For the past few weeks, we’ve been exploring stress, its impact on us, and what we can do about it. Let’s recap what we know so far:
- Stress is what happens when the body responds to physical, mental, or emotional pressure by releasing stress hormones (such as epinephrine and norepinephrine) that increase blood pressure, speed heart rate, and raise blood sugar levels. These changes help a person act with greater strength and speed to escape a perceived threat. This was great back when we had to deal with predators on a daily basis, but we’re no longer in danger of being eaten most days, so this chemical reaction could be dialed back.
- We know that people who experience intense and long-term (i.e., chronic) stress can have digestive problems, fertility problems, urinary problems, and a weakened immune system. People who experience chronic stress are also more prone to viral infections such as the flu or common cold and to have headaches, sleep trouble, depression, and anxiety. In cancer, stress is associated with higher rates of death, although they’re not sure why.
- Stress uses up your energy reserves.
- Home life can be more stressful than work life, because expectations are less defined.
Ways to treat or mitigate stress that we’ve looked at in this series include:
- Deep Breathing
- Acoustic Therapy
- Learning to say no
- Paring down your to do list
- Express your feelings rather than bottling them up
- Focus on the positive
- Know what you have control over and what you don’t
Let’s explore another tool, one readers of this blog might already be aware of – meditation.
Some of you are running for the hills already, I’m sure. What are your excuses? You can’t focus, you don’t have enough time, you’re not good at it, you hate sitting still… I’m sure there are more, but those are the big ones i hear over and over again. Well, guess what, each of those excuses is a symptom of stress. Quite possibly the only way you’re going to have more time, better focus, learn to enjoy sitting still, and get better at meditation is to learn to meditate. Years of experience, both in meditating and in teaching meditation, have shown me that all you really need, in order to gain ALL of the benefits of meditation, is 10 minutes a day, as long as it’s every day. It is the regularity and the repetition, more than the length of time, that are they key. Surely you can lock yourself in the bathroom or your parked car for 10 minutes to improve your health and feel more serene in your life?
Here is the simplest way to get started:
- Put your phone on Do Not Disturb, or turn the notifications off
- Get somewhere you won’t be interrupted for 10 minutes
- Set a timer for 2 minutes (stick with me here)
- Close your eyes
- To the best of your ability, observe your thoughts, like they were a movie or a radio show in which you are only mildly interested. Don’t converse with them, don’t try to get them to stop, don’t argue, don’t push them away, don’t analyze them, and certainly don’t take them personally.You will not do this perfectly, and that’s okay.
- Every time you catch yourself picking up your thoughts in some way, gently, without beating yourself up, bring yourself back to the observer position.
- When the timer goes off, stop. You’re done for the day.
Do this every day for 2 weeks. At the end of 2 weeks, bump your timer up to 3 minutes and do that for 2 weeks. Them bump it up to 5 minutes and do that for 2 weeks, then 8, then 10. Ta da! You’re meditating.
You will rarely do it perfectly. That’s not the point. There’s a reason the Buddhists call it a meditation practice. Do it anyway.
Once you have done the 10 minutes for at least 2 weeks, see how you feel. Do you respond differently to the “stressors” in your life? How’s your energy level? Have you started to feel like you have more breathing room, or that you have more time to get things done? How’s your focus?
I would love to hear how these tools are working for you, feel free to leave me a comment!