Category Archives: Meditation

Get to the Root of Work Stress

~ Zen Habits By Leo Babauta ~

By Leo Babauta

There isn’t a working person among us who doesn’t deal with stress — whether you’re an entrepreneur, a freelancer, working for a struggling startup, or clocking in working for a company, work stress is inevitable.

But where does this stress originate, and how do we deal with it?

Most guides to stress will give you some actions to take: exercise, sleep well, eat right, meditate, and do some yoga at your desk. These are all amazing, and you should do them.

However, I’m more interested in getting at the root of stress. Dig down, ferret out the cause, and work with that directly, rather than treating the symptoms. Only once you deal with the cause of stress can you truly be a master of it.

Cause of Stress

Let’s take a look at some things you might be stressed about at work:

  • Hard deadlines
  • Difficult co-workers or boss
  • Uncertainty about your job
  • Uncertainty about whether you can succeed at this project
  • Competition, office politics, interpersonal conflicts
  • Not having enough time for family or personal life
  • Being overwhelmed by too much to do

There are many more possibilities, but these are a good sampling. In all these examples, the cause is really the same thing:

We are attached to how we want things to be. We have an ideal about how each of these situations should be, and our clinging to this ideal is causing the stress.

Let’s take the uncertainty about the job. Of course, that’s not ideal, we would rather have a stable job that we don’t have to worry about. So reality is not matching our ideal (a stable job), and that causes us stress. We don’t like the present situation, and this not wanting uncertainty is causing us to stress out.

The same is true of each of the above examples — when a co-worker is not meeting our ideal, when we have an ideal that we won’t have too much to do, when our ideal of having easy-to-meet deadlines isn’t being met … we get stressed.

Unfortunately, this happens all day long, every day. Our ideals about reality are constantly not being met, and so we stress out. It builds up. It becomes a health problem.

So what’s the way to deal with this? Let’s take a look.

Dealing with the Cause of Stress

If our attachment to an ideal is the cause of our stress, then can we just not have ideals? Well, that would be ideal, perhaps, but no, I’ve found it impossible to not have ideals. The ideals come up, unbidden, in our active and ever hopeful minds.

The way to deal with the cause of stress is to 1) notice that you’re feeling stress or frustration, 2) mindfully notice your attachment to an ideal, and 3) loosen the attachment, finding love for the actual reality of the present moment.

Let’s look at these in turn.

First, you have to notice the stress. Learn to see your frustration or worry about something as a signpost, a flag that tells you what’s going on. In this way, stress becomes a positive thing, because it’s letting you know that something is going on. It’s like a notification system on your phone — instead of ignoring the notifications, as we usually do (we don’t like to think about stress), we can mindfully drop into ourselves and deal with it.

Next, you have to mindfully notice your attachment to the ideal. That means dropping in and saying, “Hey, things are meeting my ideal and it’s stressing me out — what’s my ideal?” It’s probably something that is more secure, stable, comfortable, controlled than what you’re currently experiencing.

For example, if you’re overwhelmed by too much work, your ideal is probably that you have a very controlled, comfortable amount of work, and that you’re on top of it all. That would feel much more secure, stable, comfortable to you.

Unfortunately, comfort and control and security aren’t what life provides us. It mostly provides us the very opposite — something chaotic, unpredictable, uncomfortable, unstable. And we can be upset by this, or we can embrace it. We can hate all of this about life, or we can love it. This is a choice.

Finally, we can loosen our attachment to this expectation or ideal. We can say, “This ideal is not helping me. Clinging to wanting things this way is actually harming me. I hereby open my heart to many more possibilities.”

That means we can be open to a less-than-ideal co-worker, who isn’t perfect and is struggling with his issues. We can be open to loving having too much work, more than we can possibly do, and having to prioritize and just focus on the important stuff for now. We can be open to the possibility that we’ll do poorly, or lose our jobs, because even then we’ll figure something out and life will be just fine.

Loosening our attachments is about realizing that life doesn’t have to be one way, our way, that we can be open to life’s way. It’s about learning to love everything, shit and all. It’s about being curious about life, about others, instead of judging life and other people as bad.

And then it’s about working from this place of peace and love. Have too much to do? Pick one task, and do your best with it. Have an annoying co-worker? Find compassion for her struggles, and be curious about what she’s going through, and talk to her compassionately and empathetically about your conflict with her. Worried about losing your job? Focus on doing your best, while preparing yourself for the possibility that you might need to find another job.

Many people won’t like this solution, because it means that they don’t get the ideals they want. Most of us want to control life to be the way we want. And that’s fine, if it works for you.

What I’m suggesting is being open to the many other possibilities, opening your heart to what life offers instead of what you want it to offer, being curious about what’s really in front of you rather than judgmental, and learning to love everything as it is.

5 Great Reasons to Meditate – Backed By Science

shutterstock_74158666-w~ By Terri Mudge ~

Stress is a real killer. Scientists have identified many of the biological factors linking stress to real medical problems including physical deterioration, adding to the risk of stroke, heart attack, infection, asthma and even making recovery from cancer harder. Chronic stress can come from the job, family issues, poverty, abuse, recurring pain, or even caring for a sick loved one and its effects can take their toll. The good news is that the bad side effects of stress can be turned around by implementing a few good habits.

The solution lies in taking control of your body to re-direct your brain into healthier patterns, that over time, increase your body’s ability to withstand life’s stresses. How does one do that you ask? Mindfulness, of course!

Here are 5 Reasons to Meditate Backed By Science:

  1. Harvard Medical School researchers have found increases in GABA (an inhibitory neurotransmitter) in people who Meditate, while those with depression or anxiety disorders have low levels of GABA.
  2. Yoga and Meditation provide the body a mechanism to alter their responses to bad experiences and improving the neuroplasticity of the brain. Studies show this leads to the ability to moderate bad habits, limit compulsive behavior and tame obsessive thoughts.
  3. Meditation has shown to increase the activity in the brain’s left pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with positive emotions in studies by Buddhist monks.
  4. Even more studies have shown that Meditation increases activity in the areas of the brain responsible for making decisions and paying attention.
  5. Yet further research has tied Yoga and Mediation to an increase in melatonin (a hormone intimately involved in regulating the sleeping and waking cycle) and regulating circadian rhythms (physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness). Essentially this means they lead to positive impacts on sleep and mood.

Not convinced yet? Listen to this broadcast from NPR about researchers who studied students practicing meditation for as little as 11 hours within one month. They found changes in brain connectivity were actually visible on a brain scan. Hear the whole story here.

The studies simply keep adding up! I’d say it’s time to embrace them and set a date with ourselves for some time alone. Being able to handle stress easier, plus getting improvements in our brain chemistry in the process? Why wait another moment?

Doing my best to live life on purpose!

Terri Mudge

Sources of information for this article came from:
The American Mindfulness Research Association
ScienceNews.Org: Chronic Stress Can Wreak Havoc On The Body

 

Being Mindful Will Help You Sleep and Reduce Stress

Stress Relief In BedFor a long while, I have been a student of Mindfulness. The practice of being in the moment and focusing on the here and now can have amazing benefits. One of the most important benefits is reducing stress.

I wanted to share this article by Rosie Osmun from Mindful.org that provides some great tips for beginners on how to reduce stress at bedtime every night.

Four Effective Bedtime Strategies for Reducing Stress

Here are four practices you can try if you need help falling asleep.

Stress affects half of all Americans, with women, younger adults, and people with lower incomes reporting the highest levels, according to the 2014 Stress in America survey by the American Psychological Association. Additionally, 42% of adults don’t think they are effectively managing their stress, and 40% say they lie awake at night because of stress.

Stress is one of the top contributors to insomnia, which impacts around 30% of US adults at any given time. If you’ve experienced a nerve-wracked night, it’s not too hard to understand why: high levels of stress makes it hard to mentally wind down, and it makes it difficult to physically relax before and during sleep as well.

The relationship between stress and sleep works both ways, too. Missing out on rest compounds stress and affects physical and mental health over time, which can create a cycle that exacerbates both problems. Recently, a study published in the journal Sleep found that how a person responds to stress may impact the development of insomnia. Having a few relaxation techniques in your mental toolkit can be helpful for those times when stress rears its head and keeps you up. Here are four practices you can explore if you need help getting some quality shut-eye.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation involves taking time be aware of your physical body and thoughts and accepting rather than judging those thoughts and feelings. There are variety of health benefits associated with mindfulness, and one of those is improved sleep. One 2015 study found that people in a mindfulness training program improved on sleep, depression, and fatigue measures over six weeks, compared to people in a sleep hygiene education program.

Mindfulness meditation can be practiced independently. The steps are simple: take a seat, pay attention to the breath, and when your attention wanders, return. Following a guided meditation can also be helpful for beginners.

If you prefer instructor-led learning, several universities and therapists provide mindfulness training programs based on the practice of meditation and mind-body awareness, aimed at reducing stress or for specific concerns like insomnia. (Find more helpful resources here.)

Deep Breathing

Since breathing is typically an autonomic function, it’s easy to overlook its role in relaxation. However, considerable evidence shows that depth and pace of breathing can affect things like heart rate and blood pressure. Certain breathing techniques involving deeper, slower breaths can be practiced for inducing relaxation.

Diaphragmatic Breathing: This technique is easy to try: sitting or lying down, inhale through your nose, counting to ten and focusing on drawing breath from your abdomen rather than your chest. Exhale slowly through your nose at the same pace, counting to ten. Complete the cycle five to ten times, repeating as often as needed. Research has found that even a single session of deep, slow breathing can reduce blood pressure and heart rate.

4-7-8 Breath: This technique was developed for inducing sleep and relaxation by Andrew Weil, based in yoga breathing principles. To try it: place the tip of your tongue behind your upper teeth. Exhale fully through your mouth, making a “whooshing” sound. Close your mouth, and inhale through your nose to a count of four. Hold your breathe for a count of seven. Exhale through your mouth making the whoosh sound for a count of eight. Repeat three more times.
Listen to Music

Have you ever noticed how certain songs can make you feel relaxed? It’s not just in your head—music really can help you calm down and fight stress. Music-based therapy is a professional clinical practice involving trained therapists, backed by significant research.

Music relaxation techniques have been shown to reduce stress and pain as well as insomnia symptoms. Listening to soothing music (Pachabel’s Canon in D in one study) may have a preventative effect against stress, and according to research, music may even be more effective the progressive muscle relaxation at anxiety and insomnia relief. A study of college students found that listening to classical music at night improved sleep and decreased depression compared to either audiobooks or nothing.

When choosing music relax to at home, it’s best to pick instrumentals with a calming pace, including classical, light jazz, and stringed tunes as well as nature soundtracks, depending on what you personally find most appealing. Lay back, turn out the lights, and focus on the melody and beat of the music.

Mindful Movement

Meditative movements like those found in yoga and tai chi can be helpful way to reduce stress. A recent review published in September looked at several studies involving meditative movement interventions, finding that these practices improved sleep. Type was not important, but practicing three days a week or more was.

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition combining series of slow, focused movements with deep breathing. It’s a very low impact form of exercise requiring no equipment, suitable for doing alone or in a group. Another 2015 research review found small but consistent evidence that tai chi helps subjective sleep quality for older adults. Follow along with a guided video or attend a class in your area.

Yoga has been studied as an insomnia intervention, for cancer survivors, in elderly individuals, and in pregnant women, showing positive results. Typically the studies involve regular daytime practices, though yoga can also be utilized at night for relaxation, with poses like forward bends, child’s pose, legs-up-the-wall and savasana for gentle stretching and stress relief. Many yoga resources are available free online, and classes are also abundant in most cities.

Since relaxation can be an individual thing, testing out different programs and even different instructors can be helpful. But remember, as with most strategies, results can take time to see and most studies find benefits over a span of several weeks to months.

Finding a healthy stress relief method that works for you and practicing it regularly can make a significant difference when life throws you curveballs. Coping strategies that help you process stress and induce relaxation offer a positive way to manage problems and work to prevent its negative effects, including insomnia.

[Source: Osmun, Rosie. “Four Effective Bedtime Strategies for Reducing Stress – Mindful.” Mindful. FOUNDATION FOR A MINDFUL SOCIETY, 13 Oct. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.]