Category Archives: Stress

Listening To Your Body Is Good Medicine

iStock_000044639012_SmallWe often regard stress as something to be avoided. Ultimately though, stress is inevitable…from the moment our alarm clock rings, we experience a “fight or flight” response and continue to experience stressors for the remainder of our day.

Although people generally regard stress as negative, stress is actually adaptive in that it helps us to strive for and achieve our goals.  When an elite sprinter is in the starting blocks, stress elevates the blood pressure and heart rate, enabling the runner to reach top speed quickly. Upon realizing I have a deadline, I experience a stress response and am motivated to stop procrastinating and get to work.

Ultimately, the problem may not be that we experience stress, but that we don’t recover from it efficiently. Recovering quickly from stressful situations may help us to harness the power of stress. In addition, people who recover more quickly from stress are known to have better physical and emotional health outcomes.

This ability to recover quickly from stress is sometimes called resilience. People who are more resilient are more able to quickly return their body to a relaxed state. Researchers are finding that mindfulness practice is one way to bolster resilience. Studies at University of California, San Diego are showed that mindfulness training can people in high-stress positions like elite athletes and Marines to more quickly reduce their physiological stress response. Another study with “normal” people who were put into a stressful situation (periods of breathlessness) found that those with low resilience had less awareness of their body, but more brain activity indicative of distress. Researchers concluded that the key to coping more effectively with stress involves bodily awareness, which can be developed via mindfulness practice.

The body scan meditation is a way to increase resilience by tuning into the body in a curious, non-judgmental way. Being more engaged with your body will help you to notice when you’re holding on to stress and release it when it’s not helpful to you. Try the body scan once a day for a week and see if you notice any changes in the way you respond to stress.

(Thanks to  Kelsey Banes for this article!)

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Meditation is Different and Healthier than Relaxation

iStock_000004778955_Resize2I regularly teach meditation to people who have never meditated before and one of the common misconceptions is that meditation is the same as “relaxation.” While meditation may have a side benefit of helping you feel relaxed and peaceful, it is not the primary intention of meditation. The primary intention of meditation is  to teach you how to be navigate your life (all of the ups and downs) without over reacting and getting stressed out. In other words, it teaches you how to alleviate your suffering.

And you don’t just have to take my word for it. In a recent study in the Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, mindfulness meditation was shown to be more effective than either “eyes-closed relaxation” or silence in increasing awareness, reducing depression, anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate in a diverse sample of people. These health outcomes are extremely important for anyone experiencing the demands of school, work, major stress-related illnesses, and difficult living environments.

This study is particularly interesting because it was comprised of African American university students and urban residents. The use of diverse populations in research is extremely important in our ability to correctly understand the impact of interventions. Surprisingly enough, many researchers in the past have ignored gender, racial, and cultural differences with sometimes devastating consequences.

If you would like to try meditation, it can be helpful to join a group and have an experienced teacher lead you through the practice. Use the internet to search for programs near you by using the words “mindfulness meditation groups.” As an alternative, feel free to use the recordings on this website. I have meditation and yoga sessions that can be help you sail through the holiday season and on into the New Year.

Enjoy!

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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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