Stress: What can we do about it?

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Keith Upchurch, Herald-Sun, Durham, NC: Everyone has stress in their lives, but how you handle it makes all the difference, according to a world-renowned stress expert.

Jeffrey Brantley, a psychiatrist and founder-director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at Duke Integrative Medicine, says humans have always had stress, but some factors are making it worse today.

For example, with today’s global communications, people constantly hear disturbing news that they can do nothing about, which can increase stress.

Then there’s the tough economy and “the uncertainty about world terrorists and all that stuff,” Brantley said. “And all of our veterans and their families and the costs. So I think there are some forces in our cultural fabric right now that maybe weren’t so much there 10 or 12 years ago.”

“And the issue is that people know about these things, but what can they do about it? So there’s that sense of alarm without good response capacity. This is where the stress reduction-mindfulness practices are so useful, because people can become more aware of their own inner life. They can be more aware of their context, and they can make choices.”

“In a way, it’s very much common sense,” he said, “but people talk themselves out of doing the common sense thing a lot of the time.”

Being mindful, or just paying attention, is something everyone can do to relieve stress, Brantley said.

“Mindfulness is something we have as human beings,” he said. “It’s that part of us that knows what’s happening, so you know when you’re angry or sleepy. Usually, we haven’t been taught to cultivate methods for noticing that, and that’s what the meditation practices are about.”

Brantley said it can help to have someone experienced in mindfulness lead the person along, “because the mind is tricky.”

“We have a lot of defenses, and learning how to work skillfully with our natural patterns of thinking and reacting is something that a meditation teacher who is trained can help you with.”

What about other ways to handle stress?

“The thing I always preach is self-care and self-compassion,” he said. “So many people, when you really stop and listen to one’s own thoughts, tend to be negative and self-critical. And that’s really toxic and not correct. So I encourage people, when you notice yourself being hard on yourself, to give it a rest, and practice some kindness and compassion.

“It doesn’t mean to be selfish,” he added. “I say it means to be self-full. Just care as much about your own self as you care for a perfect stranger who is in pain. If you can do that, you’ll go a long way to help your stress.”

Original article no longer available

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This is where the stress reduction-mindfulness practices are so useful, because people can become more aware of their own inner life. They can be more aware of their context, and they can make choices.”

“In a way, it’s very much common sense,” he said, “but people talk themselves out of doing the common sense thing a lot of the time.”

Being mindful, or just paying attention, is something everyone can do to relieve stress, Brantley said.

“Mindfulness is something we have as human beings,” he said. “It’s that part of us that knows what’s happening, so you know when you’re angry or sleepy. Usually, we haven’t been taught to cultivate methods for noticing that, and that’s what the meditation practices are about.”

Brantley said it can help to have someone experienced in mindfulness lead the person along, “because the mind is tricky.”

“We have a lot of defenses, and learning how to work skillfully with our natural patterns of thinking and reacting is something that a meditation teacher who is trained can help you with.”

What about other ways to handle stress?

“The thing I always preach is self-care and self-compassion,” he said. “So many people, when you really stop and listen to one’s own thoughts, tend to be negative and self-critical. And that’s really toxic and not correct. So I encourage people, when you notice yourself being hard on yourself, to give it a rest, and practice some kindness and compassion.

“It doesn’t mean to be selfish,” he added. “I say it means to be self-full. Just care as much about your own self as you care for a perfect stranger who is in pain. If you can do that, you’ll go a long way to help your stress.”

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