Using Mindfulness to Combat Stress
What is stress?
Stress describes your physical and/or emotional reaction to circumstances (often beyond our control) which trigger your flight-or-fight response. These stress hormones raise your blood pressure and blood sugar, cause muscle tension. interfere with sleep, and contribute to weight gain and belly fat. It is no surprise that chronic stress can cause chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic pain, and weight gain.
Stress is experienced differently by different people
Let’s say you and a friend are driving somewhere and someone cuts you off, honks at you and even makes a rude hand gesture. You might find this situation very stressful and it might haunt you for the rest of the day or even for weeks after. You might find yourself thinking over and over about what happened, trying to understand why that person would do that, how unfair or unjust it was, how you might have reacted better. You might get a headache or neck or stomach pain and you might find yourself reaching for some chocolate or a glass of wine. Meanwhile, your companion might just laugh it off and move on with their day. Why we individually react to each stressor are the topic of self-reflection, therapy encounters and scores of books. How can we mitigate those feelings?
If we could only be zebras!
In his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Stanford University biologist Robert M. Sapolsky describes how a pack of grazing zebras will be suddenly attacked by lions who will pick off some zebras for dinner. The zebras will disperse rapidly only to return a while later to peacefully graze again. Some people are more like the zebras, quickly recovering from the acute stress. But most of us will carry stressful feelings which can lead to physical and mental suffering.
3 simple steps to choose to be the Zebra…
1. Identify that you are feeling stressed.
2. Identify which emotion you are feeling
3. Decide to have a new emotion
Mindfulness takes time and practice. I suggest, as often as possible, writing down your stressful thoughts and feelings as well as your alternative scripts. The act of writing is a powerful technique to move a stressful thought from mind to the page. Also consider working with a health professional trained in mindfulness.
In later blogs, we will discuss other long-term stress management techniques such as breath-work and meditation. If you are looking for additional assistance in stress management schedule a consultation here to see how we can help!
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