A New Way to Deal with Stress

In the first part of this series, we looked at some definitions around stress and the negative effects that stress can place on the body and mind. We discussed how the emotional and mental reactivity can perpetuate the cycling of suffering that stress can bring. In the second part of this series, we looked at why we become stressed due to our thoughts and thinking. In this final part, we’ll explore how mindfulness and meditation can help us to work differently with our mind and emotions. Nurses Announcements Archive Article

  1. What Is Your Experience (if any) With Meditation?

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      I don't know anything about it, not really interested.
    • I don't know anything about it, but would like to.
    • I tried it once and failed. How can I learn more?
    • I tried it once and had a little success.
    • I've dabbled in it and could use more information.
    • I occasionally meditate, but could use support.
    • I meditate regularly. (and still might like to learn more)
    • I meditate daily.
    • I LOVE meditation; it rocks!!
    • I don't really care for meditation.

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A New Way to Deal with Stress


There are so many reasons to learn how to meditate but for the purpose of this discussion, we'll discuss meditation as it relates to working with stress. Basically, as we learn to meditate, we'll begin to see that the pattern of our stress reactivity can be related to how distracted we are and learn how to break that cycle. But before we go there...

There are many concepts and thoughts about what meditation "is," and in future articles, I'll go into an in-depth discussion about its uses, research into its benefits and such.

For now, and pertinent to this discussion, meditation is a state of non-distraction. And what do you suppose happens when you're not distracted by your thoughts and your feelings about your emotions; that is, what do you suppose happens to your stress-level when you're not feeding it with more stinkin' thinkin'? Right! You're not as stressed.

Within your mind is the beginning...and end of all, if not most, of the stress that you experience, at least mentally. You've heard the expression, "Think globally, act locally." Where's the most immediate locus of control that you have for dealing with stress? Your mind.

In his book, Paradise Lost, John Milton wrote:


"The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of hell, and a hell of heaven."

Wow, that's spot on, isn't it? Don't we create some hellish times for ourselves?

So, to make a mind a place of heaven, rather than hell, we work with our mind and decrease the stress that we experience. Because we're so unused to doing this, it may take a while to "perfect" it, but with practice, we can soon begin to work with our mind around the stress in our lives and decrease its nasty hold on our mind and emotions. So, how do we begin?


Right now, without even thinking about it, you're breathing. Right, no revelation, I know. But, how often do you take time to simply watch your breathing, without commenting, without becoming distracted, allowing your mind to simply and gently ride upon the breath? Hah! That's it isn't it? We don't. And because we don't, we aren't aware of the fact that right here, right now, we can begin to practice meditation. No incense. No cushion. No chanting. Just the simple act of watching or breath and, whenever we become distracted, bringing ourselves back to the breath, back to the moment.

Here's a simple passage from my book, Minding the Bedside: Nursing from the Heart of the Awakened Mind:

Just for a moment, become aware of your breath. Simply notice your breathing. There's no need to change how you're breathing, just breath. Interesting, isn't it? You go on breathing without ever having to try to breathe, without needing to be aware of it. The same is true with your mind; without "thinking" about it, your mind goes on thinking about thoughts, getting caught up in what it's thinking about, and creating stories about the stories that come and go like the clouds in the sky.

We begin to learn mindfulness and meditation by observing our breath because, well - really because it's always with us; if it wasn't....well, you get the idea! Because we're always breathing, we can work with it anywhere - in the car at a red light, on a plane, as we're going to sleep or when we're stressed out at work. It's an easily available anchor to which we can repeatedly return when we notice that our mind is distracted, something that we can become familiar with as we start to practice the art of mindfully watching the present.

Without our necessarily being conscious of it, our breath changes all the time depending upon the state of our mind. On an obvious level, this occurs, for instance, when we're anxious or excited; our breathing becomes faster. On a more subtle level we notice that when we're tense, we may hold our breath without even knowing it; or when we're depressed, our breath may become shallow. In this way, the mind rides on the breath, and it is through learning to observe the breath that we begin to learn to watch the mind.

In beginning to meditate, all we're doing is watching the breath, not altering or modifying it. By learning to simply observe the breath, we can learn to use it as an anchor for our attention. And...we can also use it as an early warning system for when we're starting to become stressed!

By mindfully attending to our breath, we begin to become aware of the present breath, without changing it, without trying to alter it. In the same way, as we progress, we'll learn to do this with our thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, simply observing them without getting caught up in a story about them, without trying to change them. That is, we'll begin to learn when, how and why we become stressed and start to turn our attention to our stress reactivity.


Just for fun, let's work with an exercise for watching the breath. After reading the following script, practice the exercise for a few minutes. Or, print it out and use it whenever you can. Whatever happens, use your breath as the anchor of your attention. When you get distracted, bring it back to the breath. When you become dull, happy, anxious, bored, elated...wherever you find your mind, bring your attention back to the breath.

If you're at work and have the time and ability to set aside 15 minutes, you may find that doing this exercise during your shift can really help you to strengthen your mindfulness at work and decrease the impact of work/environmental stressors.

Read the following script normally, in an unhurried manner, taking time to read it slowly, pausing between lines, taking care to read each line as an exercise in presence of mind. If you'd like, you may download an audio copy of this exercise from my website at www.mindingthebedside.com. This exercise is listed as "Track #1: Riding the Breath."

Sitting on a straight-backed chair or couch or on a cushion on the floor, allow your body to become still. The back is straight without being stiff; the posture is relaxed, awake, and dignified. The hands can rest gently on the knees or in the lap. The eyes are open, simply resting the gaze on whatever is in front of you, without thinking too much about what you're viewing. Settling into this moment, begin watching the breath.

Become aware of the fact that you're breathing. Become aware of the movement of the breath as it flows into and out of the body. Feel the breath as it comes into the body and as it leaves the body. Simply remain aware of the breath flowing in and flowing out, not manipulating the breathing in any way. Simply being aware of it and noticing how it feels.

When your mind becomes distracted - and it will become distracted - simply return to the breath. No commentary. No judgment.

Allow yourself to be with this flow of breath, coming in and going out. Notice the feeling of the breath as the lungs fill with air on the in-breath and deflate as you breathe out, the chest expanding and collapsing. Perhaps feeling the breath in the abdomen, rising as you breathe in and flattening and sinking as you breathe out. Allow your attention to gently ride on the sensation of each breath, not thinking about breathing, without the need to comment. Simply watching your breathing.

Allow the breath to naturally breathe itself, not needing to change it in any way, giving full attention to each breath. Observe the full cycle of each breath, locating the very beginning of the breath, as it enters the nose or mouth, and following it as it fills the lungs and expands the chest and the abdomen, then comes to the gap where there is neither in-breath nor out-breath, before it turns around and makes its journey out of the body. Simply remain present for the cycle of each breath, being there, letting your attention gently float on the awareness of your breath.

After a short time, you may notice that the mind wanders off to thoughts of the past, fantasies, memories, or regrets. Or it may move to anticipation of the future, planning, wishing, and judging. You may find yourself thinking about what you'll do after this exercise, what you have to do at work, things that you have to do.

As soon as you become aware that the attention has moved off the breath, guide it back to the next breath with a gentle and firm awareness.

There's no need to give yourself a hard time, saying, "How did I become so distracted?" Simply come back to this breath. Watching the breath and the arising thoughts without judgment, simply observing. Once again, bringing the attention to this breath, in this moment. Breathing in with the in-breath, breathing out with the out-breath. Feeling the movement in your body. The breath anchoring the attention in this moment.

When the mind wanders, bring your attention back to the breath, knowing that you can always use the awareness of your breath to refocus your attention, to return to the present. Whenever you notice that you have drifted from the present-when you become distracted, preoccupied, or restless-the attention on the breath can be a powerful anchor to this moment and to this state of awake stillness.

And now, for the time remaining, let go of all particular objects of attention, allowing yourself to simply be here, simply present. Breath moving, sensations in the body, sounds, thoughts, all of it coming and going...allowing all of it...and dropping into being, into stillness, present with it all, as it unfolds, complete, as you are, whole.


What you may have noticed was that your attention was everywhere but on the breath; that you were able to keep your attention on the breath for a few breaths, if that, and then you were off again into daydreams, thoughts, and concerns. That's perfectly fine, because that's what is going on all the time in our minds.

The purpose of this exercise was to introduce you to working with your mind. As you get the hang of it, you'll start to notice when (or if?) you've become stressed. That's the beginning of changing how you deal with it. Pretty cool eh?


Part of the reason(s) that we find ourselves getting stressed is because we're used to it. We encounter stressors and respond (or react) in ways that we're used to reacting. That's pretty easy.

Meditation, learning how to work with the breath and the mind, is about breaking or cutting our habitual patterns. And while it may take some time, it's really worth it.

Just think about this (or, "meditate" on it); how would your life be different if you were able to experience significantly less stress? What would it feel like if you could handle situations that normally "stress you out," but - instead - you were able to maintain a clear mind, and a stress-free body? Wouldn't that be cool? Well, that's exactly what we're going to learn to do, gradually, easily, and patiently.

*In the next series of articles, we'll deepen our understanding of the mind-body connection and bring more methods in meditation and mindfulness into the discussion. In the meantime, please feel free to comment and write if you'd like me to cover specifics about these subjects.

For the complete series, please see:

Part 1: Is Nursing All About Stress?

Part 2: Why Do You get Stressed? (hint: It's How You Think!)

Part 3: A New Way to Deal with Stress

Stone, Jerome. Minding the Bedside: Nursing from the Heart of the Awakened Mind. Minneapolis; Langdon Street Press, 2011, pgs. 13-16.

I've been an RN for over 30 years. I am an author, blogger, and keynote speaker. My site is: www.mindingthebedside.com

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Specializes in CRNA, Finally retired.

Very well written. It is so true that you control your life when you control your breathing. Wish I'd learned this when I was younger and adrenaline addicted:)

Specializes in Research, ICU, hospice, pain management.

Hello Subee -

Thanks for the comment. Indeed, it would be great if all nursing schools could teach future nurses to deal with stress, mediate it's effects, and bring mindfulness to bear on stressor-filled work environments. But...it's not to late to start learning! As well, my vision is to subvert the dominant paradigm by teaching as many nurses and nursing students how to work with the mind and create radical transformation of the nursing profession! Grandiose delusions? Perhaps, but there's no harm in working towards it, eh?

Take care,

Jerome Stone