Posts tagged ‘Stress Reduction’

7 Tips to Get Your Butt on the Cushion!

“We must go beyond the intellect into the silence of our intuitive hearts, where separation disappears and knowledge gives way to wisdom.”
~ Ram Dass

Sit Stay Heal Mindfulness is currently a “hot” topic in the media. With the increasing number of books, articles, videos and other vehicles addressing mindfulness, it is relatively easy to learn about this topic. Consuming this information can be inspiring, motivating, and can even develop a sound intellectual understanding of the practices, yet, the impacts of mindfulness are not cultivated in this way. Its benefits are not easily attained; to realize these, some training is necessary, and, moreover, it entails a commitment to ongoing practice. You must go beyond your intellect and actually engage in the practices – it is, ultimately, an experiential process.

You need to make mindfulness a habit! According to Leo Babauta, a writer who focuses on implementing Zen habits in daily life, “If you want to form the habit of meditation, just get your butt on the cushion each day“. Here are some tips to help you do that:

1) Remind yourself of your intention.
Remembering the reason(s) you learned to practice (reduce stress, increase relaxation, minimize depression or anxiety, improve sleep, increase wisdom, etc.) can be a motivating factor.

2) Formalize your practice.
Carve out a specific time to practice each day. For greatest success, practice first thing in the morning – when you are most awake, have fewer distractions, before the momentum of your day builds and the busyness of your mind takes over.

3) Create a consistent practice space with minimal distractions.
Identify a place to practice where you will be comfortable and alert without distractions (turn off the phone, not in view of computer or other digital devices, let your family/roommates know that you do not wish to be disturbed). Try to practice in the same place each day; your mind will habituate to this location and it may become your welcome refuge.

4) Set a timer or use a guided practice so you are not tempted to keep looking at the clock.

5) Eliminate the “time” barrier.
Avoid the “all or nothing” mentality towards practicing. If it helps, start by committing to short practice times and build up to longer periods. When you don’t feel like you have the time for a full session of practice, engage for a shorter time to maintain your habit, such as five minutes, rather than none at all. Even short durations (10 to 15 minutes) of practice done on a regular basis will help your develop your mindfulness muscle and keep it fit.

6) Seek support
Find someone who will commit to practice with you, or attend a sitting group of practitioners. Additionally, there are apps available via your computer or smartphones that can be a means of support.

7) Try out different forms of mindfulness
Learning a variety of ways to cultivate mindfulness can be helpful since a single form of practice may not always feel suitable in every situation. Sitting meditation, body scan, and mindful movement (i.e. yoga, qi gong or walking meditation), can all be effective as part of your tool kit of mindful practices.

Once you’ve developed your habit of practice, extending mindfulness beyond the cushion into your daily active life is skillful, such as when you are driving, eating, conversing, or exercising. However, resist the belief that you can merely be mindful of your active life in lieu of formal practice, otherwise, your mindfulness skills will tend to wane.

“Sitting on the cushion” is where you are rewiring your brain – reinforcing the habit of bringing your attention to your present experience. By practicing on a regular basis, your mindfulness habit will continue to grow stronger, both on and off the cushion.

Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are and listen to the wind that is singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you’d like to be,
Not the saint you’re striving to become,
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.

All of you is holy.

You’re already more and less
than whatever you can know.

Breathe out,
Look in,
Let Go.
~John Welwood

March 24, 2015 at 1:00 pm 4 comments

The Great Escape: Fleeing From Ourselves

Enlightenment is just intimacy with all things.”
~ Eihei Dogen

 

FleeingThe “shocking” reality

According to a study by a team led by Timothy Wilson from the University of Virginia published in Science July 4, 2014, most people prefer to do something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative. To examine this, hundreds of participants were left in a bare room by themselves for 6 to 15 minutes with nothing to do: no phones, books, pens, or distractions of any kind. Just stay awake, be quiet, and sit idly in their seats. In one last experiment, 67 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women chose to administer a mild electric shock to themselves rather than finish the process. Beforehand, when given a sample, most said they’d pay $5 not to be zapped again — but when the time came, they still pushed the button. “The mind is designed to engage with the world,” Wilson says in a news release. “Even when we are by ourselves, our focus usually is on the outside world.” The team is working on the exact reasons why people find it difficult to be alone with their own thoughts.

The outcome of this study does not surprise me; however, I am disturbed by it. It reveals a universal, not merely personal, reality about the human condition in our current culture: that so many people would rather inflict pain upon themselves than be present with their direct experience. And, recognizing this inability to tolerate being with ourselves brings up a profound sadness in me. If we have such an aversion to allowing an intimacy with ourselves, then how can we encounter genuine intimacy with others?

How do you avoid being with yourself?

If you are truly honest, you will find that you, too, along with the vast majority of people, spend the better part of your life escaping yourself. We all employ strategies to preoccupy ourselves instead of being present with our experience. Here are just some of the ways we may do that:

  • Misusing substances: drugs (prescription and non-prescription), alcohol, food, etc.
  • Consuming electronics and media: TV, phone, computer (e-mail, social media, web surfing), news, etc.
  • Sleeping (as a means of avoidance instead of nourishment)
  • Staying Mentally Preoccupied: worrying, fantasizing, planning, ruminating, replaying, losing ourselves in memories/nostalgia, etc.
  • Staying Busy: working compulsively, exercising compulsively, cleaning compulsively, talking compulsively, socializing compulsively, etc.

These are all merely ways to keep ourselves distracted – rather than experiencing any potential dissatisfaction with the way things are in the moment. As Pablo Neruda asserts in his poem Keeping Quiet, “If we weren’t unanimous about keeping our lives so much in motion, if we could do nothing for once, perhaps a great silence would interrupt this sadness, this never understanding ourselves and threatening ourselves with death.” If you are willing to take a sincere look at your own behaviors, you may find a tendency to avoid intimacy with yourself by staying otherwise engaged using some of these strategies, albeit unconsciously. Moreover, once aware, you may begin to notice how these ways of being are actually self-destructive (not serving you) rather than promoting your well-being. For example, the simple habit of quickly checking your email before going to bed and unintentionally finding yourself on the computer for another hour or more, may be consistently robbing you of much needed sleep. At best, these strategies provide us with temporary relief. Ultimately, they are, instead, contributing to our suffering – we are causing harm to ourselves and, perhaps, also to others.

From what, or rather, whom are we escaping?

This is a question for which I do not have an answer. However, my best assessment is that we are afraid of what we might find, or not find, if we really take an honest look at our experience. The words of Alison Luterman in her poem, Stripping, suggest this underlying, existential fear:

“I want to strip.  It is the jewel at the center I seek;
let me be oyster, hoarding pearl.

Let me be coal, sheltering diamond.
Though in my heart of hearts I am afraid

I may be onion, each white circle
of stinky tears hiding another exactly like it.

Or rose: whose petals are her everything.”

How do we develop greater intimacy with, instead of fleeing from, ourselves?

People travel near and far in search of beautiful places and satisfying experiences. They surround themselves with luxurious comforts of accommodations, fine food, sumptuous things, or awe–inspiring natural settings. And yet, any satisfaction that may be experienced is fleeting, because “Wherever you go, there you are.” No matter our attempts, we can’t escape ourselves. Therefore, the way to develop intimacy with oneself is to simply meet your direct experience instead of creating separation. Start by inhabiting your body. This is the first foundation of mindfulness practice – mindfulness of body. Begin by bringing awareness of your body as a whole, specific sensations in your body (such as contact), and particularly, the experience of the breath occurring in your body. Whenever you notice your mind engaging in thoughts, no matter how frequently, bring your attention back to the experience in your body. This is a skill that we cultivate, not an intellectual process.According to Dogen, the path to realization is through the body. The human body, for Dogen, is not a hindrance to the realization of enlightenment (end of suffering); it rather serves as the vehicle through which enlightenment is realized by the aspirant. Dogen argues that those aspiring to become enlightened   strive with their bodies, practice seated meditation with their bodies, understand with their bodies, and attain enlightenment with their bodies.

The Buddha pointed out that we tend to give more importance to “thoughts” in the hierarchy of experience, yet a thought is no more important than the sensation in your small toe. As Kabir instructs,
Don’t go outside your house to see flowers.
My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body there are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty
Inside the body and out of it,
Before gardens and after gardens.”

This very thing we are trying to escape is actually our one true refuge. Therefore, staying connected to your direct experience through your body is one of the best ways to minimize suffering in your day-to-day life.

“Be at peace with your own soul,
Then heaven and earth will be at peace with you.

Enter eagerly into the treasure
house that is within you,

And you will see the things that are in heaven;
For there is but one single entry to them both.

The ladder that leads to the Kingdom
is hidden within your soul…

Dive into yourself and in your soul
And you will discover
The stairs by which to ascend.”

~ Saint Isaac of Nineveh

September 29, 2014 at 10:50 am 4 comments

The Sweetness of Doing Nothing (La Dolce Far Niente)

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
~Blaise Pascal

Doing NothingHave you ever wondered where the emphasis on staying busy comes from?

In the United States, the Puritan (or Protestant) Work Ethic is alive and well, some might say run amok. Protestants were originally attracted to the qualities of hard work and frugality, as well as social success and wealth, because these were thought to be two important consequences of being one of those elected or predestined to be saved; thus, Protestants were supposed to strive for reaching them. This mindset became wide spread; the Protestant work ethic is often credited with helping to define the societies of Northern Europe and other countries where Protestantism was common, including here, in the United States. For example, Proverbs 10:4 of the Holman Christian Standard Bible states, “Idle hands make one poor, but diligent hands bring riches.” Likewise, there are several German proverbs that echo this sentiment, such as: “The devil makes work for idle hands.” Thus, in the United States, it is common for people to feel we are not worthy if we are unable to account for our time with measurable results.

Making a case for downtime
Winnie the Pooh has quite a bit of wisdom to share with children and adults alike. In regard to keeping busy, Pooh makes the assertion, “Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” (from Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, inspired by A.A. Milne) We can also review the Old Testament (Gen. 2:2) as a reminder, lest we forget, that God rested on the seventh day of creation. In fact, Conservative and Orthodox Jews still observe the Sabbath by resting from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. It was only a few decades ago, if any of you were around then to remember, that stores were not open on Sundays to support a day of repose and being with family. Taking such a break can be a reminder that we are not indispensable. Moreover, it can validate for us that the earth will not stop rotating if we take a break from meeting the demands that face us. These demands can be met “all in good time.”

The reality is that not taking enough downtime has detrimental effects:

  • We may become more stupid.
    Constant activity keeps our bodies in a state of heightened stress arousal. In this state, our fight or flight reactivity, our ancient reptilian brain, is dominating our thoughts and behaviors. Thus we have less access to the prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain unique to human beings, where our executive functioning (rational thought, judgment and creativity) reside. Taking opportunities to bring ourselves out of stress arousal into greater balance allows us to utilize the intelligence that sets us apart as humans.
  • There are mental health risks to not taking enough vacation from work.
    A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (2013, August 2) concluded that employees who work long hours with high job demands are more likely to develop depression. And a 2005 study by the by the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin found that women who took vacations were less likely to suffer from depression than their counterparts who did not. Ultimately, burn-out and resentment can build when we don’t feel rewarded for overextending our energy, going beyond our limitations.
  • Productivity and job retention may suffer.
    The constant pressure to do more with less, coupled with the belief that being busy means we’re important, is creating an unsustainable pattern. It is worth questioning an unconscious belief that working more makes us more productive. As a case in point, when entrepreneur Henry Ford decreased the workweek of his employees from 48 to 40 hours per week, he found that their productivity actually increased.  Likewise, An internal study done by major accounting firm Ernst & Young in 2006 found vacation time was actually correlated with stronger performance. It concluded that for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took, their performance reviews from supervisors were 8 percent higher the following year. The study also found that employees who took vacation time were less likely to leave than their presumably burnt-out counterparts.       In my own study of business people who meditate, one of the themes that arose from those who maintained long-term meditation practice was a sense that they were more productive at work, not less, and without adding more time on the job.
  • Health may suffer.
    There is greater understanding that working too much is simply not healthy. Luckily, when we take time away, these effects are mitigated. For example, the Framingham Heart study (a massive longitudinal research program started in 1948) reported that when workers take annual vacations, their risk for a heart attack is reduced by 30% in men and 50% in women.

Thus, there is no need to feel guilty for taking time off of “doing.” For many people, staying busy has become a way of avoiding what you are feeling, especially discomfort or pain (physical or emotional). On the other hand, non-doing gives you an opportunity to meet what is there without judgment and address it more effectively. From this state, you are better able to utilize the executive functioning of your brain (the rational thought, creativity and judgment) and can tap into the inner wisdom that is inaccessible when you are constantly stimulated. As Joseph Campbell stated, “You must have a place to which you can go in your heart, your mind, or your house, almost every day, where you do not owe anyone and where no one owes you – a place that simply allows for the blossoming of something new and promising.”   Moreover, taking time out is an act of self-care rather than selfishness. When you are renewed and feeling more balanced, you are in a better state to respond effectively to the demands in your life.

How to take time to do nothing
Follow Rumi’s advice, “A little while alone in your room will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you.”
Schedule time for yourself in your calendar on a regular basis and keep the appointment with yourself.
Take time when arriving somewhere to sit quietly before initiating your activity.
– Take a few minutes between completing tasks as transition time.
– Set up a Sabbath-like period in which you do not engage in “work” activity.
– Set boundaries on TV time, computer time (periodically turn off your phone and email).

What are ways that you carve out time for non-doing? Please share your ideas with so I can enlighten others.

“You do not need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Do not even listen, simply wait.
Do not even wait, be quiet, still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked,
it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
~ Franz Kafka

June 27, 2014 at 3:35 pm Leave a comment

Tap Your Inner Resources Using Mindfulness

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are of little importance compared to what lies within us.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ruby SlippersMost of us are familiar with fictional tale “The Wizard of Oz.” In this story, a twister picked up Dorothy’s Kansas house, with her inside, and carried it to the Land of Oz.  Dorothy’s mission throughout the remainder of the adventure was to return home.  The residents of Oz suggested that she follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City in order to find the Wizard, who supposedly would help her return.

Along the way she met companions: the Scarecrow, who was convinced his life would be better if he only had a brain; the Tin Man, who desired a heart; and the Lion, who believed he was deficient of courage. Each of these characters thought that he was lacking something and put his faith in the legendary Wizard to give him what was missing.  However, when they finally reach the Emerald City, their expectations were shattered to find an unsympathetic Wizard. Nevertheless, as they continued the journey, each one illustrated the quality he felt was most absent: the Scarecrow demonstrated wisdom, the Tin Man embodied tenderness, and the Lion behaved bravely.  In each case, they revealed that they had those inherent virtues the whole time, but they just weren’t adept at accessing them in the beginning.  The Wizard, who turned out to be a charlatan, could only present the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion with outward symbols in recognition of their qualities: a diploma, a medal, and a testimonial, respectively.  The Wizard wasn’t able to give them anything they didn’t already possess.

And, what about Dorothy; she still hadn’t found a way home to Kansas?  When the Wizard’s hot air balloon finally sailed away from Oz without her, Dorothy believed her last option for returning was lost.  Yet, auspiciously, Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, appeared once again. Glinda informed Dorothy that she didn’t need to be helped any longer.  In fact, Dorothy always had the power to go back to Kansas, but she had to learn it for herself.

Mindfulness practice often follows much the same journey.  When first arriving at this practice, many of us have been seeking solace, fulfillment, and security from sources outside of ourselves; to provide what we believe to be lacking or to fill perceived holes in our lives.  Yet, we have not found satisfaction in those attempts.  In contrast, as we cultivate mindfulness skills, we find a greater ability to bring our attention to our own experience, rather than searching externally.  In doing so, we essentially develop the capacity to come into closer contact with our intrinsic nature, to find our way home.  Reconnecting with our inner wisdom, heart, and courage is possible. Buddha is commonly quoted as having said, “Peace comes from within.  Do not seek it without.”  We realize we always have had this power. We just needed to learn how to access it.  And, essentially, the way we do this is by bringing our awareness into the present moment, rather than unconsciously becoming engaged in distractions, either outside of ourselves or in our own mind.  Bringing your attention to the present moment is the equivalent of Dorothy clicking her heals together and saying, “There’s no place like home.”

“it is here
in the breath
it is here
in the stillness between breaths
it is here
in the active mind
it is here
in the resting mind
it is here
in the dream’s panorama
it is here
in each moment of awakening
it is here
when all is well
it is here
when fear has nothing left to fear
even then
there is pure noticing
even then
there is no need for doing
no frantic searching
can find the obvious
no seeking needed
to find that which seeks
it is here
where it can never be lost
or found”

~ Nirmala

March 25, 2013 at 5:23 pm Leave a comment

Lighten Your Load

“We can easily manage if we will only take, each day, the burden appointed to it. But the load will be too heavy for us if we carry yesterday’s burden over again today, and then add the burden of the morrow before we are required to bear it.”
– John Newton

Burden-251x300I’ll begin by sharing with you an often told anecdote.  A lecturer, when explaining the impacts of stress to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked, “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.  The lecturer replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter.  It depends on how long you try to hold it.  If you hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem.  If you hold it for an hour, your arm will ache. If you hold it for a day, you’ll have to call an ambulance.  In each case, it’s the same weight, but the longer you hold it, the heavier it becomes.”  She continued, “And that’s the way it is with stress.  If we carry our burdens all the time, no matter how minor they seem, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, it becomes an obstacle for us.”

Likewise, each of us is vulnerable to preoccupations, from the moment we arise in the morning until we fall asleep at night.  Knowingly or unknowingly, we accumulate these concerns and carry them around with us, picking up more and more without freeing ourselves of the previous ones.  As we do so, they become a greater and greater burden.  You may be surprised at how much weight you are hauling day to day.  And that energy can be better employed for things that really matter right now.

Fortunately, mindfulness provides an opportunity for you to lighten your load, to free yourself of these burdens.  By asking yourself to be aware of your experience in the here and now, to be fully in the present moment, you can release the energy you are expending on preoccupations that have been consuming your attention.  Additionally, as you do this, you can become more familiar with the nature of the concerns that pull your attention and gain insight into those patterns.  Recognizing these patterns enables you to allow the preoccupations to arise and pass, without grabbing hold of them, thus freeing you from their encumbrance.

In the midst of a recent group mindfulness practice, one of the participants, Donald, described an experience of his burdens easing in this manner: “And then, between one mindful footstep and another, I realized that I was free. In the moment, I had escaped the weight of the world. The bills, the projects, the politics…  None of that was with me in the now. Nor are they now. I am aware of them, patiently waiting their turn. But I’m no longer carrying them, in the now.”

To help facilitate this process, each time I lead an all-day retreat, as part of an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, I offer students the opportunity to lighten their load when the retreat begins.  As we check in, I encourage students to hand over to me, for safe keeping during the day, any preoccupations they are carrying with them.  To be clear, these are not burdens I add to my own plate, instead, I place them into a virtual, infinite storage space where they can be housed.  Students hand over things such as concerns about a work project, a child’s soccer game that is being missed, anxieties about health, errands that need to be run, and a variety of other tasks on “to do” lists. This process assists students by freeing up their attention so that they are more able to bring their awareness fully into the present moment throughout the day.  At the end of the retreat, students have the option to collect items they had entrusted to me, or keep them in the storage area more permanently.  There are very few people who end up taking back items from the storage area; only things that still require attention are retrieved.

You can do this for yourself.  First, recognize what you are carrying around with you – really stop and pay attention as you consider this. Then, before you go any further, out of kindness for yourself, put down anything that may be a burden to you right now. (There is plenty of room in the virtual storage space for your burdens to be housed, so go ahead put them there.)  Start even for a moment, and if you can, refrain from picking them back up again.  (You may leave them in the storage area permanently.)  Repeat this process on a regular basis to continue to lighten your load.

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
– Lou Holtz

January 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm Leave a comment

Getting Off of the Hamster Wheel of Life

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”
— Mohandas K. Gandhi

Hamster Wheel of LifeIn over fifteen years of supporting people who are experiencing the effects of stress in their lives, one thing hasn’t changed: people generally feel overwhelmed by the demands they are facing and by their attempts to keep up with them; they are busy— too busy.  This is true whether individuals are students, in professional careers, non-professional workers, unemployed job seekers or retired.  Commonly, newly retired people attend my classes having expected retirement to bring them relief from the busyness of their employed life, only to find a that  they are caught up in different kinds of demands, but still don’t feel like they have enough time.

The question becomes, is all of this busyness, with the wear and tear it is taking in our lives, really taking us somewhere worthwhile?  Or instead, are most of us merely caught, knowingly or unknowingly, on the hamster wheel of life, running faster and faster without a meaningful payoff?

Tim Kreider, in a recent essay he wrote entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap1,” spoke to this trend of being too busy: “Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.”  “The present hysteria,” according to Kreider,” is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.”  Kreider asserted that in our current culture, busyness is often “a boast disguised as a complaint.”  “It makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon.”  And this complaint is coming from those who are “busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.”  Furthermore, he maintained that “busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”  He said, “I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”  On the other hand, Kreider advocated the value of inactivity: “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.”  He concluded by stating, “Life is too short to be busy.”

If you are not convinced of Kreider’s argument in support of slowing down your busyness, you might be interested to read the top five regrets of the dying2, as compiled by Bonnie Ware, a nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. The regrets of the dying recorded by Ware support the conviction made by Paul Tsongis, “Nobody on his deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office’”:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Ware comments about regret number five are particularly significant: “This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”  Too often, people do not see the cost of remaining caught up in their busyness until they no longer have the choice to make changes.

This does not have to be your fate, however.  I was fortunate to have my eyes opened to the dangers of getting caught in what Kreider referred to as “The ‘Busy’ Trap” many years ago when I took a time management class.  Most of that day-long class was spent identifying very detailed goals for the next month, three months, six months, one year, three years, five years, ten years, and on through the next 100 years of our lives.  It was a taxing and exhausting process.  Toward the end of the day, we were told to write the goals for two more periods: the last six months and final one week of our lives.  We were then asked to review the goals for the next 100 years of our lives to see if we incorporated the goals that we identified for the last six months and final week of our lives.  Many people in the class, including me, realized that the goals for our final days did not show up in the goals we set for the next 100 years of our lives.  The point was clearly made in this experiential process:  if the goals for the last six months and week of our life tend to reveal those aspects that are most meaningful to us, why, then, do we go through life on a daily basis without incorporating them into our life!  Pablo Neruda answered this question most eloquently in his poem, “Keeping Quiet” when he said, “If we weren’t unanimous about keeping our lives so much in motion, if we could do nothing for once, perhaps a great silence would interrupt this sadness, this never understanding ourselves and threatening ourselves with death.”

Accordingly, I offer you the invitation to slow down periodically with the intention of recognizing what is most meaningful to you in your life.  Ask yourself, if you knew that you only had six months to live, how would you employ that time?  And if you only had one week to live how would you choose to spend that week?  Then see how you can consciously integrate and prioritize those features into your day-to-day existence.  Continue taking baby steps in this direction and you will find that you have the capability to step off of the hamster wheel!

References:

  1. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/
  2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying

 “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
— Lily Tomlin

October 1, 2012 at 3:50 pm 4 comments

Feeling More Stressed? You’re Not Alone!

“Sometimes it seems your ever-increasing list of things to do can leave you feeling totally undone.”
Susan Mitchell and Catherine Christie, I’d Kill for a Cookie

Stress is a fact of life.  No one is totally free of it, as long as you are alive.  The negative effects of stress can take a serious toll on the quality of your life.  And you may be one of those persons who have been feeling more stress lately.

If so, join the club.  In research published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology1 on April 12, 2012 psychological stress was assessed in 3 national surveys administered in 1983, 2006, and 2009 using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS).  The results of this study show an increase in stress over time in almost every demographic category from 1983 to 2009, ranging from 10%-30%.  Stress increased 18% for women and 24% for men during this period.  Stress increased little in response to the 2008-2009 economic downturn except among White, middle-aged, college-educated men with full-time jobs.  This group’s increase was almost double that of any other demographic group.

Overall, throughout the years of the study period, women reported having higher stress levels as compared to men; findings show that stress increases with decreasing age, education and income; and unemployed persons reported higher levels of stress, while retired persons reported lower levels.  “These data suggest greater stress-related health risks among women, younger adults, those of lower socioeconomic status, and men potentially subject to substantial losses of income and wealth.” 1

If you are one of those persons who feel the effects of stress in your life, don’t despair.  You have more influence over the amount of stress you experience than you may think.  Here are seven lifestyle habits that will reduce your stress levels and improve the quality of your life:

  • Practice meditation and relaxation skills on a regular basis
  • Exercise daily – a combination of aerobic exercise with some strength training is optimal
  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat nutritious food and less of it
  • Minimize exposure to toxic substances (and toxic environments)
  • Maintain social and supportive connections, and
  • Schedule pleasant activities each week

This may sound like a lot to take on.  But don’t think of it as an all or nothing proposition.  Every step you take in these directions will make a positive difference.  And as you do so, you will begin to notice increased energy, a more positive state of mind, and greater tolerance, all of which will make it easier for you to manage your day-to-day commitments more effectively and with less stress.

References:

  1. COHEN, S. and JANICKI-DEVERTS, D. (2012), Who’s Stressed? Distributions of Psychological Stress in the United States in Probability Samples from 1983, 2006, and 2009. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 42: 1320–1334. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2012.00900.x

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”
— Attributed to both Jim Goodwin and Sydney J. Harris

June 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm Leave a comment

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Julie Forbes, Ph.D.

STRESS MANAGEMENT
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