TAKE A MINUTE!
“Since everything is a reflection of our minds, everything can be changed by our minds.” Buddha
I often ask clients about their stress levels and if during their day they take time to just relax. Some respond with “I can’t.” “I don’t have time.” “I can’t do it at my desk.” “I keep meaning to.” I try to impart the idea: “take a minute.” Starting with just a minute, it can be a first step in selecting healthier choices.
Take a minute to consider what stress means to you. Now consider that stress can lead to physical symptoms including headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, compromised immune system, and problems sleeping. Add to that some research suggests stress can cause or worsen certain symptoms or diseases.
Another negative aspect of stress is how people attempt to cope with it by using drugs and alcohol to relieve the distress. Despite what people believe, using drugs and alcohol do not relieve stress rather these tend to keep the body in a state of distress. When stressed or tired we tend to revert to familiar habits – take a pill, drink, smoke, don’t talk about it, eat poorly – and the unhealthy cycle continues.
The physiological impact of stress on the human body has been extensively studied. From an evolutionary view stress is necessary as it allows for the fight or flight response to kick in to keep us from danger. The long and short-term effects of chronic stress can be detrimental to our physical and emotional health particularly if the stress level is not allowed to return to base level.
What can be done to decrease stress? Choosing healthier behaviors is an option. Positive results will be greater when, at the outset, you plan by setting goals and taking into consideration your lifestyle, schedules and responsibilities. A plan starts by identifying the habits that you believe need to be replaced. New behaviors chosen should be based on what is comfortable and attainable. Trying to change everything all at once doesn’t work. Choose one behavior at a time to work on. For example: trying twenty minutes of meditation daily might prove a bit challenging, whereas 2-5 minutes, a couple times a week might prove more effective.
Meditation has been around for a very long time with many different ways to meditate. Using fMRI scans, scientists have a better idea of what is happening to the brain in these meditative states. There is a decrease in beta waves that indicate the brain is processing information. This type of research has also found that meditation improves focus, decreases anxiety, creativity, compassion and memory increases, and gray matter appears in larger amounts.
Habits are long-established patterns or familiar routines that must be disrupted by changing how the brain’s cueing system functions, or processes information. Zen Habits blogger Leo Babuta makes an important point about changing habits or behaviors using meditation – the most important aspect of making meditation a centering tool for your hectic life: forming the habit. How long will it take to change a habit? Consider all the technological changes that have happened over the past ten years – smart phones and touch pads – and how long it took to become accustomed to them. Habits take time to develop until they are so familiar we cease to even notice how automatic they have become. For example: when was the last time you really thought about how you brush your teeth?
Try changing the language by which you refer to exploring change options. This creates a little motivation and hopefulness. “I will try” as opposed to “I can’t do it” increases your energy and self-worth as it draws from your goal of a healthier lifestyle. Explore what prevents you from making the changes. What will happen if you stop smoking when stressed? What will happen if you exercise on a more regular basis? What will happen if you substitute healthier foods for junk food? What will happen if you take a few minutes to meditate? Make a pro/con list and examine your results.
Take a minute – no special equipment or space is needed. Feet flat on the floor, hands gently resting in your lap. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Begin to change the level of stress. As Buddha said, “everything can be changed by our minds.”