Category Archives: Stress

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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Breathe, Belly Check, and Smile!

We are on the countdown to the beginning of the holiday season—Thanksgiving is upon us!!!  We will soon be faced with tables of food—things like turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, cranberries, potatoes and gravy, the obligatory green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin cheesecake (my favorite!!) and many more.  I’m salivating just thinking about it.  Oh the joy of Thanksgiving!

Of course, then there is that sinking feeling about the holidays approaching.  You know the ones.  The thoughts of days packed with even more events and activities than normal, the family gatherings with family you’re not that crazy about, the demands to be at parties and participate in things we might not be so happy about, (or conversely) NOT having invitations to be at parties or have family to gather with, spending too much money, and eating and drinking too much because food is EVERYWHERE.    

What’s a girl (or guy) to do? Continue reading

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Mindfulness Helps You Sit With Pain (Emotional and Physical)

It’s the second week of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program and some people are wondering why on earth I am asking them to do the body scan every day (a formal mindfulness exercise that asks people to systematically bring attention to their body from head to toe).  All kinds of comments are made after we do it at the beginning of class. On one hand, people say things like “It’s kind of boring,” “My mind wanders all over the place,” “The more I do it the less attention I pay to it (and I don’t like the recording).” On the other hand, people indicate “It’s really relaxing,” “I’ve noticed how it’s changed the way I relate to other things in my life,” “I’m able to release the tension in my body,” and “I am more able to cope with my pain.”

Our lives are filled with things that we like and things that we don’t like.  We feel pain (both emotional and physical) and we feel joy. Mindfulness teaches us to treat all our experiences with equal care and compassion and kindness.  Meeting life head-on in each moment teaches us that we can be with whatever is present without reacting. And if reacting is happening, we notice that with curiosity and openness. Continue reading

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Meditation makes us all winners!


But Maryam Fakhradeen from the University of Missouri-Kansas City won the book “Commit to Sit: Tools for Cultivating a Meditation Practice” by posting her comment about doing the three minute meditation.  She said “Helped a LOT; I knew I was tense but didn’t realize I was THAT tense until I was doing the exercise.  Love learning new mindfulness exercises & tips!”

It’s amazing what you notice when you simply bring your attention to your body, your feelings, and your thoughts.  When you check in with yourself, you might find tension or sadness or anger or happiness or peace.  Things could feel pleasant or unpleasant or there might not be much of a feeling at all.  Mindfulness is the tool that helps us to pay attention with curiosity and kindness so that no matter what we find when we look, we can be with it without reactivity.  Hey, then you can relax. No need to struggle with what’s happening.  We are just looking in to see what’s there.

Take a few breaths and, voila!  In a moment or two something else is happening and we can relax around that too.  Mindfulness helps us to sit beside our experiences as well as be in the middle of our experiences at the same time.  This ability to abide with our lives can come in real handy, because, as you know, life is filled with ups-and-downs coming at us constantly and mindfulness lets us ride the waves.

Listening to NPR this morning, the benefits of meditation practice are even being picked up on by business schools around the country—from Harvard to  Michigan’s Ross School of Business.  The bottom line is that “slowing down” (taking a three minute breathing break) helps them be more effective.  Listen to the whole story here. 

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Wake Up! Be Happy!

A study by Harvard researchers indicates that the more you daydream the less likely you are to be happy.  And, it comes as no surprise that people’s minds are wandering about 47% of the time.  That’s almost half of your waking hours. 

When we’re lost in thought this means we’re lost in primarily negative and habitual thinking patterns about the past or the future.  If you’re caught in the past, it’s often depressing.  If you’re caught in the future, it’s often anxiety-provoking.  Every time I teach this in one of my classes I can see people nodding their heads in agreement. We often think we are unique, but our minds are basically alike due to having the same survival and other physiological response mechanisms.

Being engaged in any activity will result in you being happier.  Put another way, the more mindful and conscious you are as you go about your daily activities, the better you would feel.  So, being present for the world around you in “real time” instead of lost in thought would create a happier you. 

I particularly noticed this today as I was traveling across the country to visit my niece.   Sitting in the plane on the second leg of my air travel, I suddenly realized my mind had been running a scenario over and over of a situation at work that hadn’t even happened yet and trying to find a solution.   As the future drama ensued (in my mind), I felt more and more uncomfortable and anxious.   Waking up to the time warp in my mind, I re-calibrated to the present.  Sitting in the airplane.  Breathing.  Young woman watching a video in the seat next to me.  Seat belt sign on.  I felt fine.   Life was okay.   Hey, it’s pretty great.  I’m on vacation!  Oh yeah!

This is what happens.  We get caught in thought, and we lose touch with reality.   If you were able to add up whether you were okay or not in each successive moment of your life in one average day, I would venture to guess you would discover it is mostly fine.  But when you’re caught in mindless thinking you convince yourself you’re not.  Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, says  “all stress comes from believing a thought that argues with reality.” 

Wake up to what’s really happening as much as you can and notice what happens.  Mark Twain said it best, “I have suffered a great many misfortunes, most of which have never happened.”   Deal with the misfortunes when they actually do happen (and they will), but don’t waste the rest of your life on the imagined ones.  Be happy!

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The falsity of perfection.

I recently received this video that highlights the way models and actors use photoshop to hide the imperfections they have.  This one is from Sarah at diet.com.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YP31r70_QNM&NR=1&feature=fvwp

The Dove Campaign has a couple of good ones as well. This one shows you the transformation of a model in fast forward  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U and this one shows you how bombarded with are with images of how we should look  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ei6JvK0W60I.  Both a good watch!

Continue reading

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“The Sweetness of Doing Nothing”

I recently watched the movie Eat, Pray, Love and was reminded again of why I love Italy.  Besides the breathtaking beauty of the cities and the countryside, the food is amazing and the way the Italians enjoy themselves is contagious and appealing.  In one of the scenes in the movie, an Italian was trying to explain to an American about “dolce farninte” (translated as “the sweetness of doing nothing” or “pleasant idleness”).  I think most Americans (myself included) could use an extended course in how to master this art of dolce farninte.  Continue reading

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“Laughter” … a medical prescription and workout plan I can endorse

 Being someone who is known for her big laugh, I loved the latest research findings by Lee Berk from Loma Linda University in California that indicate the health benefits of laughter.   In a small study of diabetes patients, researchers split patients –all with hypertension and hyperlipidemia (a risk factor for cardiovascuolar disease) into two groups. Both groups were given standard diabetes medication. However, over a year of treatments, the participants in the intervention group viewed 30 minutes of humor of their choosing. The participants in the control group did not get the laughter intervention. Continue reading

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Eating in Peace Park

peace park 002Ever notice that when you are stressed or anxious or sad or angry you feel it in your “gut?”  The obvious answer would be “YES.”  The reason may not be so obvious or well-know.  The enteric nervous system, which is located in the stomach is a kind of “mini-brain” that contains as many neurons (nerve cells) as the spinal cord and is connected to the brain in a two-way messenger system.  The “gut” not only registers our emotions but helps shape them.  Continue reading

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The relationship between stress and eating

More and more research is beginning to show the link between stress and eating behavior.  Stress can either produce undereating or overeating depending on the severity of the stressor.  However, there is a consistent pattern of evidence that people will eat food that is higher in sugar and fat when stressed.  While this type of eating might produce some short term psychological relief, the result is an increase in abdominal obesity and cardiovascular disease.  According to a study in Nutrition (Volume 23, Issues 11-12, November-December 2007, Pages 887-894), longitudinal studies suggest that chronic life stress may be causally linked to weight gain, with a greater effect seen in men.  This research indicates that stress-induced eating may be at least a partial explanation for the rising rates of obesity in our country.  Therefore, being aware of your stress levels and finding ways to better manage your stress will be essential in helping you make changes in your eating habits.  Anecdotally, at the end of each eight week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program that I teach, participants regularly report they have made changes in the way they eat even though we don’t specifically focus on food after the first week of the program when asked to eat one meal mindfully.  It is not surprising that more “mindful eating” programs are incorporating tools for handling stress such as meditation and yoga as an important component.  In addition, the skill of “being present” is essential when making choices about eating.  For a quick break from your stress and to cultivate your ability to be awake to your life and the choices you make, listen to a Taste of Mindfulness or the Three Minute Breathing Space  It only takes a minute or two to really make a difference in the way you feel.

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