For optimal health, one needs to develop self-awareness, have clear health goals, a willingness to make necessary changes and an attitude of openness, acceptance and gratitude. The previous installment focused on awareness, with the suggestion of frequent  “stop, look and listen” breaks throughout your day.

Once you get in the habit of being self-aware, you may notice your bodily sensations, thought patterns and behaviour patterns more clearly.   Shedding light and consciousness on these patterns is important for making any necessary changes needed for optimal health and stress management.

Stress management is one of the key elements to good health.  Stress waves are a natural part of living-it is how we surf these waves that counts. When we encounter a perceived threat (the very definition of stress), we can either react or respond. The threatening trigger may cause a reaction: the release of stress hormones and chemicals resulting in muscle tension, rapid heart rate, indigestion, agitation and clouded thinking. The opposite of reactions are responses, which are reasoned, solution-focused thoughts and behaviours that can be generated only when calm.

It can be healthy or even life saving to react when we are faced with a real life or limb-threatening situation, such as an oncoming car about to hit us!   Small doses of stress hormones keep us sharp and focused.  It is chronic stress that causes fatigue, irritability and a host of medical problems including headaches, high blood pressure, ulcers and depression to name but a few.

We are often conditioned by past negative experiences to react even when there is no real threat. This over-reaction and sensitivity can cause a downward spiral of stress-related diseases that themselves becomes a stress!

The antidote to this harmful spiral is to use your awareness to simply notice the beginning of a reaction and train yourself to become the curious, calm observer. Cultivating this “witness” to your thoughts, feelings and behaviors is the way to break the stress cycle. Taking a breath and simply watching your reaction reduces its intensity and duration, restoring calm. It is only when you are calm that you have access to your brain’s pre-frontal lobes that can generate the best response in a difficult situation.  When you are in an emotional traffic jam, you have a choice: react (emotional road rage) or respond by putting your calm, centered inner self in the driver’s seat. You are more likely to choose the best route when calm and able to think clearly.

Make a list of the top ten situations that trigger a reaction. Use curiosity next time you encounter one of these situations-simply witness your reaction and see if you can allow the feelings and thoughts that occur to naturally pass without pushing them away or holding on to them, much like a cloud going by. Ask yourself

  • “What is happening in this moment?”
  • “Is everything OK right now?”

You can learn these concepts in the course I teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Management Program. Please check our Program Page.

The next number of installments will focus on the principles of mindfulness, which is non-judgmental moment-by-moment acceptance.