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Stressed? Here Are 7 Science-Backed Tricks to a Calmer Life


Photo: Michael Oliver Love

There’s no doubt about it: most of us are stressed. That was a fact even before the pandemic, but a number of studies carried out since suggest that we’re finding it increasingly difficult to cope in its aftermath, with the true toll on our mental health yet to reveal itself fully to scientists.

Mindfulness, or the practice of being completely present in the moment, is a key technique for dealing with mental health issues like stress, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. It can help with physical ones, too, from psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome to fibromyalgia. While sceptics dismiss it as a practice only wellness warriors have time for, actually there is ample evidence to back up its benefits for body and mind. Despite being a challenging practice, it can help us all move through a hectic world with more ease and contentment, and to still a chattering mind.

“There are lots of benefits of trying to stay as mindful as possible,” agrees mindfulness guru Melanie Santorini. “Over time we become less in thrall to our chattering monkey minds. We notice what it’s saying, but we no longer identify with it,” she says. “We then begin to make decisions and life choices from somewhere deeper, more consistent and kinder, inside. Our moods can improve. Our emotions stabilize as we learn to navigate the turbulent seas of strong feelings. We feel clever and lighter and steadier inside; less cluttered or congested or turbulent, which has a positive impact on our overall wellbeing: psychological as well as physical. The greatest benefit? It gives us back our life. We’re no longer mentally or emotionally absent, distracted, living in the past or fantasizing about the future. We’re here, now. Finally.”

Here Vogue speaks to three experts to get their advice on how to begin and maintain your mindfulness practice – and how to do it properly.

Notice, notice, notice

Being mindful is all about being aware in each moment. “Notice – it’s not about what happened yesterday, or about what might happen tomorrow,” says Santorini. “It’s about being fully present, right now, as you live your life.” Ask yourself how you feel and what’s physically going on in your body, right now, in the moment.

Start by setting up alerts to remind you of this important (and deceptively difficult) task. Whether you do it as you buy your morning coffee, as you walk to work, or while you brush your teeth, make them trigger moments to notice what’s going on [with you] mentally and physically, without judging or having opinions on it,” adds Santorini.

If you’re unsure of the difference between meditation and mindfulness, Santorini explains that meditation is a classic way to practise mindfulness and become fully present. “Different people do it differently – some watch their breath, others use a repeated word or mantra, or focus on a candle. The underlying principles are the same – it’s about setting aside time to be relaxed and aware.” Whenever the mind wanders, gently bring it back to your awareness.


“The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness – start to notice that, too,” suggests Santorini. Many of us exist in a whirlwind state, so whether your mindlessness is driving somewhere with no awareness of doing it, or eating lunch and not remembering what it tasted like (we’ve all been there), recognize when you’ve been mindless, and draw yourself back into the present moment.

Tap into your breath

It pays to tune into your breath, too. Slow, deep breaths help activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digest mode, and simultaneously switches our sympathetic nervous system – or angsty fight or flight mode – off. “Breathing effectively can be tricky for some people because we’re usually so passive with it,” says Matt Penman, a yoga teacher at Bodyism.

“You don’t need to sit cross-legged on a kantha quilt with the scent of nag champa wafting around your nostrils to engage with mindfulness. Instead you can sit, close your eyes and watch the rhythm of your natural breath, noticing when your mind wanders (which it will). When the mind does drift, come back to your next inhale and restart.” Make this a habit each morning or evening.

Your workout can also be a moment to get mindful, and Penman has noted that many of his clients now want more meditation and mindfulness weaved into their workouts, instead of just 30 seconds at the end. Visualising each muscle working isn’t just good for the mind, it’s also been shown to boost the effects of your workout due to the mind-muscle connection. “When we know what challenges us and what inspires us to push our boundaries, we can achieve anything,” says Penman. “Mindful living is taking time to breathe, to notice and to find presence.”

Stimulate your senses

At London meditation studio Re:mind, the teachers employ scent and sound to help get clients into a mindful state. “We use a lot of scent, which can be really useful, depending on what is your strongest sense,” says Yulia Kovaleva, co-founder of the studio. “Find an essential oil that you love to help get you in the zone, or wear an aromatherapy necklace – they’re becoming increasingly popular.” She also recommends making use of candles and incense. Alternatively, if hearing is your stronger sense, make use of the many recorded meditations and sound baths on Spotify or Insight Timer. Another tip? “When you find yourself overthinking, put your hand on your heart and give yourself a moment to switch off,” she says.

Make your skincare routine mindful

Caring for our skin is part of daily life, so it makes sense to make your skincare routine a moment to get mindful. As well as taking advantage of formulas that harness the power of aromatherapy, rituals such as face massage can help re-centre your thoughts. One skincare brand that’s taken note is Wild Source, which has partnered with spiritual guide Giselle La-Pompe Moore on a series of mindful practices (soon to be available on Instagram and the brand’s website), to help address stress in the body, mind and – importantly – skin. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol directly impact the skin barrier, leading to all manner of skin concerns, including eczema and acne.

When strong negative emotions arise

“It’s easy to get lost in them – we feel a massive rush of energy,” says Santorini. “Being mindful in the face of strong emotion takes practise.” If you can relate, she recommends this exercise:

  • When a strong emotion arises, stay silent, close your eyes and deepen your breathing.
  • Notice what’s happening inside your body and, most importantly, name it.
  • For example, if anger arises, you might say silently to yourself: “Heart racing, mind jumping about, palms hot, chest tight, stomach queasy.”
  • Just naming what’s going on in the body brings me into the present moment. This allows a space in which the negative emotion can dissipate, and an appropriate, more considered response can arise.

Use apps and clever technology

Of course, as well as playlists there are a number of brilliant apps designed to help us be as mindful as possible – contradictory as it may seem. Insight Timer is a brilliant pool of different courses and sessions, as are Calm and Headspace. Portal is a great tool for those who crave nature, thanks to its transportive and relaxing sounds, and Simple Habit makes it quick and easy to meditate wherever you are. Apple’s recently-upgraded Mindfulness app, which can be accessed on the Apple Watch, is also second-to-none, offering trackable breathing sessions, mindfulness reminders and the ability to reflect.

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