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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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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