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Published on November 20, 2017

When holiday stress gets to you, this can helpWhen holiday stress gets to you, this can help

When stress overwhelms you this holiday season, take a deep breath.

Learning to relax on demand with mindfulness meditation is a way to tune out distractions and find a sense of calm wherever and whenever you need it most. It all begins by taking a slow, deep breath.

Manny Marrero, an occupational therapist at Cape Cod Healthcare, served two tours of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq. He credits mindfulness meditation with helping him cope with the traumatic stress experienced during his deployments, as well as with life’s daily stresses outside the military.

“I’m a walking testament to how wonderful meditation can be,” Marrero said. “Personally, it’s been very healing, and I enjoy teaching our patients how to meditate.

“One of the speakers at a conference I attended said you have a choice to be calm and present in the moment. That resonated with me and led me to pursue a certification in meditation so I can do more for our patients,” he said.

Pulmonary and cardiac rehabilitation patients as well as psychiatric patients are offered classes in mindfulness meditation at Cape Cod Healthcare.

“We teach people to breathe deeply and mindfully. Most of us take very shallow breaths from the chest when we’re stressed. We encourage deep, slow breaths from the belly to relax,” said Pat Durgin, clinical instructor for the non-violence program/manager of the Partial Hospital Behavioral Health Treatment program.

“The average person takes about 20 breaths a minute. If you can take eight to ten breaths a minute, that activates relaxation,” she said.

Learning to Meditate

Meditation is being present in the moment, without distractions, and letting thoughts come and go naturally without judging them, Durgin explained.

The difference between mindfulness meditation and meditation are slight.

“We have more than 50,000 thoughts every day. Mindfulness meditation is bringing those thoughts to the present moment. You can do it at your desk, in the shower, while driving, and it gives your mind a break. You can practice mindful meditation anywhere, anytime,” said Durgin.

Meditation is more of a formal practice. To practice it, you will probably sit quietly in a room with no ambient noise, she said.

Durgin and Marrero agree meditation can be life-changing.

“We’ve seen patients feel great after learning mindfulness meditation, cope with anxiety disorders, and control so much more than what they believed was possible,” said Marrero.

Practice is key, said Durgin.

“Mindfulness meditation, like exercise, takes time to master,” she said.

Ready to try? Our experts offer these directions.

Get Started With Mindfulness Meditation

  1. Sit straight. While learning to meditate, sit in a comfortable place. With practice, you will be able to meditate anywhere, anytime.
  2. Relax your body.
  3. Be still and silent.
  4. Be aware of how your feet feel on the floor. Go back to your feet every time your thoughts start to wander. Feel those feet. Allow that to ground you. And breathe.
  5. Breathe silently, yet deeply through your belly. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Notice how your breath feels as it flows in and out of your belly. Hint: If you are having trouble staying focused on your breath, try counting breaths or repeating the words, “inhale” and “exhale” to yourself silently.
  6. Calm your mind. As thoughts come to you, simply acknowledge them, set them aside and return your attention to your breathing.
  7. Become present. Don’t think about the past or future. Stay focused on the moment. Hint: Keeping your eyes open will help you stay focused on the present.
  8. Become aware (be mindful) of how pleasant it feels to be truly relaxed and present.
  9. When you are ready to end your session, slowly bring your conscious attention back to your surroundings. Gently wiggle your fingers and toes, and then begin moving your hands, feet, arms and legs. Take your time standing up.
  10. Practice often!

Anyone can learn, said Durgin.

“When my seven-year-old granddaughter’s playmate was getting frustrated, my granddaughter said, ‘It’s time to breathe.’ She knows how to belly breathe and bring herself into the present, and she knows that it makes you feel good,” said Durgin.

It may not be as easy as child’s play, but mindfulness meditation can help us relax and find a sense of calm even during tough times.