Mind Matters: Mindful living — coping with stress

Stress haunts us. Its ugly presence makes us fret, doubt ourselves, overwork to earn enough money and make sure our loved ones are happy and pleased with us. Stress begets stress. The harder we strive the more we see what needs to be accomplished. Time is not on our side. We always feel behind schedule.

However a movement in the opposite direction has taken hold in the past two decades and is gaining in credibility. I am for the first time in my career receiving brochures advertising workshops for therapists on mindfulness. This tells me that meditation and mindfulness are becoming mainstream, that receptivity to these concepts is growing.

Indeed, in an age where multitasking has become a virtue, stress is inevitable. We are judged not by who we are but how much we can accomplish. The pace required for success is not one that most humans are wired to maintain. We are multifaceted, intelligent organisms that need balance to maintain physical and mental health. Work should not be the sole purpose of life.

To decrease stress it is necessary to first let go of trying to accomplish the impossible. Hard to do, you say? It can only be done by taking inventory of what might wait. Sleep should not be on the list. Getting sufficient sleep helps us function with greater clarity and efficiency, which means less stress.

The practice of mindfulness is an authentic method of stress reduction. What is mindfulness? One is mindful when completely and totally focused on the moment. When focused in such a way the body relaxes and the mind is still. A quiet mind induces relaxation and relaxation aids in stilling an active mind. It’s a reciprocal process.

Most of us have been in a state of mindfulness when we are engrossed in an activity. For some it is golf, dancing, exercise. Yoga is mindfulness in action. For me sewing or cooking become mindful activities. Any time we can put all our attention on an activity or observation we are mindful. Simply observing each breath as we inhale and exhale is an act of mindfulness that decreases stress.

Even if we are unable to end the stress in our lives we can be more balanced by trying to accomplish less, having more fun and practicing mindfulness. This is best done by sitting quietly at least a few minutes a day and watching the breath.

Another technique is to very consciously focus all attention on the task at hand; any activity deserves full attention. The result will be a sense of relaxed alertness that replaces the physical tension of stress. Remembering to do this several times a day even for a few brief minutes will make a positive difference.

Stress may be a fact of life but it need not rule our lives. We have options and tools to find balance and cope with stress if we are willing to take better care of ourselves.

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Elinor Stanton is a psychiatric nurse practitioner on Marco Island. She has 30 years of experience as a therapist in private practice and with a large health maintenance organization in Boston. Send comments and questions to etseven@aol.com or call 394-2861. Visit her Web site at http://www.etseven.net.

© 2008 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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