When we are whole in body, mind and spirit, we are in balance. Balance in all things is critical to maintaining health, but in the demanding pace of today’s world, we often forget to take care of ourselves. Even when we’re diligent about following our wellness intentions – with a healthy diet, sufficient exercise and a good night’s sleep, the good we do our bodies can be undermined by stress.
The Effects of Stress
Stress is part of life. In manageable amounts, it’s actually a good thing. It makes us feel alive, and fuels the motivation and drive that set our lives in motion. In excess, though, stress can take a toll on the body and mind. Over time, it can lead to chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack, addiction, lowered immunity, hormonal imbalances, insomnia, anxiety and back pain, and the list goes on. (This interactive graphic does an excellent job of summing up the effects of stress.) Then we wind up in the doctor’s office seeking relief.
Countering the Effects of Stress
“People come to my office every day trying to cope as best they’re able,” says John Carbone, an MD and teacher of mindfulness. “They’re taking Xanax, antidepressants – and there’s a place for all medications. But medicine treats the symptoms, not the cause. It takes more work to get to the root of suffering.” That’s what mindfulness has to offer, he says.
With mindfulness, we become more aware and less reactive. We slow our usual pace and soften the push of our minds.
“Mindfulness decreases stress and increases happiness,” John says. “Nothing else I do in my own life has had such an impact.”
Small Steps Can Yield Big Results
How can you bring mindfulness into your wellness regimen? Here are some ways to get started.
- Meditate. Even 5 or 10 minutes a day can make a difference. If you’re feeling stressed at work, close your office door or book a conference room, sit quietly with eyes closed and watch the breath as it moves in and out.
- Practice yoga, tai chi or other forms of meditation in motion. Dance and drawing can also help release tension and calm the mind.
- Eat mindfully. Rather than dine with the TV on or with reading material and cellphone on hand, set aside a quiet time to focus only on your meal. Eat slowly and savor the tastes. Chew your food well; it aids digestion and you’ll probably eat less, too. Experiment with 20-30 chews per mouthful of food.
- Reduce your digital time. Check email on a schedule rather than in response to every new alert. Turn off all technology an hour before bedtime, and avoid using a tablet or mobile device in bed. They’ve been shown to cause melatonin levels to drop which makes sleep elusive.
- Bring single-minded attention to everyday tasks, such as washing the dishes, raking the leaves or shoveling the walk.
- Slow down. Smell the roses. Pushing and rushing may not get you where you’re going any faster.
- Extend lovingkindness to everyone you meet, even (or especially) those who push your buttons.
This is just a place to start. As you practice, you may find other small ways to bring greater mindfulness to your days. Over time, you’ll find you’re able to keep your mind and body in better balance – and life will probably feel a whole lot happier.
Kathy Simpson is a freelance writer with Copper Beech Institute who specializes in mindful living and holistic health.