Reduce Your Stress

Posted on | April 15, 2010 | No Comments

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In a recent blog I talked about mindfulness and the benefits of cultivating the practice of being in the present moment. April is National Stress Awareness Month and a perfect time to start to look at the effects of mindfulness on stress.

A recent study by the American Psychological Association revealed 75 percent of adults experiencing moderate to high levels of stress in the previous month, and nearly half reported that their stress has increased in the previous year. Yet only half of participants said that they are doing enough to manage their stress.

Not managing stress has significant associated costs:

  • Stress can kill. The American Medical Association reports that stress is the cause of 80 percent to 85 percent of all human illness and disease or at the very least had a detrimental effect on our health.
  • Every week, 95 million Americans suffer some kind of stress-related symptom for which they take medication.
  • American businesses lose an estimated $200 billion to $300 billion dollars per year to stress-related productivity loss and other related costs.

One of the ways we create our own stress is by allowing our minds to dominate our lives. Have you ever noticed where your mind spends most of its time?? For most of us, it’s in the past (ruminating over something that is done) or imagining future scenarios that may or may not ever occur. We worry about what has happened or what will happen.

We are constantly concerned about how we will accomplish the millions of tasks we have in front of us. Our mind keeps reminding us of all we need to do to be successful, to achieve, to be “better,” to obtain. Our mind is a tyrant!

When we are focused on the past or on the future we miss what is happening now. The practice of mindfulness is a way to train your mind to stay in the present moment. As you grow in your ability to remain in the present you will start to notice less stress and more enjoyment. And you will be living your life as it happens!

If this is all new to you, I don’t expect you to take my word for it. It’s something you need to decide whether you want to try—and if you try it, see what you find. If it works, great; if not, feel free to go on to try something else. No matter what, I encourage you to find your way to manage your stress and to begin to understand that you can live a less stress-filled life.

Here’s a simple experiment that Jon Kabat-Zinn gives:

Take a raisin and place it in your hand.

Don’t eat it.

Just look at it. Pretend you are an alien and have never seen this odd object. Look at it with curiosity, carefully and slowly. Take your time! Notice what it looks like, feels like, and smells like. Turn it over and look more closely at it. Do this for a minute or two.

Now place it in your mouth but don’t chew it. Notice in great detail what happens. What are the sensations? Tastes? Smells? What does it feel like in your mouth? What is your body doing in response? Notice your thoughts as well.

Now, with attention, bite the raisin. And again notice how it feels, tastes, smells and what your reactions are.

When you are finished, take a moment and reflect on the experience. What did you notice?? When you stay mindful what happens?

This little experiment reveals to us that if we slow down and stay present to the moment we are in, there is great richness to each moment. These are moments that we have been missing until now.
Today, and just for today if you like, try taking three minutes out of your day to sit quietly and put your attention on something. It might be a picture on the wall, a tree, or flower, your dog, or something on your desk. It can be anything. Simply allow yourself to breathe deeply and bring your attention to whatever you choose. See if you can just be with the attention. You will undoubtedly notice your brain reminding you that you have things to do, or telling you that this is silly. That’s fine. That’s what our minds do. Just gently bring your attention back to the object and to your breath. See what happens.

If you find that interesting, you can expand this practice to make it longer or try it a few times a day. You will begin to get some benefits from breaking the habitual patterns of your day and thoughts, and you will start to see how your mind has control of you. In fact, you can take back control of your mind. This is just the beginning.

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