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Avoid chronic stress problems by finding the right balance
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HEALTH MATTERS

Avoid chronic stress problems by finding the right balance

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The stress that comes with busy schedules can feel overwhelming. Often we feel pulled between responsibilities at work, home and school. It’s important to pay attention to the stress we feel and realize that chronic stress can negatively affect our physical and mental health along with our moods and behaviors.

Chronic stress has been linked to increased risk of heart disease, weight gain, sleep problems, and higher levels of depression and anxiety. Taking the time to care for ourselves and regulate our emotions is critical to achieving a balanced and healthy lifestyle. One age-old technique is the practice of “mindfulness.”

The concept of being mindful means being aware of the present, recognizing your feelings and what is on your mind. Paying attention to what your body and mind are feeling might sound easy, but it takes practice. While it takes a level of commitment to regularly practice mindfulness, the technique can have positive effects on health. Research from the Shamatha Project at the University of California, Davis, suggests that mindfulness helps people feel less stress and decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Mindful meditation is the act of sitting in a quiet area in a comfortable position and being alone with one’s thoughts, yet aware of your body and surroundings. If your mind begins to wander, you gently acknowledge this and bring yourself back to the present. The acronym RAIN covers the basic principles:

R: Recognize what is happening. Acknowledge what you are experiencing. Whatever is happening to your body, mind or soul; recognize it. Try to name the emotion you are feeling.

A: Allow and accept the emotion to simply be there. Whatever emotions, feelings or thoughts you recognize, simply allow them. Often when we are dealt uncomfortable thoughts or experiences, we tend to avoid them. By allowing the true emotion without judgment or avoidance we can better understand and we can prepare wiser responses and make wiser choices.

I: Investigate with kindness. Be curious. Pause and ponder. Gently, and with kindness, investigate the experience of the emotion in the present moment. Be conscious of what you are feeling and ask yourself, how is my body responding to this experience? What story seems to be attached to this emotion? What needs my attention? What is this feeling asking of me?

N: Non-identification. Become less entangled with the emotion (whether it is pleasant or unpleasant) and with the story surrounding that emotion. Avoid over-identifying with or clinging to any specific emotion.

Mindfulness can be one tool in your toolbox for managing stress. Using RAIN can be a simple first step in reducing the extra stress in your life. To learn more about mindfulness and to download a free “app” for guided meditation, visit www.stopbreathethink.org.

Nathan Stahley, a grant coordinator working on behalf of Healthy By Design at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 651-6437 or nathan.sta@riverstonehealth.org.

The concept of being mindful means being aware of the present, recognizing your feelings and what is on your mind. Paying attention to what your body and mind are feeling might sound easy, but it takes practice.

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