Let’s face it – health problems can shake us up. A new diagnosis or symptom can start the wheels of worry, causing us to get stuck in a cycle of constant fear, sleeplessness, and imaginary conversations starting with the question, ‘what- if?’.
Eventually, resignation or acceptance begins to replace raw fear. Worry comes and goes, depending on our symptoms. Stress seems to always be lurking. It may reside in the background, but the stress reaction seems ready to pounce at the slightest provocation.
The connection between stress and poor health is well-established. Stress has been studied thoroughly, and we can safely conclude that worry, anxiety, and stress are harmful to the health. However, knowing that stress hurts me just makes me worry more, and that makes me feel worse. How do we stop living with anxiety, especially when it is caused by outside forces, such as insurance companies, medical visits, and relentless symptoms?
How do we cope? Meditation or other mindfulness-based practices are a good place to start. Meditation is an ancient practice of controlling the mind. The benefits are numerous, including greater awareness, peace, focus, etc. In 1975, Harvard professor Herbert Benson, MD, propelled meditation into mainstream medicine. In his bestseller, The Relaxation Response, Benson described the biology of stress, arguing that meditation, prayer and other relaxation techniques could offset the harmful effects of stress.
Research has shown that meditation lowers blood pressure, relieves pain, improves heart disease, and reduces insomnia. It helps patients cope with cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy. Meditation is used for infertility, premenstrual syndrome, and psychological problems.
Using principles by Benson and others, Jon Kabat-Zinn developed an eight-week program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MSBR uses a menu of practices, including meditation and yoga in order to increase mindfulness. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is a variation of MSBR developed for people with depression. It includes recognizing thought patterns, and learning how to break them. MBSR programs are offered across the U.S. as well as online. For more information, visit www.mindfullivingprograms.com.
If you want to learn mindfulness in the comfort of your own home, there are many resources. Here are a few to try:
- Headspace (www.headspace.com) Headspace is a mobile app that offers a variety of programs, depending on your needs. You can try it free, but it is a subscription service. There are ways to reduce the cost, and the monthly fee costs me less than lunch out with a friend.
- Calm (calm.com) This mobile app is packed with mediation classes aimed at helping with all sorts of issues, including sleep problems. The bedtime stories are my favorite feature. There is a 7-day free trial, followed by an annual fee if you continue with it. The annual fee is significantly less than a single session with a therapist.
- Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. This book is excellent, and you can download audio meditations, narrated by a man with a relaxing voice. You can get more information and download free meditations at www.franticworld.com
You don’t need a fancy program in order to relax. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Listen to music. It doesn’t even have to be calm music. Your favorite music, even if it is hard rock can transport you past your worries.
- Get moving. Regular physical activity increases endorphins and other feel-good chemicals in the brain. Plus, it is good for the liver, and every other organ in your body.
- Share what’s on your mind. Research about cancer patients found that those who talked about their feelings had fewer medical appointments.
- Help others. Sometimes the best way to get off the thinking treadmill is to help someone else.
Looking for more instruction? Search the web using the word ‘meditate’ or ‘mindfulness’ and explore what the world has to offer. In the meantime, try this: Breathe in, breathe out. Repeat. Repeat.Repeat…