Change Your Life Style: Reduce Your Stress

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've already had several cups of coffee, but now that doesn't seem to help. You just feel nervous and jittery. 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 body-based 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 you are in agreement with me, at this point, 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.

We live in a culture that is accustomed to quick fixes and pharmaceutical magic pills. These are fine if you want to apply a band aid, but if you want to address the root causes of your suffering, you're going to need to take a hard look at how you are living your life, and you're going to need to make some changes.

If your present life style 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 life style. If your present life style doesn't include the possibility of being still in meditation on a regular basis,  you need to change that too. Changing your life style is not easy. We are all creatures of habit. We are surprising stubborn and resistant to changing our ways, even when we know they are contributing to our current stress and anxiety.

At the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago, you'll find a step-by-step core curriculum, designed to teach you how to practice mindfulness and how to make it a part of your daily life. You'll find a teaching of practices and principles that you can apply that will help you gradually change your life style. You'll learn how to live a Zen-inspired life style that takes time to be with yourself in a way that is restorative, relaxing and surprisingly satisfying on more levels than you can imagine.

I know this is not easy. That's why we have created this entry-level curriculum to take you step-by-step in gradually learning and mastering the practice of mindfulness meditation. Many who have already taken our course report remarkable changes in their levels of stress and anxiety. If they can do it, so can you!

Robert Althouse