Everyone feels stress at one time or another, and much of it comes from the fast pace of today's society, and the pressure it puts on us to get ahead, or just keep our heads above water. For many, stress creates a constant stream of negative thoughts that, if unchecked, can lead to anxiety or depression. Indeed, the stress itself may be created by chronic pain that is almost impossible to control, creating a vicious cycle that has a serious effect on the quality of a person's life
Is there anything you can do? Scientist and doctors have shown that there is something that is of tremendous help, and numerous studies have shown that it can produce a significant improvement in the life of people afflicted with the above problems. It is called mindfulness. Although it is related to meditation, it is actually quite different. Simply, it is defined as releasing yourself from the past with all its regrets and disappointments, and from the future with all its worries, and concentrating only on the present. In short, it encourages you to cast all your problems and concentrating only on what you are doing at the present moment.
A list of many of the things it can help is as follows. It can:
• relieve stress
• alleviate chronic pain
• relate both anxiety and depression
• improve sleep
• prevent heart disease
• alleviate gastrointestinal problems
Let's look briefly at each of the above. As mentioned earlier, everyone experiences stress, but for some people it becomes overwhelming and chronic. In effect, they experience stress overload, and when this happens it can lead to all sorts of problems. Most of the problems in the above list, in fact, can be traced to excessive stress. If you can reduce this stress, you will clearly reduce any of the above problems you may have. And mindfulness is designed to reduce stress.
One of the things that creates stress is chronic pain. Although medications help to some degree, in many cases it is difficult to overcome and control the pain, and there's no doubt that people with this condition experience a decreed quality of life. Mindfulness allows these people to detach themselves from their pain by encouraging them to minimize their reaction to the emotions and distressing thoughts associated with the pain. In short, it teaches them to observe the pain, but not react in the usual way to it.
Depression and anxiety are two other devastating conditions that rob people of joy and a sense of well-being. Both are relatively common in our society, and they are usually treated by medications, along with therapy. The biggest problem once they have been alleviated is recurrence. After a period of a few months or sometimes a year or so they come back. Because of this, patients are encouraged to continue with therapy after the symptoms stop. One of the best therapies for these conditions is mindfulness, and it is also helpful after they have been controlled to make sure they do not re-occur.
Another problem that affects many people is lack of sleep. In particular, they are unable to fall sleep easily when they go to bed, or they wake up in the night and are unable to get back to sleep. And it's well-known that lack of sleep has a serious effect on your immune system and your heart. Furthermore, it has recently been shown that it is critical for maximum brain function. According to recent research, toxic waste is removed from your brain while you sleep in the same way that your lymphatic system rids your body of toxic wastes. As you will see, mindfulness can also help you sleep better.
High blood pressure is also helped by mindfulness. High blood pressure, or hypertension, as it is usually called, is a serious problem. If left untreated it can lead to stroke, aneurisms, heart attack and even death. Indeed, even moderate hypertension can cut your lifespan by up to four years. One of the major problems with it is that it usually has no symptoms. It is therefore important to control it as quickly as possible after you detect it.
Many other things are helped by mindfulness including heart and cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, inflammatory bowel disease and even HIV, so it's obviously something that is worth learning about and applying. The following steps show you how to apply it.
• Begin by finding a quiet, peaceful place and a comfortable chair, although as I will mention later, mindfulness can also be performed almost anywhere and at any time.
• Relaxation is important, so start by relaxing. Let yourself go. Feel the tension go out of your shoulders and neck, then concentrate on your arms, legs and body. Relax them as completely as possible
• When you're completely relaxed, you're ready to focus. The whole idea of mindfulness is to remove the past and future from your thoughts and concentrate, or focus, on the present. This allows you to leave all your problems and troubles behind.
• Do not try to stifle your emotions and feeling, however. And do not try to block out the world. Experience the things around you as fully as possible. Furthermore, if thoughts come into your mind, make no judgments about them. Merely observes them and let them pass, then focus back on the present.
• Concentrate on your breathing. Breath in and out slowly through your nose, letting your abdomen expand and contract with each breath.
• Finally, let your emotions come into play. In particular, feel the joy of the moment. Let it flow through you.
How long should you do this? Ten minutes is a good number to shoot for at first. But as you get better you will no doubt want to go longer, so try for twenty minutes. Anyways, do not worry about the time. Even a few minutes will help. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, you do not have to be relaxed in a comfortable chair to perform mindfulness; you can perform it anytime – particularly when you feel stressed.
A variation of the above that is also very helpful is to use music. In this case you focus or concentrate on the music rather than your breath. The music should be soothing, easy-listening music; new age and classical are best. Listen to the music carefully; let it flow over you, and soak up the emotions and feelings that it creates within you. Concentrate on them. If other thoughts creep into your mind bring your focus back to the music as quickly as possible.
So, while mindfulness is not a cure-all, it is very helpful in a large number of health problems, and with practice it can make a significant change in your life.