4 Mindfulness Exercises for Dealing with Stress

Young woman sitting on bench practicing mindfulness exercises by reading a book.

The clock on my phone read 1:12 a.m. I had been scanning through my Instagram feed for almost an hour without even realizing how much time had passed. Not to mention the fact that I planned to go to bed early, because I had a test first thing in the morning. Yet here I was, scrolling through the pictures on my friend’s cousin’s girlfriend’s account, wondering how in the world she could afford those shoes on a teacher’s salary.

I know I’m not the only one who’s been here, mindlessly skimming photos of someone I don’t even know. The question remains, though, how do we end up here, down the rabbit hole of unrecognizable faces and names? And why do we return to it over and over again?

For me, it’s an easy answer: social media is my distraction. When I’m stressed about essays and graduate school applications, I look away from my computer and pick up my phone — trading one screen for another. Sounds healthy, right?

Not so much. When I open my Instagram, I’m looking for something to numb me to what’s going on in my life, namely the piles of schoolwork awaiting my attention. It’s a virtual abyss that I willingly fall into, because it promises escape from these daily anxieties.

But at what cost?

A recent study shows that there is a correlation between high daily social media use and anxiety. If this is the case, then I’m fighting fire with fire when I turn to my phone to soothe me of my daily anxieties.

A distraction is meant to be a temporary diversion, but this one was starting to take up more time than my actual responsibilities, not to mention my sleep, which as a college student, is something I rely on to stay sane.

I needed to get to the source of my problem: I was following too many people and things on Instagram. I love seeing posts from friends and family, but that wasn’t the only thing filling my feed. When I considered what had to go, three major groups came to mind.

Celebrity accounts

If you’ve got hours to waste, then look no further than celebrity accounts.

Because the social media accounts of most major celebrities are run by their assistants or publicists, they are constantly posting updates and promotions. However, I am intrigued by their countless posts because they offer a look into “the good life.” You know, the one that doesn’t involve fifty pages of readings or literary analysis papers?

“Friends” I haven’t talked to since eighth grade

We all have them. The friend who won’t stop posting about her trip to Hawaii, or the one who posts a picture of her boyfriend every day with countless hashtags to express their #truelove? It gets old, but it doesn’t go away. Posts like these, whether I want to see them or not, add at least 10 minutes to my scrolling time.


Millennials aren’t the only ones who communicate through social media. Almost every company, from American Eagle to Fifth Third Bank, has a social media account.

Following brands provides an opportunity to constantly window shop, but often, it leads to more than just browsing. Cue me finding myself on Free People’s website filling up a cart, knowing full well I need to be saving my money for groceries.

Not only does online shopping add at least another half hour to my “recess” time, but it hurts my wallet, too. Did I mention I’m a college student? Not the best remedy for student debt.

Even after eliminating these things, the need for a diversion doesn’t go away. Working, whether it’s at school or a job, takes a toll on the mind and uses up energy that needs time to replenish.

The next step was finding replacements for social media, ones that wouldn’t take away from my much-needed sleep or piles of schoolwork.

Here are four mindfulness breaks that leave me feeling better prepared to face my day.

Read a chapter from a book.

Reading a book is a great way to get away from your screen, because it keeps your mind working but also distracts you from current worries by pulling you into another world. It also allows your eyes to get a break from a bright screen.

An added benefit of this is that I have found nothing gets me sleepier than reading a book in my comfy bed. The nights when I can’t get my mind to stop thinking about my to-do list, I pull out a book. Less than a chapter in, I find my eyes getting heavy and my mind tiring out.

Reading instantly relaxes me.

Explore your creative side with coloring or journaling.

Going back to the basics with this one. Coloring worked to distract you when you were 3, why not give it a try again at 23, or 33 for that matter? With so many adult coloring books available these days, you have a good chance of finding one you like.

If you don’t have any crayons or markers handy, journaling is another way to relax. You don’t have to follow a “Dear Diary” format to journal. For me, journaling involves writing down Bible verses or quotes that comfort or inspire me.

Journaling reminds me of the power of words and the simple joy that can be found by indulging in them.

Listen to a song (or a few) that inspires you.

I have an entire playlist on my Spotify account dedicated to songs that move me, and I don’t go a week without listening to it at least a few times. There’s a lot of power in music. Tap into that when you’re feeling spent or stressed. Whether it’s a pump-up song or a slow ballad, focus on feeling that human emotion reflected in another person’s voice. It can be a good reminder that you’re not alone in what you’re feeling.

Listening to music gives me the clarity I need to move forward.

Go on a walk.

This doesn’t have to be a walk through the woods. Go for a walk down your street or through the halls of your dorm. As long as you’re getting out of your present environment, you are finding a healthy way to divert your mind. Plus, during exercise, your brain releases endorphins that leave you feeling more relaxed.

Taking a walk pulls me outside of my own head and reminds me that there is so much more to this world than what’s in front of me, namely my computer screen.

When I use one of these practices to pull my mind away from present responsibilities, I find I can come back to them feeling refreshed — much better than when I “relaxed” with social media, which led me to return to my work feeling just as depleted and discouraged as I felt before my break.

We were not made to be machines. We need sleep and time to wind down. We need the energy to accomplish our endless lists of tasks. So why not give yourself a break with something that replenishes that energy, leaving you better prepared to tackle the day?

Grotto quote about mindfulness exercises that reads, "We were not made to be machines. We need sleep and time to wind down."

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