Category Archives: Stress

Go Ahead and Smile!

A handsome young black man against a yellow background

With the current Fitbit craze, you’re probably aware of the health benefits of getting in 10,000 steps a day. But are you aware of all of the health benefits of smiling?

I’d like to invite you to do a little experiment. Put a smile on your face right now and leave it there for 30 seconds. Notice how it makes you feel.  According to the facial feedback hypothesis, facial muscles not only express emotions, but they also have the ability to modulate how you feel. In other words, if you put a smile on your face you can change from feeling angry or anxious to feeling happier or initiate a happy feeling “out of the blue.” When you smile, you are literally sending messages to your brain that you’re happy and eventually you agree. Continue reading

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Mindfulness Opportunities To Make Time For In 2015!

As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, one of the ways to have more time is to take some of it time for mefor yourself.  And, as we start the New Year, now is a good time to set the intention to take more time for mindfulness. Some people call it self-care, I call it a necessity.

Taking “time” for mindfulness might sound like an oxymoron.  But, unless you are already an enlightened being who dwells only in the present and without judgment, you might want to consider being inspired to take time to practice mindfulness by a few of my suggestions below.

TED Talks on Meditation Continue reading

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Ho Ho Ho! Happy For a Reason

HHo Ho Hoow would you answer the question “What do you want in life?” As it turns out, many people say they want to be happy.  Yet, despite our relatively prosperous conditions, only one-third of Americans report being happy and we rank 17th compared to other countries on how happy we are, with Denmark and other European countries at the top.

So what do we need to be happy? (Hint: I don’t think you’ll find it under the Christmas tree.)

Scrolling through the documentaries on Netflix, I decided to one watch on this very topic called “Happy.”  It was released in 2011, but if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. While I’ve heard most of the information before, it is always good to be reminded of some basic facts.  First and most important, It is estimated that at least 40 percent of your happiness is created by with intentional activity–meaning it’s your responsibility (with 50 percent going to genetic and 10 percent to circumstances).

And, it’s not about how much money you make, how much success you have, or how much prestige you get from others.  In fact, after you have enough money to get your basic needs met, money will not buy you any greater happiness.  Even living under extremely poor economic conditions doesn’t doom you to a life of dread. In fact, many people with very little in the way of creature comforts are quite happy.

In the book “The How of Happiness,” Sonja Lyubomirsky details many of the intentional activities you can engage in to boost your happiness quotient. Try a few of them as you finish the holiday season and set some intentions for your happiness as the New Year begins.

  1. Be socially connected – The happiest and healthiest people have strong relationships to family and friends.  The communities you live in can provide love, meaning, support, and increase your feelings of self-worth. These networks support you with daily routines like cooking and taking care of children as well as during times of crises.
  2. Be physically active – Being physically active improves your life on many different levels by releasing hormones into your blood that do some pretty amazing things for your mood (and your weight). Doing some extra physical movement that feels good to your body, even if it’s only for a few minutes, every day will help you feel better, have more energy, and be more positive.
  3. Be resilient – The happiest people know how to bounce back from adversity.  One of the things that happy people do is re-frame negative events into learning opportunities.  You can’t change the events that happen to you, but you can change how you relate to them. As it turns out, construing benefit in negative life events is a tremendously effective coping strategy.
  4. Be grateful – Studies have shown that just listing 5 things that you are grateful for every Sunday can increase your mood compared to people who don’t take note of the good things in their lives. An attitude of gratitude can be practiced every day.  Before you go to sleep at night or when you first wake up, think of one or two things you are really grateful for.  When you feel grateful for someone, let them know through a kind word, a thoughtful email or card, or even just a hug.
  5. Be mindful – One of the attitudinal qualities of mindfulness is having a “beginner’s mind.” When you are keenly aware of your surroundings or seek ways to live out of your normal routine you will flourish with positive mental health.  There are many ways you can do this. You can drive a different way to work, go to a new restaurant, explore a new museum, try a new craft, learn a new language, play a new sport, or join a new club. Be open to the new and interesting in your life.  Never be a person who says they’re bored!  Life is an exciting adventure.

Happy Holidays!

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5 Tips for People Too Busy to Meditate

Be mindful in letterpress wood typeWhen someone tells me he is too busy to meditate, I know he is just the person that needs it most. The busier you are, the more you need to take time for a bit of mindfulness.  I’m sure you have felt the energy drain of a day when there is too much to do.  Instead of grabbing another cup of coffee or some sugar to give you an energy boost, try a little mindfulness.  Just like you plug in your cellphone every night, plugging into the present can be a great re-charge for your body and mind.

Mindfulness is about dropping in on all of our senses in the ever changing moment we call “now” with kindness and curiosity.  It just takes a few minutes throughout the day to make a huge difference in how you feel, how you respond to the stress in your life, and how much energy you have for all of the things you want to do.

  1. Do a three minute breathing space.  This short exercise is one of the favorites from my classes. Developed by Mark Williams, Zindel Segal, and John Teasdale for their mindfulness-based intervention for depression, it is a perfect way for dropping out of automatic pilot and dropping into your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.
  2. Take a mindful walk.  For three minutes, get up and simply walk.  Don’t think about your worries, your projects, and your to-do list.  Be aware of your body moving, placing your feet on the ground, the movement of your legs, the air against your skin, the muscles that are involved in moving you forward.  Every time your mind wanders, bring your attention back to simply walking.  Come back refreshed and more energized.
  3. Do a short seeing exercise.  For a couple of minutes, stand at a window and gaze outside.  Take in the sky, the clouds, the sun, the rain, the trees, the flowers, the birds, the cars, the buildings, etc.  Scan the environment and just notice the colors, the shapes, and the sizes. Be aware of the world around you. Breathing gently in and out and bringing your curious awareness back to your surroundings. See what you discover.
  4. When you are in a conversation with someone, let the other person be your object of mindfulness.  When your mind wanders from what the other person is saying, come back to the words that they are speaking.  When the person is finished talking, repeat back to the person what you heard them say so that you know you have understood them.  Notice how you get distracted and keep bringing yourself back to the person in front of you.
  5. Break out of your routine.  Nothing gets our attention more than novelty.  The problem is we fall into routine patterns and habits that lull us to sleep.  In the morning, eat something different for breakfast.  Drive or commute a different way to work. Meet someone new for lunch. Take in a new activity – a new museum, store, sport, hiking trail, lecture, or a new restaurant. Make your life a little spicier and notice how it brings you more fully into the moment.

While it is recommended that you engage in longer periods of time for sitting meditation or yoga, there are great benefits to be found in little mini mindfulness moments throughout your day. In fact, mindfulness throughout the day is the final goal anyway. You can bring your mindfulness to any activity and make it a meditation.

By coming back to the moment over and over again, no matter what you’re doing, you will improve your ability to take care of your busy day with more ease.  You will have more attention and focus so you get things done faster.  You will be utilizing the decision-making, creative parts of your brain so your performance will improve. And you will be calmer which makes you feel good and enhances the quality of the relationships you have with others.

Turn your busy day into a mindful day.

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Three Days to Less Stress – Meditation Can Help

alarm clocksEverybody is looking for a quick fix to be less stressed.  We try shopping, drinking, distracting ourselves with TV, and even complaining to try to feel better.  However, these strategies are only temporary and often have negative side effects (e.g., financial difficulties, being hung over, being overweight, and feeling more negative).  Let’s face it, there are usually no quick, easy fixes to life’s challenges.

However, now researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have given us some hope.  David Creswell and his research team did a study where they had one group of participants complete a brief mindfulness meditation training program – 25 minutes of meditation for three consecutive days.  The meditation instructed them to monitor their breath and pay attention to their present moment experiences.   The comparison group participants were given instructions to enhance their problem-solving skills.  After their training, all participants were compared on stressful speech and math tasks in front of stern-faced evaluators in white coats.   The participants who had the meditation training reported less perceived stress than the comparison group, indicating greater psychological resilience—a known indicator of greater physical and psychological well-being and health.

If you would like to try the test for yourself, here is a 30 minute sitting meditation. Use it for three days in a row and notice how you feel.  Pay attention after day three how you react to things that usually create stress for you. If you’d like, share your experience by commenting below.  If you notice it working, you might like to try some other meditations as well. Pretty soon you might be doing something everyday. You will find meditations of varying lengths on the Audio/Video Tab on this website.

Good luck!

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Five Tips for Mindful Emailing

tastingmindfulness-stockimage1Emails in the workplace often come with questions, work to do, goals to reach, and obstacles to overcome. That makes them inherently stressful or anxiety producing. Plus, communication is hard enough when we are face-to-face and email makes it much more challenging. Face-to-face we have the ability to read another person’s intentions and emotions. Over email, we are left guessing what the other person is trying to express. When you read an email that upsets you, it is often because a reaction is being triggered that may not be appropriate to the communication as it was intended.

Knowing this, here are some tips for what to do when you feel triggered emotionally by an email you receive.

1. Use the STOP sign technique before you respond.

S = Stop (do nothing)
T = take a breath (or five breaths or breathe until you’re more relaxed)
O = Observe (What are you feeling and thinking? Is this someone you have reacted to in the past? Is there a pattern of reacting that you can begin to understand better?)
P = Proceed (when you feel calm again, now you can respond if you need to)

2. After you have calmed down, re-read the email in question. Does it say what you thought it did? Or, does it say something slightly different? When I go back and re-read emails I often discover that they were much less of a problem than the first time I read them.

3. Put yourself in the shoes of the person sending the email. What might they be trying to accomplish? Usually someone doesn’t send an email to make you mad and, in fact, the email is often sent with good intentions. Assume good intentions whenever possible.

4. When you’re sending an email, check in with what you intend to convey. Never send an email that you’ve composed when you’re angry. Take a few breaths and wait until you’re calm. You will be much more capable at getting your message across in a way that can be accepted without defensiveness.

5. When possible, pick up the phone and talk or walk down the hall to speak to someone in person. While email is absolutely a necessity in this day and age, there are still times we could take advantage of some old fashioned face time.

The workplace is fast-paced and hectic. No wonder it can be filled with misunderstandings. When we practice slowing down, even a little, we can discover many new things in our communications with others. We can begin to illuminate the ways we get stuck in repetitive patterns and we can begin to understand how others operate so that we don’t take their messages so personally. When we practice mindful emailing, we have an opportunity to help the workplace be a little more friendly and manageable.

 

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Does stress make you overeat at work?

stress_eaterJack is sitting at his desk intently focused on his work. He is getting a little stressed because he has a deadline to meet and he has a lot of other work that is beginning to pile up.  Automatically, his left hand reaches down to the desk drawer that is filled with food in case he gets hungry.   Is Jack really hungry? Or, is he stressed?  Continue reading

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Just BE – 7 Tips for a Mindfulness-based Approach to Life

IDo you multitask your way through life? Do you find yourself constantly making a to-do list or planning? Do you feel restless if you aren’t doing something? Do you think you don’t have time to meditate or engage in other self-care? Do you eat to keep yourself busy or from being bored?  If so, then you may have become a “human doing” rather than a “human being.”

The art of “being human” has been lost in the midst of our need for entertainment, distraction, and constant motion.  In fact, I just asked the people in one of my classes if anyone felt their lives were too busy and every person raised their hand.  And, although everyone thinks they are too busy, if you ask them to sit and meditate or do yoga there is often a resistance to it. So, we have quite the conundrum.  I can’t “be” because I’m too busy.

Here are seven tips to help you become human again.  Try them on a regular basis and notice how you feel.  You can start with just one and work your way up. Each attempt to come back to sanity will be a healing moment for your mind and body. Continue reading

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The Pause That Refreshes!

iStock_000002538269LargeThere probably isn’t anything I find more powerful or helpful than a pause.  Stopping and taking a deep breath when you’re stressed, angry, impatient, or frustrated can keep you from (a) saying things that you wished you hadn’t said, (b) sending emails you wished you hadn’t sent, (c) doing things that you wish you hadn’t done, or (d) all of the above.

People call the pause by many different names.  Tara Brach, in her book Radical Acceptance, calls it the “sacred pause.”  Janice Marturano, in her book Finding the Space to Lead, calls it a “purposeful pause.”  The authors of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for Depression call it a “three minute breathing space.”  I often call it a “taste of mindfulness.”

Call it what you wish, a pause from your busy lives to check in with how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and how your body feels is all that you might need to avoid any of the behavior above and to help you settle down enough to let your clarity and wisdom arise.  If nothing else, it gives you time to rethink your next move.  It helps you tap into the wisdom of your body so that you take care of it better.  Instead of reactively reaching for a cup of coffee when you’re tired, you might get up and walk, stretch, lie on the floor, take some deep breaths.

A pause can help you re-center into the present moment and really take in what is going on. At work this is particularly helpful.  Perhaps you’re in a meeting but your mind is thinking about something else and you’re not really catching what’s going on.  You miss some of the main points and then you feel pretty timid about asking what you missed. I have put a random mindfulness bell called Lotus Bud on my phone that can go off at any time.  It rings and says “take a breath and be mindful.” When it goes off in a meeting, we all pause and take a breath or two.  It’s amazing how it slows things down (in a good way) and helps people stay more focused on the task at hand.

A pause can be short or long.  Short pauses are particularly good when you feel stressed.  Longer pauses can be taken throughout your day, such as when you are walking to lunch or driving home from work.  Just walk or just drive.  Don’t do anything else.  You’ll be surprised what you might discover.  It is always from the stillness that I have my most interesting, creative ideas.  In fact, when I ask people where they get their best ideas, it is almost always in the middle of a pause.

Think about times when you could use a pause and set an intention to work them into your day.  I’ll bet you’ll amazed at how refreshing they are.

 

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Habit Releasers – Mindfulness to Shake Up your World!

Feeling a little frantic lately?  Needing a little peace in your day?  Well, I have just the thing for you. There is a new book out called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World.

It is written by Mark Williams, who is a wonderful mindfulness teacher and researcher that I met at a mindfulness conference a number of years ago, and Danny Penman, a writer for UK’s Daily Mail.  Mark has done a lot of work with mindfulness as it relates to depression and co-authored a couple of books on that topic. These are also worth a look if you have any struggles with depression.

His current book appears to be very close to an outline for the mindfulness-based stress reduction program that was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and that is taught at the University of Missouri (among thousands of other places in the world).   So, if you can’t get to a class, you could pick this book up and get a lot of the same exercises.  NOTE:  taking an in-person class will help you understand the material better and help keep you more accountable.  Actually doing  the mindfulness practices on a regular basis is the key to finding peace in a frantic world—not just reading about them.

One of the exercises in the book I really like is called a “Habit Releaser.”  Give it a try.  All you have to do is make a deliberate choice to break out of one (or more) of your usual routines.  For instance, notice which chair you normally sit in at home, at a meeting, in a coffee shop, or at work and then sit somewhere different and new.  Or perhaps you could drive a different route to work or to the grocery store.  Walk a different route than you normally do.

There is nothing wrong with having habits but they tend to put us to sleep and on automatic pilot.  Changing up the scenery, even by just sitting in a different chair, can show you something new and give you a new perspective on life.  Be aware of the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of this new way of doing things.  Comment your experience below and tell me what you discovered!  There is a whole world out there you miss most of the time.

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