Updated: Aug 24, 2018
It has been estimated that more than half of all visits to Primary Health Care Providers are for stress related problems.
And it is not just the typical overworked, multitasking adult that suffers - stress levels and stress related disease are higher today than ever before in our children and in the elderly.
When you perceive danger or alienation or pain, your body responds by increasing the level of available fuel in your blood to allow for intense muscle activity. It does this by raising blood sugar levels.
When we are stressed, our body shunts blood flow away from the gut ( putting digestion on hold ) in order to make blood flow available to the large muscles in the arms and legs ( ready to fight or run the hell away ). It does this by increasing blood pressure and heart rate.
Our blood clotting apparatus gets altered making it easier for our blood to clot in case of injury... and so on. The body responds to stress with hundreds of tiny adjustments.
Our stress response gets triggered by physical or emotional threats. These threats may be real or they may be just perceived as real.
The end result of repeated or prolonged stress reactions is not hard to imagine: we get high blood pressure, diabetes, ulcers, digestive problems, strokes, chronic pain, recurrent infections. But not only are physical symptoms caused by chronic stress, we also suffer a host of mental health issues when our brain and body act like they are under constant threat. We get depressed and anxious, we don't sleep well and we don't cope well.
So what can we do to stop this depressing slip slide into disease and anxiety?
In much the same way that we have learned to brush and floss our teeth regularly we can practice mental health hygiene habits that keep our stress response in check. Now, don't get me wrong, there are times when we need a stress response - when I see a child about to step out in front of a moving car you bet I want to be able to generate the super power and the lightening quick reflexes that come from my stress response.
But, when I listen to the news or I imagine disaster befalling a loved one (like when the curfew is past and they are not answering their phone...) and I feel anxiety rising in my chest.....this is when I need the tools of mindfulness to bring a sense of empowerment to my present moment.
My ability to BE MINDFUL comes from practicing it. Tuning into my breath becomes the training I need to become an observer of my body, my emotions, my thoughts. And as an observer I am empowered to choose my response rather than letting my thoughts run roughshod over me with the emotions and reactions they generate.
Mindfulness, which is simply ( simple but not easy! ) being aware of your experience as you are experiencing it, is a skill. Meditation is when you take the time to practice being mindful. As your skill of living in the moment improves, you default into stress mode less often. Health and healing result.
It's powerful. It's simple. And anyone can do it.....even you.