Stress contributes to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and many other physical and mental ailments. A recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry showed that people who received eight weeks of mindfulness-based interventions experienced a decrease in anxiety that matched those who were prescribed a common anti-anxiety medication. And new research finds mindfulness works as well as a commonly prescribed medication to curb effects of anxiety.
Understanding how stress affects the body can help you realize the importance of mitigating it.
Stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, but anxiety disorders, which affect 40 million adults, are the most common psychiatric illnesses in the U.S. The benefits of exercise may well extend beyond stress relief to improving anxiety and related disorders. Exercise alone is not a solution, calming your mind is also important.
Easy steps to help us SNAP from anxious to calm:
Soothing touch gives your body a head start in calming down. It taps into your body’s mammalian caregiver response, releasing oxytocin and opiates in your brain to counteract cortisol, the stress hormone. So, place your hands where you find it soothing. Practice placing your hands on your heart, your belly, cheeks, upper arms in a hug, hands holding hands. Use whatever placement comforts you most.
Name your feeling: “I’m feeling frustrated. I feel upset. I feel scared. I feel angry.” Labeling the emotion engages the thinking brain and calms your system down. Drop into the emotion and see what’s there. Avoid judging it. Simply observe with curiosity. This is the heart of what mindfulness is all about. It takes practice, but soon you’ll be able to tune in and notice what’s happening inside you. Once you notice these feelings, you can work with them, giving yourself room to breathe and changing your relationship to them.
Act: Apply the appropriate Mindful Method to nourish yourself. Notice you are physically safe right now, presuming you are. You have a roof over your head. You are not in physical danger, more than likely. Open up your senses. Notice what you see in your environment. Spend a few moments listening to whatever sounds are present. See how the air feels on your skin. Let yourself realize that you are actually safe.
Praise: What should you hear or do right now to make yourself feel better? Create a phrase and repeat it as a mantra to yourself. It could be something like this:
I am healthy and strong.
I am safe.
I will get through this.
Whatever unfolds, I will be there to meet it.
I am loved and appreciated.
Focus on the mantra until it sinks in and you believe it. Don’t worry if it feels forced at first. As a bonus, change the channel by popping in a positive mental state from a memory. Feel that goodness for a breath or two to transform it from a mental state to a neural trait. This will rewire your brain for more happiness and resilience.
Psychologist Rick Hanson, senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and New York Times bestselling author, says: “The SNAP method is brilliant. In one simple practice, Julie Potiker integrates brain science, mindfulness, compassion, and other effective tools for lifting your mood, easing anxiety, calming stress, and opening your heart.”
About Julie Potiker: Julie Potiker is a mindfulness expert with extensive certifications and teacher training in a variety of tools and methods, including Mindful Self-Compassion. Her new book is “SNAP! From Chaos to Calm.” Through her Mindful Methods for Life program offerings, Julie helps others bring more peace and wellness into their lives Learn more at MindfulMethodsForLife.com.
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