stress reduction

One thing at a time…

Check out Bodhipaksa’s Stress Reduction Through Mindfulness retreat, April 21–23, 2017

Sometimes we have major stressors in our lives, like financial or relationship problems, or insecurity about our employment. But there are also many smaller-scale situations that contribute to our stress too. For me, these include dealing with the demands of parenting. And it’s often small things, like getting the kids out of the door and responding to their questions that are triggers for me being sharp with them.

And one thing I’ve noticed is how these small-scale situations are usually only stressful when I’m multi-tasking. So if the kids try to ask me something when I have part of my attention on emailing a friend, I’ll snap at them. If I’m busy thinking about a financial problem at work, then the same thing happens — the kids want something from me, I automatically perceive it as a threat, and I react in a stressed way. And of course behaving like this with my children brings a whole set of other problems!

There are time when I have to multitask, of course. When I’m cooking for example, I’m usually switching rapidly between stirring a couple of pots, chopping ingredients, and keeping an eye on the time. It’s inevitable. But adding one more task to the mix — even just quickly replying to a text message — leads to a seemingly exponential rise in stress levels. Add in a question from one of the kids, and my poor system can’t cope!

Our minds were not designed to multitask. When we attempt to do so, something has to give. One of the first tasks to go is our ability to regulate our emotions, and so we end up behaving more aggressively toward others. We also aren’t able to maintain a sense of calm and balance by reassuring ourselves and keeping things in perspective, and end up with that familiar feeling of being frazzled and overwhelmed. Multitasking triggers a “danger” alert, because on some level our brains detect being over-burdened as a threat. Reducing our cognitive burden frees up our mental resources so that we can remember to be kind and reasonable in our interactions, and remain calmer, rather than feeling frazzled.

So I find that it’s important not to multitask. Instead, I try to unitask! The text message that comes in while I’m cooking? It can wait. A delay of ten minutes will rarely cause any problems. If I’m writing that email and the kids ask me questions, then I stop emailing mid-word and let my attention “snap” to them (rather than snapping at them!). Any attempt to keep going with that activity creates sense of emotional tension that quickly becomes unbearable. Often when I’m working I silence my phone so that I can work undisturbed. I sometimes do that when I’m home with the kids, too. And as for thinking about work problems, putting my full attention on what I’m actually doing in that moment helps to reduce my cognitive burden and to keep my mind clear.

So this is something to work with. First, we need to become aware of our tendency to multitask, because we often do it so much that we aren’t ever conscious it’s happening. (And multitasking may not mean literally doing several things at once. It can include rapidly switching from one task to another.)

Note that we’re not aiming for perfection. There are times we have to do more than one thing at a time (cooking and talking to family members, for example). But we can aim for improvement. Being fully present with what we’re doing, resisting the temptation to add one more activity (like sending a quick text in the middle of writing an email), and switching off notifications and ringers when we can, all help to reduce our cognitive burden and help us to reduce our stress levels.

Suggested Activity

As well as trying the suggestions above, try taking a few mindful breaths between activities. After sending off an email, rather than immediately picking up the phone to make a call, take three or four breaths first.

Worried that it’ll make you less efficient? No need! Research has shown that multitaskers are up to 40% less efficient than people who work mindfully and who avoid multitasking.

New Hampshire weekend Stress Reduction retreat, April 21–23

On this weekend we’ll have a gentle program of workshops, talks, discussions, and meditations—including guided meditations. There will be time for rest, relaxation, and exploration.

The retreat will take place in the beautiful surroundings of the Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire.

The event is residential, and vegetarian food will be provided. The accommodation is in two-person rooms.

Portions of the retreat will be in silence, with communication limited only to what is necessary and functional.

The retreat will begin at 6:00 PM on Friday and end at 1:00 PM on Sunday.

Click here for more information on this weekend stress reduction retreat

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Meditation tips for surviving holiday stress

meditating santa

The holiday season can be a perfect storm of stressors: financial strain, crowded malls, striving for perfection when we’re entertaining or buying gifts, travel, over-indulgence in food and alcohol, dealing with seldom-seen relatives, and for some of us being on our own while it seems everyone else is merrymaking.

This is where meditation comes in really handy! It’s been shown to reduce stress, so that we can feel at least a little calmer when the world around us is going into a consumeristic frenzy. It helps to reduce depression, too, for those who find that the holiday season is a downer. It promotes joy and other positive emotions. And it helps boost empathy and kindness, which is a mercy when you’re dealing with your drunk, racist uncle.

So here are a few tips for helping you to keep calm and stay positive during the holiday season.

Be mindful of your purpose

Mindfulness (observing our present-moment experience) is closely associated with a quality called sampajañña, which could be translated as “mindfulness of purpose.” Mindfulness of purpose helps connect us with the kind of life we want to create for ourselves.

It’s good to remember that holidays are “holy days.” They’re supposed to help us develop spiritual values that enrich our lives. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to a synagogue, church, or temple; spiritual values include things like resting (so that our batteries are recharged), connecting with others, experiencing gratitude and appreciation, and giving. It’s easy for things to get our of balance. It’s good to give gifts, for example, but giving material things to loved ones doesn’t mean much if we’re so stressed we’re also making them miserable.

So, reflect on what the holidays are about for you, and keep that in mind. It might help you catch yourself when you’re acting in ways that undermine your overall purpose.

Don’t just do something, sit there!

If you don’t have a meditation practice already, you might think that the holiday season is a bad time to start, and if you already have a practice, it’s tempting, when things get busy, to stop meditating. But regular meditation doesn’t have to take a lot of time. A five or ten minute meditation is enough to help us bring a bit more calm and balance into our lives. Start (or keep) sitting!

Keep coming back to compassion

The Reverend Ian Watson, whose pen-name was Ian Maclaren, used to say, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Keep reminding yourself that all those people you tend to get annoyed by are just like you. They want to be happy and don’t like suffering. And, just like you, they don’t experience as much happiness as they’d like and encounter way too much suffering for comfort. Bear this in mind, and you may find that you’re just a little gentler and more understanding with people. The reduced conflict will reduce your stress levels.

Forgive yourself!

Don’t stress out about stressing out! When you lose your patience, remember that we all slip up. When you feel frazzled, remember that this is the normal human response to being overloaded. When you find you’re getting down on yourself or things are hard, place a hand gently on your heart and say, “It’s OK. I care about you and want you to be happy. I forgive you.”

Be kind in crowds

When you’re in a crowded mall, it’s easy to get stressed by how slowly everyone is moving. Try repeating “May we all be well and happy” as you navigate the throng. It’ll help displace some of those “My god, could these people move any slower!” thoughts

Take a breath

Get used to coming back to your breathing. Paying attention to the sensations of your breathing helps you to let go of stress-inducing thoughts, which allows you to dial back on the adrenaline. You can take a few mindful breaths while you’re standing in line, while on an escalator or in an elevator, or as a mini-break while cooking or wrapping gifts.

Remember impermanence!

Somewhere in the boxed set of Game of Thrones videos you’re giving to a loved one, it says “Valar Morghulis” — everyone must die. Although that might seem like a depressing thought at a time of the year that’s supposed to be about celebration, you’re actually more likely to appreciate people you care about, and to be patient with people you have difficulty with, if you remember that our time together on this planet is short.

Lastly, a meditation practice is for life, not just for Christmas! Keep sitting, even once the holiday season is behind you.

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Finding peace in every moment

53682718_mHere is the first email from our Stress Reduction Through Mindfulness event which starts Tuesday, Nov 1!

Often people assume that as a meditation teacher I must be immune to stress. But life can be challenging for anyone! In the last four or five years I’ve gone through a number of very stressful experiences, including the discovery that my tax accountant had covered up the fact that she hadn’t submitted my business tax returns two years in a row, leading to the Internal Revenue Service pursuing me for tens of thousands of dollars in penalties (which I ended up not having to pay any of, fortunately), a painful divorce, moving house several times, surgery for cancer (I’m fine, by the way!), and financial problems caused by my health insurance not covering all of the subsequent medical bills.

One time I told a friend that I felt like I was walking up the “down” escalator while someone was hurling bowling balls down the stairs!

Although my meditation practice was helpful, challenges like these showed me that my existing practice wasn’t enough. I was pushed to go deeper and to develop new and more effective tools for managing the difficulties I was going through. It’s those approaches that I’m going to share with you over the 28 days of this course.

My approach to stress reduction is based on the fact that there are two distinct, but related, forms of stress.

There is the primary stress that results from having an experience that your mind interprets as a threat — such as being pursued for tax penalties, having your home life disrupted and dislocated by divorce and moving house, becoming ill, or experiencing loss. These give rise to unpleasant feelings such as anxiety, confusion, and grief.

Then there is the secondary stress caused by our reacting to primary stress in ways that create further unpleasant feelings. For example, sometimes we assume that in being stressed we’re failing in some way, and so we criticize ourselves. This creates more distress. Sometimes we overeat, overindulge in alcohol, or take out our frustrations in others, and these actions ultimately lead to even more stress being created. In fact, much of our stress results when our chronic attempts to solve or avoid unpleasant feelings themselves cause unpleasant feelings.

With primary stress, it’s the ability to offer ourselves empathy, kindness, compassion, and reassurance that’s most important. We need to learn to be gentle and kind to ourselves. We need to learn to soothe and comfort ourselves in the same way that we would a dear friend, or even a child or animal, that was experiencing stress and anxiety.

Mindfulness is of great benefit in dealing with secondary stress. It helps us to let go of unhelpful mental patterns of having aversion to unpleasant experiences and of using craving to try to bury or avoid those same experiences. We’ll explore a number of mindfulness practices that will help us to identify and let go of stress-inducing habits.

Those, then, are some of the skills we’ll be cultivating over the next four weeks. To help you, there will be readings every day, which I’m going to try to keep relatively brief so that I don’t end up adding to your stress!

There will also be around a dozen guided meditations. Some will be very brief, and others will be a little longer. You can listen to the first of them here. It’s a short meditation that helps us set the intention to be kind and patient with ourselves as we cultivate mindfulness and self-compassion.

Here is Meditation #1, a 5-minute guided meditation to help us arrive and to set our intentions for the course.

Register here to learn more about reducing stress in your life!

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Mindfulness can help combat test anxiety

Dr. Caryn Richfield, Montgomery News: With the school year well under way, many high school students are feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of tests looming on the horizon. Some teens are taking AP courses as early as ninth grade and many are simultaneously taking an intense load of rigorous classes, which can make test preparation quite daunting.

These academic demands are compounded by the additional stress of preparing for standardized tests, such as the SAT, SAT subject tests and the ACT. Our teens are constantly having to study and retrieve information under pressure, over and …

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Schools in San Francisco implement meditation & students’ happiness and academic success soars

wildmind meditation newsJennifer Chait, Inhabitots: We’ve seen yoga, standing desks and vegetarian lunches turn troubled schools around, but we’ve never seen meditation adopted successfully within the school system. Until now. According to reports, several San Francisco middle and high schools, as well as scattered schools around the Bay Area, have adopted what they call, “Quiet Time” – a stress-reduction meditation strategy that is doing wonders for students and teachers. The first school to adopt the Quiet Time practice in 2007, Visitacion Valley Middle School, has reaped huge rewards. Formally a school largely out of control, Visitacion Valley is smack in the middle of a neighborhood where shootings are …

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How meditation can reshape our brains

Neuroscientist Sara Lazar’s amazing brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.

Sara’s team at Harvard University uses neuroimaging techniques to study neurological, cognitive and emotional changes associated with the practice of meditation and yoga. They also incorporate measures of peripheral physiology (breathing, heart beat) in order to understand how meditation practice influences the brain-body interaction.

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Mindfulness at work can reduce retaliation after unfair treatment

PRWEB: Practicing mindfulness at work can reduce retaliation by employees who feel treated unfairly.

Mindful employees are less angry, less likely to dwell on the mistreatment and less likely to retaliate, according to a new study by PhD student Erin Cooke Long and Professor Michael S. Christian of the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School,

“When employees think they have an unfair boss or colleague or the organization is unfair, they might be tempted to seek retribution or act in ways to ‘even the score,’” said Cooke Long. “Mindfulness helps them short-circuits emotions and negative thoughts so that they can respond more constructively.”

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Their study is the first to test the role of mindfulness in the relationship between workplace injustice and retaliation.

“It demonstrates that a trainable mindset helps diffuse negative reactions by employees, said Christian. “We also show that both emotions and thoughts affect our behaviors when we believe we’ve been treated unfairly at work.”
Mindfulness – nonjudgmental attention and awareness of what is happening in present-moment experiences – has important workplace implications.

“It helps employees to overcome knee-jerk reactions to unfairness at work, said Cooke Long. “When treated unfairly, people tend to feel angry and dwell on the unfair treatment, which can trigger acts of retaliation or attempts to even the score. More mindful people are less likely to ‘take things personally’ and therefore less likely to retaliate.”

“Our work introduces mindfulness as a malleable psychological factor – one that managers and employers can cultivate in their employees to reduce unproductive reactions when they feel unjustly treated,” said Christian. “Delivering mindfulness training can help employees control their thoughts, emotions and, ultimately, behavior at work.”
Their findings are based on two studies: An intervention study using brief mindfulness training in the lab and with a diverse sample of employees who recounted experiences with unfairness at work. Their paper “Mindfulness Buffers Retaliatory Responses to Injustice: A Regulatory Approach” will be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and is available online.

Mindfulness matters at work in more ways than we think,” said Cooke Long. “It is not just a skill that promotes health – it also helps us behave positively and helps us avoid behaviors that are short-sighted and can damage relationships, reputations and career.”

Promoting mindfulness is a proactive option for organizations to reduce retaliation at work, said Christian. “Mindfulness training is not difficult for novices to learn and use.”

“Employers can enhance employee mindfulness through mindfulness education,” said Cooke Long, “by creating an organizational culture that recognizes the merits of mindfulness and by conducting large-scale interventions.”

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Meditation = better attitudes, healthier bodies and hotter sex

Melissa Escaro, Huffington Post: Mindfulness seems to be all the rage now, and it is a pleasant surprise how mainstream meditation is becoming. More and more people are tuning into meditation, from Anderson Cooper’s television experience with a mindfulness retreat to groups like Operation Warrior Wellness, which focus on bringing stress-reducing techniques to veterans and their families with PTSD. It’s encouraging to see these traditional practices gaining traction in today’s modern world.

Many people know the benefits that meditation can create, from less stress to more clear thoughts. But there …

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John Denley on using mindfulness to deal with stress, anxiety and depression

EchoLisa, Gloucestershire Echo, March 10, 2015: Picture the scene: You’re sat in a traffic jam and you’re late. The kids were playing up this morning, you couldn’t find your keys and you’ve got a long meeting first thing.

The tension is building in your head and then when you finally hit a clear stretch of road, the driver in front of you is dawdling and breaking for no apparent reason.

Your face turns purple and you start shouting, even though the motorist in front can’t hear you.

Does any of this sound familiar?

These are the sort of problems modern life foists on us on a daily basis. Life has become so busy and our senses are assaulted with so much information, it’s sometimes hard to cope.

One simple anxiety-busting way of dealing with it has increasingly become a standard operating procedure for stressed-out people – that of practising mindfulness.

Cheltenham-based motivational speaker, John Denley, teaches people in the county how to recognise the signs of stress, anxiety and depression and offers strategies on how to deal with them.

“We all have really busy lives and busy heads,” said the former Dean Close school pupil.

“We now have such a visibility of the whole world that we never had before.

“We all have this negative chatter going on in our heads. People are getting depressed because they are looking at the world around them and thinking ‘I should be better. I should be doing more and I’m not.’

“We have all this pressure to be thinner and more successful and better at our jobs. It’s all because we are being fed an image or expectation from outside.

“We can’t all be high fliers or super mums and that’s when so many people have negative chatter.

“When you are anxious, you don’t breathe properly and not enough oxygen is getting to your brain to allow you to think.

“It’s important to learn to breath better.

“Something as simple as counting allows you to stop that negative chatter.

“Mindfulness is about being present in the moment. If you are spending too much time thinking about what happened in the past, you may be depressed.

“Anxiety is when you spend too much time worrying about the future.

“Once you have the hang of being in the present, you can be mindful of the here and now.

“Shouting at people in the other cars when you’re in a traffic jam isn’t going to help. It’s a perfect opportunity to practice mindfulness.

“Notice the feel of your backside on the seat, feel the vibration of the car, notice the birds flying past and suddenly your brain isn’t thinking about your road rage.”

John knows more than most what an effective weapon the ability to practice mindfulness is to have in your arsenal.

The IT expert was faced with financial ruin in 2012 when a business deal gone bad left him £300,000 in the red.

Yet the 44-year-old has been able to bounce back from the depths of despair and turn his misfortune into a business venture.

He said: “I helped an ex girlfriend set up a play centre and 12 months later we had to go into administration.

“That left me with about half a million pounds in personal guarantees.

“People ask me how you come back from that kind of blow, but you battle on and keep going.

“I was having low moods and feeling a bit rubbish. It was like uphill skiing. I got lower and lower.”

The pressure had been piling for a while, as John began suffering from depression and society anxiety after moving back to Cheltenham from London in 2001.

John undertook a number of training courses in London to overcome his issues, which began a journey of self-discovery, then transforming into helping others through his Find Your Fire Workshops.

They are aimed at helping us perceive the world around us, how our brains process what we see, hear and feel and how to change the negative stories we tell ourselves about our lives into positive alternatives.

And the next one is due to take place at the Landsown Pub, Cheltenham on April 25.

“Now I’ ve got these issues, I know how to deal with them.

“I had a massive anxiety attack in 2012 when I realised I’d run out of money and couldn’t pay my bills.

“I’ve been through the whole gamut of picking myself up. I’m now almost through the other side.

“I’ve been on a big personal journey where I’ve read lots of books and undertaken lots of training.

“I like the idea of talking to people and helping them so I put on a workshop last October and 50 people attended for a day of personal development.

“I looked back at my business career and realised I wanted to help people all along.”

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a mind-body approach to well-being that can help you change the way you think about experiences and reduce stress and anxiety and depression.

John’s 14 surefire ways to improve your mood every day:

  1. Every night, write down three things that you are grateful for
  2. Challenge your negative thoughts
  3. Make a positive music playlist
  4. Get outside into nature
  5. Get out of breath every day
  6. Learn to breathe better
  7. Practice meditation and mindfulness
  8. Spend more time with good friends who lift you up
  9. Do things you enjoy
  10. Avoid excess alcohol or other crutches
  11. Read more positive books (at least five pages a day)
  12. Stop watching news and rubbish on TV
  13. Take control of your finances
  14. Don’t let the outside world invade your thoughts before getting dressed in the morning and after undressing in the evening

Original article no longer available.

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Meditation and mindfulness

Georgette Gilmore, Baristanet: Can you remember the last time you ate a meal without checking your email or taking a photo of it to share on Instagram? Are you able to watch a television show without tweeting about it? How often do you perform one task and ONLY one task at a time? We’re willing to bet it’s been a long time, which is why the practice of meditation and the effort to obtain mindfulness, is becoming a popular practice.

Whether you want to slow down your day-to-day life and …

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