“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.” – Buddha
Encountering stressful situations on a daily basis is a near certainty. We’re overworked, overscheduled and unrested. We’re connected, distracted, and unsettled. These stressors don’t just vanish without a trace – negatively affecting your physical, mental and emotional functions.
Quite simply, stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. Stress is a normal – even positive – part of life. For example, when we procrastinate and our minds continually reiterate the importance of completing a task. This is an example of how stress is healthy for us.
However, stress can become negative – really negative. The medical and scientific communities actually have a term for this type of stress: distress. Distress can manifest itself in various ways – headaches, nausea, stomachache, irritability, trouble sleeping, high blood pressure, etc. Over the long term, this can lead to various types of diseases.
Distress is a common complaint in our society. Consider these statistics:
- 75-90% of all doctor visits are stress-related illnesses or complaints.
- 43% of all adults suffer stress-related health effects.
- 50% of all lifelong emotional disorders are related to stress.
These are exorbitantly high numbers. Up to 90% of all doctor visits are stress-related? Don’t fret, my friend…we’re going to give you some great pointers here.
In fact, here are 3 key things you can do right now to handle stress:
1. Take time away from tech
“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.” – Buddha
Do you ever notice how insatiable our appetites are for technology? Phones, tablets, tablets that look like phones, phones that look like tablets, a robot that reminds you where your cell phone or is…okay, I made that last one up. I think.
Technology can be a true force for good – educational, medical and scientific communities have all benefitted from the tech revolution. People have become more connected with both positive and negative outcomes. We’re more connected with our families, friends, and distant relatives. On the other hand, we’re also more distracted and less mindful.
According to a study at University of Gothenburg, heavy use of mobile phones and other electronic devices can potentially affect mental health. The study, consisting of 4,100 people aged 20-24 revealed the following:
- Increased sleeping problems in men.
- Increased depressive symptoms in both men and women.
- Other precursors to mental health problems.
Many negative outcomes from technology overuse can be attributed to instant gratification. Facebook, email, video chat, games, and texting are all available at the tap of a finger. Make no mistake – technology can and should be enjoyed. In moderation, that is.
Do yourself a favor and disconnect the devices from time to time. Turn off the tablet, phone, or computer and get some fresh air. Take in and remember how good it feels to immerse yourself into something else – meditate, read, nap, or anything else.
2. Connect with nature
“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” – Buddha
Not so long ago – about 150,000 to 200,000 years – human beings lived outside… in nature. We were born among our animal relatives and stayed among them until we died. We built shelter, hunted animals, cooked food and raised children in the elements.
Our distant ancestors were probably tree dwellers in some form. Now it doesn’t seem anyone is interested in trees unless we are deforesting some part of the country. Think of that: Nature gave human beings everything needed to build and sustain life, and we pay it back by uprooting a forest to build a mall.
Anyways, enough with the lecture on man’s irresponsible use of Nature’s resources. The real point I was trying to make: reconnect with nature. Take in its vastness; its beauty. Nature is truly a wonderful and diverse ecosystem.
Consider the benefits of just the sun:
– Sun rays kill bacteria on the skin.
– Sunlight lowers cholesterol.
– Sun rays lower blood pressure.
– Sunlight penetrates the skin to purify both blood and blood vessels.
– Sunlight improves oxygen circulation in the body.
– Sunlight strengthens the immune system.
– Sunlight can increase the physical development of children; namely growth and height.
– Sun exposure can reduce or cure depression (staying inside too much initiates or prolongs it!)
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present I know that this is the only moment.” – Buddha
Breathe or meditate – in fact, do both. There’s a practice devoted to just that – breathing and meditating –mindfulness meditation.
When getting right down to it, mindfulness meditation is very simple. You sit or lie in a comfortable position, pay attention to the breath, and when the mind wanders you gently bring it back to the breath. Simple in theory, quite another in practice – but you’ll learn quickly and see tremendous benefits as a result.
So why practice mindfulness meditation? Consider a Buddhist health study done at Northern Arizona University. Dr. Heidi Wayment and her colleagues surveyed 866 Buddhist practitioners form around the world and discovered five key benefits of the practice.
- Mindfulness meditation “strengthened the immune and physiological responses to stress and negative emotion.” (Read and re-read! This is perhaps the biggest health benefit)
- It “improved the social relationships with family and strangers.”
- It “reduced stress, depression, and anxiety and increased well-being and happiness.”
- It “increased openness to experience, conscientiousness, and agreeableness and reduced negative associations with neuroticism.”
- It “led to greater psychological mindfulness, which included an awareness that is clear, nonconceptual, and flexible; a practical stance toward reality; and present attention to the individual’s consciousness and awareness.”
Dr. Wayment had this to say on the findings of the study:
“One of the surprising findings of this study and what some others are coming up with is how much of a difference it makes to focus your mind and calm down. It actually makes a large difference in your well-being.”
What is striking about this statement is that these benefits shouldn’t be “surprising” in the least. The Buddha discussed this in detail roughly 2,500 years ago! His practices have been meticulously documented, passed down and taught throughout the generations. The scientific and medical community, in study after study, continues to learn the tremendous benefits of Buddha’s ancient wisdom – from enlarging areas of the brain to preventing diseases and illnesses.