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Stress Management

TODAY’S EVENTS (3)

Have you a zest for life or are you stressed with life? If you are stressed, or pushing yourself too hard, taking some time out is not only wise, but also could help you rediscover some of life’s simple pleasures. Often we need to connect with what's real in life, what has substance, and we need to ease the persistent stresses of modern living. That means reducing your stress levels as far as possible and finding ways to re-establish what is really important in your life.

Stress

Stress is a hallmark of the age we live in; it’s like a massive cloud sweeping the globe and appears to be all part of a days work. The reality is that it is nigh on impossible to live in today’s modern world without experiencing some form of stress.

There has been a sharp increase in stress related illnesses; absenteeism in the work place over the past number of years bares testimony to that. As the pace of life becomes more and more frantic, you can observe that the up-keep of modern living is significantly affecting the people next to you in the train station, the airport, and the store. It is visible on their faces. Our help lines are buzzing with people who are desperate. There is also an abundance of examples present in our modern life of people who never ask for help, those who soldier on and suffer in silence. There is so much written these days about stress, stress hormones, stressful life events, and all manner of ways of dealing with stress; in fact it’s difficult to pick up a newspaper or magazine without some reference to the stresses of our modern lifestyle. We are told that a certain amount of stress is good for us, but it’s hard to make clear distinctions between good stress and bad stress. 

Stress presents a bigger dynamic- it is more than an unpleasant fact of life. When we are stressed we stop looking after ourselves properly; we miss meals, we don’t sleep properly, we forget to drink enough water, we have no time to exercise, we may keep ourselves going with sugary snacks, alcohol and cigarettes, and perhaps even drugs. These busy and pressured lifestyles are far more demanding than we realise, they pose a very real health risk. When we are subjected to stress, we are consistently pumping adrenalin, which keeps the body in a fight or flight mode (the response when danger threatens). The consequences of this response are poor immunity, poor sleep patterns, poor digestion, and impaired memory. There is concrete evidence that shows living in this survival mode can change our biochemistry and suppress the immune system. If you want to get away from thestress response and enter into the healing response you can employ some simple stress busters.

One question I am asked repeatedly is whether stress can cause cancer. Dr Carl Simonton wrote extensively about the strong link between stress and illness. Prior to facing a second recurrence of cancer two things happened that took me way off the stress scale. Firstly, my mother had a stroke. When your parent is old you expect to hear news like this all the time, but nevertheless it was a shock when it happened. Fortunately my mother recovered, but was unable to live alone after that. Shortly after this my eldest daughter Sarah was diagnosed with a cyst in her brain.

She complained of a headache which I thought would pass as perhaps she was brewing up flu or something. When she complained that both of her cheeks were numb, I realised this was one problem that clearly was not going to go away. A tangible sense of fear started to creep up on me as I tried to figure out why she was numb down one side. Suddenly I was worried, I grabbed her coat, bundled her into the car and rushed to casualty.

As I watched her lying in the hospital bed, ghost-pale and defenseless, I tried to figure out what it could be. Could it be something serious? She was only fifteen – surely she was much too young to be given a death sentence.  In all, she was in hospital for nine days. It turned out that Sarah had an arachnoid cyst on the left anterior wall of her brain. Which they said was possibly left over from the embryonic stage. Because of the location, they decided not to remove it. Overwhelmed with relief, we left the hospital. As I sank into bed that night I thanked God fervently for answering my prayers and keeping her safe and well.

One month later, I discovered a lump in my breast.

Was it a coincidence that I developed cancer a month after this distressing ordeal?

Simonton states that most of his patients who go through the process of self-examination see important links between their emotional states and the onset of their disease. “The process of identifying the links between stress

and illness is valuable for everyone, because the link between emotional states and disease applies to susceptibility of all illnesses, not just cancer.” 

One exercise that the Simonton’s ask their patients to complete is, to list the major life changes or stresses that were going on six to eighteen months prior to the onset of their illness.

“Most people find when completing this exercise, that the period before the onset of the disease held a number of major stresses.” In his book Getting Well Again, Simonton wrote that

The object of this kind of self-examination is to identify the beliefs and behaviours that you want to change now. Because these beliefs have been threatening your health they need to be consciously examined with an eye toward altering them.”

Simonton believes that people often place themselves in stressful situations, by putting everybody else's needs first, by failing to say no or by ignoring their own mental, physical and emotional needs.

Incorporating some changes to restore some balance into your busy life will help you cope more effectively withstress and help you appreciate the good things in life. Here is my list of some simple methods to control and relieve stress.

Unwind and Meditate 

Another release that provides great relief from stress is meditation. It is a wonderful antidote to our noisy and busy lives. I use it to grab a few quite moments when I have spent long hours sitting in front of the computer.

  • Does mediation really make much of a difference?
  • Can you stop the mental chatter of a busy mind?
  • Is it difficult not to get distracted?

These are some of the questions I am frequently asked.

First of all yes it works because it releases many of the side effects of stress. When I integrated meditation into my life it impacted on me in several ways, my sleep improved, my stress levels were reduced and I got more connected with myself, subsequently I began to feel more balanced within myself.

The primary reason why meditation contributes to reducing stress levels is that it gives a general sense of calmness and control. Apart from strengthening your body's self-healing powers, it is also a useful tool to have in times of need as it stops the overwhelming feeling of panic that comes when things go wrong in our lives.

Meditation is not a practice that requires you to sit in the lotus position for hours until you reach some kind of advanced Zen state. Even in the absence of any formal techniques, meditation can be carried out quite simply. It is a skill that can easily be learned and carried out where ever you are. Basically you can meditate by just being quiet and focussing your attention away from your thoughts onto your breath.

It is universally acknowledged that when you train your mind to abandon the inventory of thoughts you process every day, you begin to unwind. Each day we generate thought after thought, roughly about 60,000. That is a heck of a lot of thoughts passing through our minds each day. The value of shutting down this constant internal noise is that it helps us engage with ourselves and our lives on a closer level. Quietening the mind stimulates repair mechanisms. Research from Boston University School of Medicine shows that people who practise yoga have 27% more amino butyric acid in the brain, low levels of which can cause stress and anxiety.

Neuroscience has found that meditation has the ability to change the structure of the brain. Just 12 minutes a day of relaxation and focus attention can stimulate the frontal lobes of the brain, the part of the brain that governs our intelligence. Modern technology enables us to see what parts of the brain is fired when we meditate. Meditation puts the rational thinking part of the brain to sleep and reduces the mental chatter. Apart from releasing tension and helping you relax mediation can help reduce blood pressure, increases blood flow to the brain which increases oxygen levels and increases nutrients to your cells. Neuroscience has caught up with the millions of people who believe that meditation benefits the body's natural healing mechanisms.

While the main purpose of meditation is to still the mind, it can also teach you gentle control and use of the breath. Repeating mind-focused breathing can be very beneficial, it is the most basic form of meditation. As your system slows down you will notice the tension release as the breath becomes deeper. When you become focused on the autonomic functions of breathing you can reduce repetitive thinking. For those who are constantly turning things over in their mind this provides a nice bit of a breather from an over-active mind. As the calmness replaces the constant mental dialogue it leads to a deeper level of relaxation.

While it is desirable to practice meditation, most people find it hard to stop their mind from wandering. Creating tranquility and relinquishing your awareness from the moment-to-moment stresses of life may not always quite flow the way you want it to. Of course it’s easy to get distracted and you are bound to wander off, it is quite normal to observe your thoughts. Seasoned mediators call this the monkey mind because it jumps all over the place, they know that to truly focus your attention you must park the monkey mind for a few minutes and surrender the need to question, analyse and judge every thought that passes through their minds.

  • Disruptive thoughts often challenge your time-out, these responses are habitual. Focusing on them will only make you feel tense, so don't judge yourself for letting your mind wander. God knows it hard enough to get a bit of peace and quiet, don’t waste your few quiet moments doing battle with yourself. Instead of turning things over in your mind, turn your attention back to your breath, when practiced regularly this simple technique will help you find that place of peace where your body can heal. I use a combination of deep breathing and counting backwards from ten during meditation. Repeating this technique once or twice each day will help you lay the foundation for a lifetime of inner tranquility and help you rebalance the chemistry of your stress and tension.
  • I have read a lot of books that discuss the different methods of meditation and while they gave me a foundation of understanding I realize that some people find it hard to put the theory into practice. From a practical stand point I think audio CDs work better for those who want to begin a daily practice of meditation. They give clear explanations and lead the meditation in a way that gives guidance to a novice. The value of this type of instruction is it helps build your own practice and enhances the overall experience. If you don’t have a CDs play some calming music, and focus on its soothing sound, those unwanted thoughts will soon drift away.

There are over 1500 peer reviewed studies on the benefits of meditation. If you still have doubts about pursuing meditation, do it for a period of 5-7 days. You should find your body and mind are energized while your stress levels are reduced and concentration is improved. The benefits of mediation are many, but the real way for you to grasp its significance is to try it.

Let me know how you get on !

Love B x

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