Most of us aren’t ending our days on a high note. We feel tired and cranky. Stress is flowing through our veins. Anxiety and mental discord may be running high. We worry about tomorrow before the sun even sets on today. Our bodies feel like lead. Sound familiar? If it does, you know this isn’t a pleasant experience. It also isn’t one you have to endure. We get so caught up in the craziness, and are so used to feeling badly, we can easily forget it doesn’t have to be this way. In our culture, somewhere along the way, we picked up this idea that being stressed and harried is a badge of honor, something to be proud of. It’s not. Don’t you want a healthier body and mind? Don’t you want to be able to handle the stresses of life with greater ease? Don’t you want to just feel happier? Is that a yes? The good news is, you don’t have to become some master of your mind and body to reap these benefits. You just have to be willing to do a few things a little differently, and experiment a bit to see what works best for you.
Here are just a few techniques that can chip away at stress and other junk making your mind and body feel 10 different kinds of bad:
We breathe all day long without giving it a second thought. But when we consciously tune into our breath, we can regulate it, and that can do wonders. We can breathe in a way that invigorates us, and we can breathe in ways that relax us. For just five minutes, take a break and zero in on your breathing. Sit up straight, close your eyes and place your hand on your stomach. Inhale slowly through your nose, and see how the breath moves up your body to your head. As you exhale through your mouth, observe the journey the opposite way. Not only does it help you stay in the moment, detaching you from whatever is floating around in your head, it physically calms you by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure.
ADOPT AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
Humans seem to have a tendency to focus in on all that is wrong with our lives. The pull of negative emotion is quite strong, and we feel justified in feeling badly if there is anything in our existence we don’t like. But that mode of operating is a choice, a force of habit and it can be changed. It’s okay to want something better, but you can do wonders for anxiety, tension and other yuck, by focusing in on what is good about your life now, both the big stuff and the little things. We take so much for granted. We are so used to having certain things, we don’t realize how lucky we are. A great exercise to do at the end of your day, or perhaps when you are engaging in your relaxing ‘me time’ is a gratitude journal. Write down all that you are grateful for in your life overall, and all of the things for which you feel grateful that day. There is nothing too small here. An article in Forbes magazine that laid out the results of various studies on gratitude found that it provided a multitude of benefits, such as fewer aches and pains, reduced feelings of resentment, anger, depression, envy and frustration, enhanced empathy, reduced aggression and improved sleep. Not too shabby for such a simple practice.
Interest in meditation is continually expanding in the West as more and more people realize the profound effects of such a simple practice. It can actually alter the brain’s neural pathways, providing a number of benefits, such as making us more resistant to stress and altering how our body responds to pain. Meditating can be a great way to relax both the mind and body and a growing body of research is beginning to validate what people have known about this practice for thousands of years. Researchers from Johns Hopkins sought to get a better picture of meditation’s true effects by finding quality studies that had good controls and didn’t primarily consist of people who already meditated and were therefore more likely to report positive benefits. They sifted through 19,000 studies and found 47 that fit the bill. Their findings, which were published in a January 2014 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine, concluded that meditation is a highly effective way to deal with stress, anxiety and physical pain. You no longer have to be a victim of a tense body and an even tenser mind. You can take back control and proactively get to a place of enhanced wellness. It will be a process, but if you keep at it, the good habits will take root.