3 simple mindfulness practices for coping with difficult experiences and emotions in day-to-day life
Cultivating mindfulness through regular meditation practice has been shown to produce numerous benefits over time. It reduces stress, anxiety, and emotional reactivity and increases focus, well-being, and compassion.
However, meditators sometimes grapple with the question of how to practically apply mindfulness skills in day-to-day life, particularly in moments of stress when we notice our buttons are being pushed or we’re edging towards emotional reactivity. It’s not always clear how to take mindfulness from the meditation cushion into the activities of daily life. It’s also no surprise that being mindful in moments where we are dealing with a difficult person or event can be more challenging than being mindful when we are peacefully and comfortably seated on a meditation cushion!
There are a few short practices that are well suited to integrating mindfulness into day-to-day life in order to reap the more tangible and immediate effects of stepping out of automatic patterns of reactivity and grounding ourselves in the present. Weaving these practices into your day in moments of calm can help you go about your daily activities more mindfully and may help prepare you to use mindfulness skills when you encounter stressors.
This may interrupt the cascade of negative thoughts, emotions, and actions that sometimes seems to happen automatically in moments of stress or emotional discomfort.
These different practices share elements but also have important differences. Try them and see what works best for you!
This practice is helpful when we find ourselves caught up in ruminative, worried, or otherwise “busy” patterns of thinking or in destructive urges and impulses. It can help us notice our mental state, ground us in the bare facts of the present moment, and insert a pause between our thoughts, urges, and impulses and impulsive (and sometimes harmful) behavioral responses.
The acronym STOP serves as a reminder of each step.
There are a few variants of this practice but the intention of each is similar.
To read more about psychologist Elisha Goldstein’s version of STOP visit http://www.mindful.org/stressing-out-stop/
Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach teaches this practice. It's one of my FAVOURITES.
It is helpful for when we feel overwhelmed by painful feelings such as sadness or despair and difficult thoughts of insecurity or unworthiness.
The acronym RAIN serves as a reminder of each step.
For more on RAIN visit
3-minute breathing space
This exercise is taken from Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). It is a quick and simple way of taking mindful pauses throughout the day and maintaining continuity in our mindfulness practice.
It is also helpful for interrupting automatic (i.e., habitual) and unhelpful thinking patterns that can sometimes spiral into negative moods and destructive behaviours. It integrates two types of meditation (open-monitoring and concentrative) as well as the practices of acceptance, attentional switching, and letting go.
The following instructions are from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression by Segal, Williams, and Teasdale, 2002.
Step 1 - Becoming aware
Start by adopting an erect and dignified posture. Then if possible, closing your eyes. Bringing your awareness to your inner experience by asking “What is my experience right now?”
STEP 2 - Gathering your attention
Redirecting your attention to the physical sensations of breathing in the abdomen.
Feeling the sensations of the abdomen wall expanding as the breath comes in..and falling back as the breath goes out. Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out, using the breathing to anchor yourself into the present.
STEP 3 - Expanding your attention
Expanding the field of your awareness around the breathing so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole, your posture, and facial expression. If you become aware of any sensations of discomfort, tension, or resistance, taking your awareness there by breathing into them on the inbreath. Then breathing out from those sensations, softening and opening with the outbreath. As best you can, bring this expanded awareness to the next moments of your day.
A video of Mark Williams guiding the three minute breathing space is available here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVW_IE1nsKE
I'm a psychologist and mindfulness teacher based in Edmonton, Alberta.