If you’ve been following my updates, you know that I’m a fan of exercise as a foundation of health, along with a healthy diet. For a balanced life, we also need to address stress management.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life. It’s not just unpleasant; it has very real biological effects on us. Our bodies can’t tell the difference between being chased by a bear, or dealing with an unpleasant boss. These modern stressors can persist for weeks, months, or years. That can really take a toll on our health, unless we learn ways to deal with it.
When I ask most patients about what they do for relaxation, I get the expected answers: TV, reading, video games, surfing the ‘Net. While these can have their place, they do not really change our body’s response to the sources of stress. Some coping mechanisms, such as smoking or excessive alcohol, are clearly even harmful for our physiology.
Is there an alternative? Something that’s so foreign to our experience that most Americans never even consider it: to take ourselves out of doing mode, and into being mode. Meditation is a mindful state of awareness, without all the inputs of our overly-plugged in world. Something as simple as sitting quietly and observing your own breathing for 5 minutes per day can literally transform your body. Scientific studies have shown that meditation can be as helpful as medicines for conditions ranging from high blood pressure to irritable bowel syndrome. As an active relaxation technique, meditation is not something exotic or associated with any particular religion; anyone of any belief system can learn and benefit from it.
If the idea of sitting and doing nothing is too much to handle, try a moving form of meditation, such as yoga, tai chi, or labyrinth walking. You could even make a daily dog walk a practice in becoming aware of the present moment.
If you follow a healthy lifestyle, but still feel there’s something missing, don’t just do something – sit there!