don’t let emotion mind take over. Take care of yourself first and give yourself time to respond later. At the end of the day, take a few minutes to write a journal entry about what makes work most challenging for you at this time.

Are there particular conflicts happening? Are you bored or uninterested in your work? Is it too demanding or not demanding enough? Are you dealing with a long stressful commute?

Describe the stresses you are experiencing in your current work life. Then describe the benefits and what you appreciate about your job and the work you do. What would you change if you could? Reflect on this information and discuss it with a confidante. Talk about it with your therapist, a friend or mentor whom you trust.

Remember, every job has its pros and cons. Notice what’s working for you and what’s not working for you. Start taking mindful steps towards making the change in your life that you are seeking, or practice acceptance of your current difficulties knowing that the benefits make it worthwhile to stay (at least for now).

This article was written by Sofia Reddy and originally published in the New Leaf Meditation Project for the 7-day mindfulness challenge in August, 2016, hosted by Anthony Cernera and Sofia Reddy. Some edits have been made.


see your truth, know your truth, live your truth: acceptance & letting go

@ Weston Nurseries of Hopkinton, MA ~ Photo by Sofia Reddy ~ To me this statue symbolizes the introspective work we must do to understand and live our truth. The plants sprouting from the head symbolize the growth we experience when we seek to understand and accept our own reality.

“Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.”  – J.K. Rowling


I was doing the warrior pose in yoga class when our teacher uttered the words “see the truth, know the truth.” I found myself then silently uttering the phrase “and live your truth.” This was several years ago at the beautiful grounds of the Yoga at the Ashram in Millis, MA. I was going through an existential crisis at the time and felt overwhelmed by several stressful chain of events including my husband’s illness and job loss coupled with the responsibilities of a demanding job and raising a young child. I was at a loss and yoga practice helped me to feel grounded, stable and strong. I went to some Kundalini yoga classes too, which involve a lot of coordinated body movements and intensive breath work. It was so cleansing and renewing. It was an amazing experience and I feel grateful to the teachers who showed me how to safely work through all my past and present adversities.

J.K. Rowling‘s quote really resonated with me because she speaks to the most important steps of the healing and recovery process – understanding and acceptance. Recovery is a lifetime endeavor and we are always (in my opinion) healing from various types of losses, stressful experiences or maybe even traumatic events. One does not need to have a mental health diagnosis to benefit from healing from various difficult and painful life experiences. This is part of our shared journey as human beings living on this beautiful planet.

One of the important lessons in all my years of therapy (both as a therapist and as a client) is the practice of acceptance and letting go. Marsha Linehan who created the dialectical behavior therapy program for clients experiencing difficulty with emotion regulation teaches what’s called “radical acceptance.” There is also a book by Tara Brach, meditation teacher and Buddhist Psychologist, entitled “Radical Acceptance” that speaks poignantly to this concept. It’s about accepting this moment, this reality, just as it is, without harsh judgment towards self, other or the experience. It involves breathing and letting go, over and over and over again. It involves self-forgiveness and forgiveness of anyone who you have experienced as hurting you in any way, whether covertly or overtly. It involves being present in mind, body and soul and allowing every single feeling you are experiencing to safely run its course without fighting, resisting, denying, avoiding or blaming.

I love how Brené Brown, social worker, researcher and story teller, explains the function that blaming serves -“it’s a way to discharge unwanted negative emotion.” Blaming is a waste of time because it only takes you further from your truth and it is a way to distract from our own inner experiences. It also just fuels feelings of powerlessness because we can not change others, only ourselves. When we turn the focus inward then the difficult work of acceptance and letting go can begin. As Dr. Brené Brown says truth is never comfortable but it’s not a weakness. We can only grow from allowing ourselves to experience vulnerability, safely.

Guided self-reflection:

Take a moment now to say these words out loud at your own pace: With each breath in I breathe in acceptance and with each breath out I let go. I let go of what’s no longer needed. I let go of resentment, anger and blame. I let go of unrealistic expectations. I let go of the need to control others and focus on my self-care. I let go of what’s no longer serving me in the best, healthiest way possible. I let go, let go, let go.

With each breath in I breathe in love and acceptance. I breathe in forgiveness and hope. I breathe in encouragement and strength. I feel worthy and I belong. I breathe and sit. I sit silently and breathe. I accept myself – all of myself – just as I am in this very precious moment.

Today’s Practice:

Try practicing the mantra above for 20 minutes. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Play soothing music in the background or just allow silence. Put on a timer if it helps. Feel free to use your own words as they come to you. Repeat calming and soothing phrases that help you feel empowered and strong. Even if at first you are not sure you believe them, keep repeating them while breathing out any doubt, negativity, or false guilt. Let it all go. Life is happening in this very moment, and the only way to move forward is to let go, one breath at a time.

May your practice go well. May you access your inner strength and courage to live your truth.