Tag Archives: stress reduction

5 Ways to Never Be Stressed Again

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 4.08.27 PMEverybody feels stress and knows it intimately, but very few of us think about what stress actually is.

Stress is a thought. That’s it. No more, no less. If that’s true, then we have complete control over stress, because it’s not something that happens to us but something that happens in us.

The dictionary definition of stress is, “bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium.” It is your thoughts out of balance.

The medical definition of stress is, “the perception of a real or imagined threat to your body or your ego.” It could be a tiger chasing you or your belief that your spouse is mad at you (even if he or she is not). Whether it is real or imagined, when you perceive something as stressful, it creates the same response in the body.

A cascade of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones floods your system, raising your heart rate, increasing your blood pressure, making your blood more likely to clot, damaging your brain’s memory center, increasing belly fat storage, and generally wreaking havoc on your body.

The operative word here about stress is that it is a perception, also known as a thought or point of view. There are objective stressors, to be sure—war, death of loved ones, financial troubles, starvation, dental work. But how these affect us determines our body’s stress response. Imagine Woody Allen and James Bond, each with a gun pointed at his head—same external stressor but entirely different responses.

When I was very sick with chronic fatigue, barely able to work, a single father with two kids, thinking I had to go on disability, I worried constantly. I couldn’t sleep and everything seemed stressful. Then, a wise man told me I had to stop worrying. I argued with him strenuously, providing a comprehensive list of all the real external events that were stressful to me. He just kept repeating that worrying was toxic; he said, what really mattered was how I viewed the situation, and he kept telling me I just needed to stop worrying.

And slowly, very slowly, I trained myself to watch my thoughts, my perceptions, and when a stressful thought came into my head, I stopped, took a deep breath, and just let go. It’s like a muscle—it gets stronger the more you use it, but if you let go, it relaxes.

But of course, life takes over and things happen, all the “D’s:” divorce, death, deadlines, demands, dumb thoughts, and dumb schedules. And as anyone does, I get sucked in to negative thinking, which creates stress in my body. My sleep gets interrupted, my muscles get tight, my mood gets cranky, but then I breathe and remember that stress is all in my head. We get so attached to our way of thinking, to our beliefs and attitudes about the way things should be or shouldn’t be, that it makes us sick.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t respond to injustice or experience intense feelings of joy, happiness, sadness, loss, or pain. I do. But I try just to be fully in them when they come, then experience the next moment, then the next and the next, and just show up with my whole self with love and attention. That’s the only thing I can do.

Most people, when they look at my life, think I’m crazy and wonder why I’m not more stressed—running a medical practice; writing books and blogs; teaching all over the world; working on health policy; volunteering in Haiti, churches, and orphanages; being a father, son, brother, partner, friend, boss, and more. But it’s actually quite simple. I don’t worry about things much. I simply wake up and do the next thing as best I can.

And when things get out of control, which they do, I simply make a gentle U-turn. It’s like a GPS for my soul. Your GPS doesn’t yell at you and call you stupid or judge you for taking a wrong turn. In the sweetest voice imaginable, the GPS reminds you to take the next possible U-turn.

Each of us has to find out how to make our own U-turn. There are some wonderful ways I have discovered that work very well for me!

Here’s how I make my U-turns (and I try to pick one or more each day):

  1. Move. The best way to burn off the stress hormones without having to change your thinking is to move and sweat. Run, dance, jump, ride, swim, stretch, or skip—do something vigorous and lively. Yoga is also fabulous, as it combines movement and breathing.
  2. Breathe. Most of us hold our breath often or breathe swallow, anxious breaths. Deep, slow, full breaths have a profound affect on resetting the stress response because the relaxation nerve (or vagus nerve and not the Las Vegas nerve) goes through your diaphragm and is activated with every deep breath. Take five deep breaths now, and observe how differently you feel after.
  3. Bathe. For the lazy among us (including me), an UltraBath is a secret weapon against stress. Add 2 cups of Epsom salt (which contains magnesium, the relaxation mineral), a half-cup of baking soda, and 10 drops of lavender oil (which lowers cortisol) to a very hot bath. Then, add one stressed human and soak for 20 minutes. Guaranteed to induce relaxation.
  4. Sleep. Lack of sleep increases stress hormones. Get your eight hours no matter what. Take a nap if you missed your sleep. Prioritize sleep.
  5. Think Differently. Practice the art of noticing stress, noticing how your thinking makes you stressed. Practice taking deep breaths and letting go of worry. Try Byron Katie’s four questions to break the cycle of “stinkin’ thinkin’” that keeps you stressed.

You can also try my UltraCalm CD, featuring guided meditations and relaxation techniques.

Also, I highly recommend tapping, a technique that combines ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. Pick up a copy of Nick Ortner’s new book The Tapping Solution to learn more. Another great stress-relief technique to try is Holosync, an audio technology designed by the Centerpointe Research Institute, which instantly (and effortlessly) puts you into states of deep meditation—literally, at the push of a button. Visit Centerpointe’s website to find out more. Also, check out meQuilibrium, a digital coaching system created by experts to change the way you respond to stress. It teaches specific skills to help you get a handle on all of the emotional, physical, and lifestyle imbalances that keep you from feeling your best.

Enjoy, and happy U-turns!

Originally published on my website, DrHyman.com

Biofeedback: The New Science of Self-Care

Hangover

Have you heard the expression, “Just listen to your body”? I use this phrase all the time (sometimes I receive strange looks in response), and I recently discovered that a technique called biofeedback takes this meaning to a completely new (and awesome) level. Biofeedback is an increasingly popular, non-evasive therapy that gives you control over some of your body’s physical responses, ones previously believed to be involuntary, such as heart rate, breathing, sweating, and muscle tension. Research shows that biofeedback can help with the treatment of many conditions including asthma, high blood pressure, chemotherapy side effects, constipation, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, and chronic pain.

You can practice biofeedback techniques at home after a few sessions with a biofeedback therapist who uses electrical sensors to measure your heartbeat, skin temperature, brain waves, and muscles tension. Once you and your therapist have this raw data, your therapist will teach you techniques to control and change the responses in your body that are causing unpleasant physical reactions. Using the electrical sensor machines to monitor progress, you can find out which techniques work for you and your unique situation. For example, you might learn a method to relax a muscle in your neck that constantly tightens and causes your chronic headaches. Alternatively, you might use breathing exercises to control your high blood pressure that peaks during your daily traffic commute.

The main idea behind biofeedback is that our bodies are commonly under various levels of stress, and this stress seems to be increasingly mental (as opposed to our ancestors who typically faced physical stress). Since the stress is mental, it’s more common that we are chronically stressed (you know how the mind keeps rethinking and analyzing everything), and it’s also more difficult to have an appropriate outlet for the physical energy that accompanies stress. As a result, the energy stays stuck and manifests in our bodies as mental and physical symptoms such as digestive problems, headaches, insomnia, depression, lower immune systems, chronic pain, anxiety, and high (or low) blood pressure.

For this reason, one of the primarily focuses of biofeedback is relaxation and developing self-awareness to know when your body is starting to feel stressed, and using the power of your mind to alter that response. Common biofeedback techniques include breathing exercises, mental training, visualization practices, and meditation.

If you are interested in finding a biofeedback therapist, check out the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback site to search for one in your area. Of course, utilizing a variety of stress reduction practices will also help you manage the stress in your life. Most importantly, always listen to your body; it’s your best guide and greatest asset for attaining optimal health.

Have you tried biofeedback before? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments below.  

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photo by: mislav-m

Gabrielle Bernstein: How to Reduce Stress

urlFor months I’d been praying for a book that would keep me up at night. You know what I mean: the kind of book you just can’t bear to put down. One afternoon I opened my mailbox to find a package—it was an advance copy of my dear friend Nick Ortner’s new book, The Tapping Solution.

For several years Nick has led a tapping revolution. Tapping, otherwise known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), is a psychological acupressure technique that supports your emotional health. By tapping on specific energy meridians on your body, you can unblock ancient fears, limiting beliefs and negative patterns. When stimulated, your body’s energy meridians can trigger the amygdala (a.k.a. the “fight or flight” part of brain) and signal it to calm down. When the amygdala gets the memo that it’s safe to relax, stress is immediately reduced. I’ve found tapping to be one of the best ways to bust through blocks in an instant.

Now I’m taking my tapping to the next level! In reading Nick’s new book, I’ve taught myself how to lead a tapping session. In this vlog I will lead you through a tapping session that will lessen your stress and help you feel physically and mentally calmer. As you tap on the specific meridians I will guide you to address certain emotions that come up around your stress. Simply follow my lead and let the tapping begin!

7 Ways Humor Heals

Of all my tools to combat depression and negativity, humor is by far the most fun. And just like mastering the craft of writing, I’m finding that the longer I practice laughing at life–and especially it’s frustrations–the better I become at it, and the more situations and conversations and complications I can place into that category named “silly.”

G. K. Chesterton once wrote: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” And Proverbs 17:22 says that “a happy heart is good medicine.” I’d add that human beings can heal (at least partially!) from a host of different illnesses if they learn how to laugh. Here are just a few ways our bodies, minds, and spirits begin to mend with a dose of humor.

1.Humor combats fear.

I know this first hand, having sat in a community room of a psych ward watching a video of a comedian poke fun at depression. Like everyone else occupying a chair in that room, I was scared to death. Of many things … That I would never smile again. Or love again. Or even WANT to love again. I was fearful of life, and everything it involved.

That panic didn’t instantly transform into a hearty chuckle once the psych nurse popped in the funny video. But the climate of the room was noticeably different. Patients began to open up more, to share some of the details they had left out in the prior group therapy session.

Humor disengages fear because it changes your perspective: of the past and of the present. The traumatic childhood episode loses its tight grip on your heart if you can place it into the “ridiculous” category of other stories from the past. With a playful perspective, you can remove yourself from the marital problem that has you debilitated with anxiety. Laughter forces a few steps–some much-needed distance– between a situation and our reaction. We all would do well to follow the advice of Leo Buscaglia: “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. And swing!”

2. Humor comforts.

Charlie Chaplain once said, “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it.” I suppose that’s why some of the funniest people out there– Stephen Colbert, Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, Art Buchwald — have journeyed through periods of torment.

There is an unspoken message hidden within a chuckle–even the slightest cackle– that says this: “I promise, you’ll get through this.” Just like the comforting hug of your mom when you were three. In fact, New York City’s Big Apple Circus has used humor to console sick children since 1986, when they started sending teams of clowns into hospital rooms with “rubber chicken soup” and other fun surprises. “It’s for the children, yes,” explains Jane Englebardt, deputy director of the circus, in an “American Fitness” article. “But it’s also for the parents who, when they hear their children laugh for the first time in days or weeks, know everything’s going to be O.K.”

3. Humor relaxes.

Like any exercise, laughing relaxes you, and works against chronic stress that most Americans wear on the shoulder. Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., a heart surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, explains why this is so in a 2005 “Reader’s Digest” article:

When you push any engine, including your body, to its maximum, every once in a while it slips a gear. The ways the body manifests that are: irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, and increased sensitivity to pain. When people use humor, the autonomic nervous system just tones down a bit to take it off high gear, and that allows the heart to relax.

4. Humor reduces pain.

Apparently the psych nurses at Laurel Regional Hospital weren’t the only ones gathering patients around the TV to watch funny flicks or videos. Dr. Elias Shaya, chief of psychiatry at Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore also tries to instill the importance of laughter in his patients. Says Dr. Shaya: “I advocate finding ways to laugh by watching comedy or engaging in looking up jokes and sharing them.”

“Humor rooms,” which encourage people to use humor in their recovery from any kind of illness, are now available in some hospitals. And science backs these efforts. In a study published in the Journal of Holistic Nursing, humor very definitely seemed to diminish pain. Says Dave Traynor, M.Ed, director of health education at Natchaug Hospital in Mansfield Center, Connecticut in “American Fitness”: “After surgery, patients were told one-liners prior to administration of potentially painful medication. The patients exposed to humor perceived less pun as compared to patients who didn’t receive humor stimuli.”

5. Humor boosts the immune system.

Whenever I prick myself accidentally, I tell a joke, and my finger doesn’t bleed! Well, not exactly. But if you are laid up in bed with a terrible strain of the flu that your four-year-old brought home from her play date yesterday, try to find an itsy-bitsy thread of humor in your situation, and you’ll be back to work in no time. Or, better yet, dwell in the misery and stay away from the cubicle longer.

In 2006 researchers led by Lee Berk and Stanley A. Tan at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, Califormia, found that two hormones–beta-endorphins (which alleviate depression) and human growth hormone (HGH, which helps with immunity) increased by 27 and 87 percent respectively when volunteers anticipated watching a humorous video. Simply anticipating laughter boosted health-protecting hormones and chemicals.

In his “American Fitness” article, Dave Traynor explains a separate study at Arkansas Tech University, in which concentrations of immunoglobulin A were increased after 21 fifth graders participated in a humor program. (I’m nervous to hear about the details of that fifth-grade humor program, because my kids roar whenever you throw out a bathroom term.) Laughter was once again found to increase the ability to fight viruses and foreign cells.

6. Humor reduces stress.

The same research team at Loma Linda, California, conducted a similar study recently to see if the anticipation of laughter that was shown to boost immune systems could also reduce the levels of three stress hormones: cortisol (“the stress hormone”), epinephrine (adrenaline), and dopac, a dopamine catabolite (brain chemical which helps produce epinephrine).

They studied 16 fasting males, who were assigned to either the control group or the experiment group (those anticipating a humorous event). Blood levels showed that the stress hormones were reduced 39, 70, and 38 percent respectively. Therefore, researchers suggest that anticipating a positive event can reduce detrimental stress hormones.

7. Humor spreads happiness.

I remember playing the game of “Ha” as a young girl at my third-grade slumber party. I would lay my head of my friend’s tummy, and she would lay her head on another friend’s tummy, and so on. The first person would start the chain of laughs with a simple, “Ha!” The second person, “Ha Ha!” The third, “Ha Ha Ha,” at which point everyone would break into hysterics. About absolutely nothing. The way a person’s abdomen tightens and moves when she says “ha” makes you want to giggle.

My point: laughter is contagious. That’s why there are 5,000 laughter clubs around the world–where people laugh for no reason at all. Say what? According to Dr. Shaya of Good Samaritan Hospital, “These clubs have exercises that teach how to move your face, how to laugh more intensely to involve the shoulders, then the belly.” Laughing yoga classes are also popular today.

Originally published November 2010

photo by: y i v a

Weekly Health Tip: The Power of Meditation

Visualization is the courtesy of TheVisualMD.com

Brought to you by Deepak Chopra, MD, Alexander Tsiaras, and TheVisualMD.com

The stress and strife of daily life have a direct effect on our health. Most dramatically, our very chromosomes are affected by stress. Telomeres are the end tips of our chromosomes, little caps that protect our DNA. (The bright spots in the above visualization of a chromosome are the telomeres.)

Telomeres play an important role in cell division, and get a bit shorter every time a cell divides. In studies, subjects with inherently stressful lives—notably mothers of special-needs children and spouses of dementia sufferers—showed extraordinary wear and tear on their telomeres. The stress-induced disruption to their cells’ life cycle actually caused them to age faster. But an enzyme called telomerase maintains and repairs the telomeres, prolonging the life of our cells. Increasing telomerase is a way to slow telomeres’ unraveling. And guess how we can we do that? Meditation.

An exciting 2010 study showed that people in an intensive meditation practice had greater telomerase activity in their immune cells than those who did not meditate. Scientists are working to gather even more information about how mindful awareness and other stress reduction techniques can help us live longer and more healthfully.

Those who have never attempted a meditation practice may feel unsure about beginning. Do I have to study anything, buy anything? No. There are many ways to meditate, and you may enjoy learning about many of them, but mindful awareness should never feel like hard work or a formal program. Meditation is, by definition, not trying. Start by taking 20 minutes to close your eyes and sit still. Find the quiet in your mind. Focus on one thing: Yourself doing nothing. Be aware of your breathing, let your muscles relax, and let go of your daily concerns. If you are thinking about the future or remembering the past, your mind is not in the present. The goal is for your mind to be only in the present. Not only will you feel at peace, you will know that your practice is benefitting your overall health and longevity.

Learn more about alternative paths to health:

TheVisualMD.com: Dr. Oz and Alternative Practices

deepakchopra.com

Follow Deepak on Twitter

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / jessebezz

Dealing with Stress: Three Essential Areas to Address to Cope Well

Stress is pervasive in our lives. Therefore it is not a question of how to avoid stress, but rather how to deal with stress. Stress does not diminish as you grow older. It simply takes on different forms. Here are two examples. The high school juniors I teach are stressed because academically, this is the year that will determine which college they will enter in 2012. They also need to bolster their school resume and try to maintain and juggle impossible schedules of academics, sport, music, drama, publications and extra curricula clubs and activities with at least having one community service component. Stress cuts into their sleep, and downtime is fast becoming an endangered activity for teens, if it is not already one. 

At the other end of the spectrum are the elderly. Some like my mother, in her mid-eighties suffered a stroke, has been fortunate to receive excellent medical care and lived in an assisted living facility where she was well cared for. Her stress was caused by her inability to communicate, as she would like to, due to her stroke-induced brain damage. Her frailty (she was in a wheel chair), the loss of control of every aspect of her life, as well as her sense of impending death all added to her increasing stress.  

The vast majority of elderly people are not so fortunate and spend their last years in poverty, deprivation and with a frustrated acceptance of their reduced quality of life. This causes them and their loved ones enormous stress. 

We live in stressful times. Recent college graduates, as well as middle-aged workers who have been laid off struggle to find jobs and some way to fulfill their responsibilities to their families. We are stressed about war in Afghanistan, upheavals in the Middle East, climate change, and how and when will the struggling world economy recover.

On the personal level relationships of all kinds (and loneliness) can be stressful, as well as coping with chronic illnesses, such as obesity, resisting the lure of body image promotions, and living with changing life expectations as the American pie shrinks. And the list goes on.

 There are proven and effective ways to deal with stress and incorporating them into your day can make a huge difference in your ability to function.

Physical – eat right, exercise, try to get enough sleep, build in recreation and downtime. Take a yoga class, and learn how to meditate. Breathe deeply. Try to bring your full awareness—mind and body—to each part of your life.

Emotional – make the effort to stay connected with family and friends. If you live alone consider acquiring a pet. Prioritize a list of what satisfies you emotionally—music, movies, bowling, carpentry—and make the time to treat yourself and indulge in what gives you pleasure. Be alive to the moment and in the moment. Challenge yourself by joining a community center or taking that saxophone or sky diving lesson you have always wanted.

Psychological—don’t try to push through the commitments you have regardless of your health. Take a day off when you feel sick, learn that tomorrow is another day and you will have time to complete your tasks. Seek a balance between home life, work or school life, and your time for your private self, life. Balance, harmony, temperance are keys to finding and sharing happiness and lessening stress.

Remind yourself that this is the one life you have to live. Be passionate. Your life is happening now; this is not a rehearsal. As the American poet Mary Oliver asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Tell yourself, and tell me too.

Stress comes too, as the years flow on, from knowing what opportunities you have let slip away. Wake up now to your life. Wake up to your self. Be open enough to embrace life, brave enough to deal with stress, and recover some of the magic in life you enjoyed as a child before the strains of living slowly drain your life force.

An accomplished author, teacher and presenter, Janet Levine is an expert on applying spiritual practices to practical purposes for everyday life such as coping with stress, achieving balance and happiness, and parenting. Some of these ideas are given fictional form in her latest book, “Leela’s Gift.” Learn more about her work at www.janetlevine.com.

 

Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Travel

Everyone looks forward to vacation time, whether it’s going to see friends or relatives or taking a special trip. However, traveling can sometimes be stressful. There is packing to do, itineraries to compose, and, frequently, excited children to contend with.  But by following some simple steps and engaging in some pre-vacation planning, you can make your vacation stress much less!

The American Society of Travel Agents offers this advice for reducing travel troubles:

Traveling by Air:

·       Book your tickets asap.

·       Arrive early.

·       Keep a close eye on all your belongings.

·       Be aware of luggage weight limits

·       Know before you go what can be carried on and what cannot.

Traveling by Car:

·       Plan itineraries and book accommodations well in advance.

·       Get a tune up.

·       Get an early start on holiday grid lock

If you are traveling with children, there are ways to keep them occupied and yourself from going crazy!  Here are some suggestions to help everyone enjoy getting to your destination:

·       Get them out of school early.  A few hours early will not affect their attendance record in most districts, and it will get you a jump on holiday traffic.

·       Download some children’s stories on your iPod.  Having them ready to go before you leave will save you from scrambling when they are getting antsy.

·       Eat at the airport. It will make the trip seem like it has already begun and will take at least a half an hour.

·       Bring art activities:  stickers, markers, a small pad of paper.

·       Bring a deck of children’s cards, like “Old Maid” or “Crazy Eights.”

·       Airports are a great place for people watching and other sights. Play “I Spy With My Little Eye…”.

·       Browse the airport gift stores for a special ornament to remind you of your family holiday vacation.

Top 10 Calming Scents For The Holiday Season

Let’s face it. Even those of us who are ready to put up Christmas trees immediately following Halloween can succumb to the pressures of the holiday season. There are relatives to contend with, children who have to have this season’s hot gift, parking nightmares, and budgets to juggle, just to name a few of the stresses associated with the holidays. At some point during the festivities, you may find yourself wanting to crawl into bed and not emerge until January 2nd. To ward off the winter blues, why not stock up now on some calming scents? Aromatherapy has numerous benefits including tension reduction and relief of symptoms of depression. Here are the top 10 scents that will make your season brighter, or, at least, calmer:


1      Lavender– Lavender is used relieve stress and to create a generally inviting aura of relaxation. Lavender is available numerous forms, from candles, burning oils, and sachets to eye-masks and heating pads. Try placing some in your bedroom and bathroom.

 

 

 

2.      Vanilla– For many of us, the scent of vanilla is reminiscent of pleasant family times, evoking fond memories of cookies and home. Vanilla is also one of the ingredients commonly found in best-selling women’s perfumes, as men seem to be attracted to its (and your!) sweet scent.

 


3.      Chamomile– Chamomile is the name for several plants that resemble daisies. Its flowers are commonly used as an herbal tea but it can also be found in candles, burning oils, and potpourri. Chamomile has long been used to relieve insomnia. Try pairing it with lavender for a wonderful, relaxing scent.


4.     Sandalwood–   If you have spent the day traversing crowded malls and waiting in long lines, sandalwood might be just the thing you need to unwind. Sandalwood, with its warm and woody scent, is said to assist in meditation. It may help you re-connect with the true meaning of the season.


 

5.      Ginger– With its lively-yet-warm tones, ginger is known to reduce tension and relax you, both mentally and physically.  Ginger is even available as a lozenge. You might want to pocket a few for that wait in line for Santa!


6.      Bergamont–  Bergamont oil is extracted from citrus trees (citrus begarnia). Bergamont oil evokes feelings of well-being and happiness with its warm, sweet, and spicy aroma.


7.      Lemon– After the family has gone home and the children are nestled all snug in their beds, you might feel a need for the cleansing, stress-relieving powers of lemon. Some oil in a burner or simply a candle might be just what you need to finish that last-minute gift-wrapping.


8.      Ylang-ylang– Ylang-ylang has a light, floral scent and is said to restore balance and calm. Pair it with bergamont for an especially lovely aroma.


 

9.      Clary Sage– this herbal oil comes from Russia. Clary sage stimulates the body’s natural endorphins and produces feelings of pleasure…so you can thank grandma for the appliqué sweater and mean it!


10.  Neroli– After a long day of shopping and holiday preparations, consider adding a few drops of neroli oil to your bath. Neroli has been used for generations in France, Morocco, and Egypt as an anti-depressant and stress-releaser. Happy holidays!

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Matti Mattila

 

Worth the Time: Meditating More When Our Plates Are Full

When you make time for meditation, it actually helps you get through a busier day as we are given what we need.

Ironically, when we get busy, the first thing that tends to get cut back is our meditation practice. We have less time and a lot on our plates, so it makes sense that this happens, but in the end it doesn’t really help us. Most of us know from experience that we function much better when we give ourselves time each day to sit in silence. And the more we have to do, the more we need that solitary, quiet time for the day ahead. As a result, while it may sound counterintuitive, it is during busy times that we most need to spend more time in meditation rather than less. By being quiet and listening to the universe, we will be given what we need to get through our day.

Expanding our morning meditation by just 10 minutes can make a big difference, as can the addition of short meditations into our daily schedule. The truth is, no matter how busy we are, unless we are in the midst of a crisis we always have five or 10 minutes to spare. The key is convincing ourselves that spending that time in meditation is the most fruitful choice. We could be getting our dishes done or heading into work earlier instead, so it’s important that we come to value the importance of meditation in the context of all the other things competing for attention in our lives. All we have to do to discover whether it works to meditate more when we are busy is to try it.

We can start by creating more time in the morning, either by getting up earlier or by preparing breakfast the night before and using the extra time for meditation. We can also add short meditation breaks into our schedule, from five minutes before or after lunch to a meditation at night before we go to sleep. When we come from a place of centered calm, we are more effective in handling our busy schedules and more able to keep it all in perspective. If more time in meditation means less time feeling anxious, panicky, and overwhelmed, then it’s certainly worth the extra time.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / GrungeTextures

Why Does Taking It Easy Make Us Feel Guilty? 8 Tips To Take That Break You Deserve

shutterstock_55201930-300x300As a workaholic nation with extremely short vacation days, we can get pretty masochistic when it comes to working. Many of us find it normal to work late at the office, volunteer to take up extra projects we don’t have to do, and enslave ourselves to our work BlackBerrys even on weekends and evenings.

So why is it so hard for many of us to take it easy? Here are some common reasons:

– We feel that we haven’t worked hard enough to “deserve” this break.

– We feel guilty if we take a break: other people are working just as hard, if not harder, and they aren’t taking any breaks.

– We are afraid of being punished for taking a break: if we take a break, we might be seen as lazy and lose our jobs.

– We take pride in overworking ourselves and it becomes a competition. If we pull in the longest hours and sleep the least, we are better than our peers.

– We are ego-driven to work harder: we want the next promotion, the next raise, the more superior job title.

And yet, as many of us have experienced at some point, overworking ourselves only leads to wasted time in the long run. Our bodies rebel from sleep deprivation and poor dietary habits, and we get really sick. Or the anxiety and stress of working around the clock gets so intense we mentally break down, or become uninterested in doing a good job.

Here are some pretty good reasons why it is crucial for all of us to take it easy on a regular basis: 

 

– The mind needs rest from stimuli overload to retain information, learn new skills and come up with new ideas.

– Frequent breaks are the most effective way to keep up our energy, take care of ourselves and stay healthy.

– We tend to come up with more creative ideas when our minds and bodies are relaxed. 

So what can we do to take it easy? You don’t have to do any extravagant–like a three-week stay in Hawaii or an all-day luxurious spa retreat. Here are some ideas to take it easy–and to reduce unnecessary stress in your everyday life.

– Actually have a real lunch break. Stop working in front of the computer with your to-go sandwich in one hand. Take a walk outside and get some natural Vitamin D.

– Have a do-nothing day over the weekend. Many of us masochistically feel like we have to be hyper-productive even in our free time: running errands, cleaning the house, volunteering, throwing extravagant dinner parties for friends, and so on. It won’t kill you if at least once a month, you have a day when you’re in your pajamas, eat take-out and watch all of your guilty-pleasure TV you’ve been missing out on.

– Say no to outside obligations you aren’t enthusiastic about. Distant co-worker having a get-together? It’s okay if you don’t go. Not too crazy about the non-profit you’re volunteering for? It’s okay if you stop doing it.

– Actually use your unused vacation days. They’re there for a reason. How about picking up some travel brochures after work?

– Schedule yourself a mental health me-day. Or at least a me-night. Get a massage, get a pedicure, have your partner cook for you, chill out with some candles, take a hot bath.

– Take it easy with your loved ones–best friends, partners, family, your dog. How true the Swedish proverb is: friends double joy and decrease pain. If you’re going to kick it, do it with your favorite people.

– Pamper yourself on hump days. For many of us, the middle of the week–the Wednesday-Thursday hump–is oftentimes the toughest. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it through hump day–even if it is something as small as ordering that lemon bar at your favorite pastry shop. Check out this blog post for ideas on getting over the hump day blah. 

– Listen to your body. Your body knows best when it comes to your well-being. Does your body need rest? Water? Movement? What part of your body is aching? Is your body getting sick? What does your body want? By listening to your body on a daily basis, you will be more attuned to when it is time for you to take it easy.

 

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