Stress Reduction – Living in the Moment!
We live busy lives in a chaotic world. Our minds are bombarded with images and information, our schedules are stretched beyond our capacity and the list of things to do never ends. We are tired, stressed and depleted.
The cost of stress is immense. Poor concentration, anxiety, depression, over eating, neck tension, irritability, relief drinking, misuse of medications, relational issues, lowered immunity, excess cortisol, heart issues and more concerning health conditions develop.
While we cannot entirely eliminate the stress that life produces these days, we can deescalate the stress by engaging in activities that calm our bodies and minds.
Mindfulness is a concept introduced to the Medical community by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979. He is the founder of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine.
Mindfulness is a way of living that helps to reduce stress levels and restore balance of body, mind and spirit. It is a practice that helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which calms the arousal state triggered by stress.
The benefits of practicing mindfulness have been well researched and documented over the past couple of decades. The American Psychological Association has confirmed that mindfulness can reduce anxiety and produce a positive mood with less emotional reactivity. Mindfulness will also increase working memory and sharpen the ability to focus. There is also greater flexibility in thinking and the ability to adapt during stressful situations.
Applying mindfulness for anyone who suffers from an illness will notice benefits with a reduction in symptoms, an improved level of functioning and perhaps a remission of the disease. Whatever we have, stress will make it worse, so managing stress alone will assist the body to heal.
So why practice Mindfulness? It is good for our bodies. It quiets our minds. It soothes our emotions.
Easy ways to practice mindfulness in a busy life. Select a couple of the following techniques to incorporate into your week. Start small for a few minutes and then build up a duration of 10 to 15 or 20 mins. This is a small gift you will give your body, mind & soul.
The breath is at the base of many ancient traditions. It centers the mind, calms the body and soothes the soul. Simply sit in a quiet place and breathe in through the nose and “slowly” out through the mouth. Fill the belly more than the chest. Taking in several deep controlled breathes in a slow manner allows a flow of relaxation to take place.
Herbert Benson, the author of The Relaxation Response studied all types of meditation. His findings were that all forms of meditation are beneficial and have positive physiological effects turning off the stress response and allowing the body to relax. He suggests that no form of meditation is better than the other.
To practice meditation, sit quietly and focus on a word or phrase that has meaning to you. As you do this, your mind will drift. Simply bring your mind back to the word or phrase. Doing this for as little as 10 minutes a day will have a positive impact on overall health.
Sit with your focus on a candle, fireplace, flower or other object that is pleasing to you. As your mind drifts, bring your focus back to the item. Notice all you can about it without any judgement.
With this practice you will begin to realize the power of your ability to shift your attention to something that brings you peace rather than staying “tuned into” something that is upsetting. This practice also trains the mind to “simplify” by attending to one item at t time, a valuable tool in a culture of multitasking.
Sound has been a traditional way of relating among cultures, religions and generations. Music has the ability to transcend communication to touch the heart and the soul. Listening to sounds that are soothing can calm the spirit. Select a piece of music and allow yourself to listen to it with your eyes shut and without distractions. Notice how it makes you feel, what you like about it, listen to it as if you never heard it before and just “notice” the vibrations and their impact on you.
Sit in a place and close your eyes. Notice every sound that you can pick up on in the moment. It is fascinating to realize all the sounds that you can become aware of when you are not distracted. Likewise, it’s interesting to note that when you are focused there are many sounds that no longer have your attention. Try practicing this active listening in a nature setting. See what you notice and what you don’t.
At Thanksgiving we annually give thanks for our blessings. But “an attitude of gratitude” can do wonders for our outlook and our mental health. Write down all the things in your life at the moment that you are grateful for. Practicing gratitude can increase our neurobiology favorably by increasing reward chemicals in the brain and reduce anxiety. Simply start a routine where you are regularly giving thanks for the simple things in your life. A daily gratitude journal, giving thanks before meals or affirming positive moments throughout the day are all easy ways to incorporate this practice.
In the age of “aromatherapy” we have learned that pleasant scents can have a healing impact on our mood, health and energy. Hospitals, doctors offices and classrooms are starting to use aromas to impact health, learning and to purify the environment. Soothing scents like flowers, oceans, fresh rain will help to ease nerves and improve focus and peaceful feelings. Lavender for example has been used to reduce anxiety and calm nerves.
Sitting quietly and imagining in your mind a place you have been or would like to be can cause changes in your body. Imagine yourself sitting by a fire, be detailed in your thinking and before you know it, you will feel a sense of warmth. Likewise, picture yourself holding snowball while standing in a snowstorm and you are likely to feel a chill or remember times from your youth. Our minds are very powerful and have the potential to transport us quickly to another place and time.
Deciding what you want to make happen before you enter a situation, holiday or season can help to create it by setting your mind into action. Consider the day ahead of you, where can you create meaning or turn the ordinary into the extraordinary? Set an intention to smile, say a kind word, bring laughter or lighten a mood. Even if you are not concentrating directly on it at the time, you are likely to find that it will naturally occur due to some mental pre meditation.
While much of this can sound amateur and ridiculously simple, practicing any of these techniques will help to eliminate the body’s stress response. They also have the potential to increase neurochemistry in a positive manner allowing the minds reward center to release powerful neurochemicals that transmit “feeling good” not only to the mind but throughout the entire body. In a hustle and bustle world where everyone is on the move or on a device, it can help us to “unplug” and practice “being here now”.
Dr. Denise Casey
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