But stress is not always just a result of something negative happening to us. It can be something that takes us out of our usual routines, or something that creates more responsibility or work for us—even something very positive and exciting, like planning a wedding or adjusting to life with a new baby.
Having some level of stress is a necessary and positive thing. Stress can be motivating and can enhance performance—ask any athlete or stage performer!
But too much stress is a bad thing. Chronic stress causes health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as immune deficiencies, which can make it harder for your body to fight infections. Chronic stress also causes memory and concentration problems, and can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.
How many of these signs of stress you have experienced in the last two weeks?
Why am I stressed?
Consider the following to pinpoint the stress in your life:
- Are you concerned about your marriage or a relationship?
- Do you have concerns about your children, parents or other family members?
- Are you overwhelmed with balancing the demands of work and home life?
- Are you being pressured by your in-laws or other family members?
- Do you forsee financial difficulties in your near future?
- Do you feel you're in a career rut?
- Are you lonely?
What is mindfulness?
By paying attention to our minds and bodies, we can begin to take more control and "switch off" the autopilot and increase our mindfulness—this simply means noticing things as they are right now in the present, including things we usually take for granted like our breath, body sensations, perceptions and emotions.
Using all the exercises suggested here, learning to be fully aware of our body sensations and our thoughts and emotions—whether they are pleasant or unpleasant—can help us deal with our stress more effectively. Acknowledging present moment reality as it is actually is the first step toward transforming that reality and our relationship to it.
The body scan
As you go through the practice, try and focus clearly on each area of the body, noticing whatever arises. If you realize that you have become distracted, simply pick up from where you drifted off...
Begin by sitting or lying down comfortably. Gently close your eyes. Become aware of your body: Notice your posture and feel the weight of your body supported by the seat beneath you. Bring attention to the natural flow of your breath. Try not to change it or deepen it in any way—simply notice it.
Try following the full cycle of breath, noticing the breath entering the nostrils on an inhale, filling the lungs, and continue following the breath as it makes its way out of the body on an exhale. If thoughts intrude, simply notice them, and gently refocus your attention on the breath.
Maintaining this focus, bring your attention to the toes, noticing any sensations that may arise—perhaps feelings of tension, temperature, tingling. Rest your attention here for a few moments, exploring the entire surface and structure of the toes.
Now direct your attention to the balls of the feet, the arches, the heels, the ankles, becoming aware of all sensations. Then bring your attention to the shins, the calves, becoming aware of the bones, the skin, the muscles, continue noticing...
Bring awareness to the knees, the thighs, the pelvis, the buttocks—noticing. As thoughts or emotions arise, notice them and then return to the body scan.
Become aware of the entire back body, the placement of the spine, the shoulder blades—noticing. Bring awareness to the front body, the abdomen, the lungs, the rib cage, noticing the rise and fall of each breath, perhaps sensing the beating of the heart. Note the intimate connections of the systems of the body. Become aware of the arms, the hands, the fingers—noticing...
Be aware of the throat, the jaw, the tongue, the face, the brow. Now bring your awareness to the crown of your head. Take a moment to feel the body as a whole. Return your attention to the breath, and notice the effect of the practice.
Allow yourself to feel relaxed and complete, right now, in this moment...
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Living a meaningful life
Check out the list below to evaluate your life values, and then pick at least one that you would like to work on. Set a goal and an action plan for how you can live this value more authentically.
- Good health
- A fulfilling career
- Healthy relationships
- A stable marriage
- A nice place to live
- Contributing to my community
- Raising children
- Having fun
- Being accepting of myself and others
- A stable and secure life
- Financial stability
- Being a spiritual person
- Working on self-development
- Having integrity
- Achieving something I will be remembered for
- Being a leader
- Living with spontaneity and excitement
- Helping others
Control your stress by practicing mindfulness daily.