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Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Who among us doesn’t experience stress from time to time? Papers stack up on your desk. Projects are awaiting your attention and deadlines keep coming at you. You feel overwhelmed. You can feel aches and pain in your body. You missed lunch yesterday and the night before you didn’t sleep well. You’re exhausted. There’s no gas left in the tank. And you know when you get home, you’re not going to have any energy for anything or anyone. Sound familiar? If it does, you might want to consider carving out some time in your day to take care of yourself and practice some simple mindfulness meditation. “How am I supposed to do that?” you say, “when there is so much to be done!” It doesn’t seem possible. “I’m too nervous to sit still and my monkey mind is driving me nuts!” So even though you’ve heard that meditation can help you, it doesn’t seem possible. How are you going to slow down and actually do it? Getting started is not easy. So let’s look at a few things mindfulness can do to address your stress, and then let’s take a frank look at what it may take to actually make it a part of your life. •

  • Learn to Relax.

Rumination and negative self talk are very common in depression and anxiety disorders. Mindfulness practice can help reduce this harsh self-talk by helping you be more aware of it, and then gently letting it go by returning your attention to your breath. You find that this simple bodybased awareness allows you to relax because your mind is not so actively occupied in constant evaluations and judgments. It’s surprising that when you relax the mind in this way, you also relax the body and many of the aches and pains that come with being so wound up and constricted begin to ease and dissipate.

  • Learn to balance emotions.

Mindfulness affects specific areas in the brain that help you regulate extreme emotions. When you are given to extreme emotional swings you become more reactive. Your perceptions become clouded by your moods, and you are likely to say and do things that upset people around you causing further stress. Mindfulness can help you balance your emotions and hold them with more softness and spaciousness. This helps you become more responsive to yourself and others, and contributes to a significant reduction in your stress.

  • Learn to Sleep Well.

It’s surprising how common it is for people to not get a good night’s sleep, and how important this is in contributing to significant levels of stress and anxiety. When we do not sleep well, we feel exhausted and depleted the next day. Mindfulness meditation contributes to helping you sleep better and more soundly. Following an 8 week MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) program, cancer patients reported reductions in sleep disturbance and increased sleep quality.

Can you see how these areas of relaxation, mental balance and sleep quality might help you address some of the stress in your life? If so, you need to find a way to bring this kind of practice into your life. And there’s the rub. You need to take a frank look at your life style and make some changes. If your present lifestyle doesn’t include taking time for a relaxing lunch break, then you need to change that. If your present life style doesn’t include getting a good nights sleep, then you need to change your lifestyle.

If your present lifestyle doesn’t include the possibility of being still in meditation on a regular basis, you need to change that too. Changing your lifestyle is not easy. We are all creatures of habit. So don’t wait. Take up the practice of mindfulness meditation today and take charge of your life.

by Robert Althouse
Zen Master
Zen Life & Meditation Center, Chicago, ©2013