According to the Centers for Disease Control approximately 90 percent of doctors’ visits are stress related. Stress comes from all areas of life: home, work, school, community, medical conditions, and relationships. We are often contemplating the next tasks on our endless to-do lists, anticipating scenarios in our minds that have yet to occur, and revisiting past events, resulting in a cycle that can be difficult to manage and may feel overwhelming. While it is normal for our minds to wander into the past and future, this kind of mental gymnastics itself generates even more stress!
As the scientific community understands more about the surprising impact of stress on our health, stress management has increasingly become an important focus of studies and research. As a consequence, recent years have seen an explosion of advice on lifestyle, diet recommendations, prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Much of this advice is contradictory, or worse, can cause more problems than it solves. However, research findings have been surprisingly consistent on at least one thing. Science has consistently shown that the simple practice of “mindfulness” can reduce stress, manage negative emotional states and improve physical ailments like fibromyalgia, eczema, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
The simplest way to understand what mindfulness is to think of it as a mental exercise—a form of meditation. It is something anyone can do virtually any time, although effectively practicing it involves a little practice and understanding. While the simple practice of mindfulness has proven itself be one of the single most effective ways to manage stress and its effects, most people have never heard of it! Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that it is free: one does not have to buy it from a grocery store, get a prescription for it or join a special gym to practice it. It’s probably a safe bet that Superbowl viewers will not see commercials for mindfulness between the beer and drug commercials at halftime.
Nevertheless, a growing body of research quietly continues to validate the practice of mindfulness, citing benefits ranging from structural brain changes associated with positive moods, to reductions in chronic pain. The influence of mindfulness has grown and expanded to the US military, universities, hospitals, pain clinics, public schools and nationwide organizations like Apple, Google, General Mills and Nike, who recognize it as a wellness intervention that is cost-effective for reducing stress while increasing productivity and creativity in the workplace. Google is just one example of many companies that have helped employees learn how to apply the practice of mindfulness, and they continue to offer regular meditation courses as a way to promote personal growth.
According to American Psychological Association the use of psychotropic medications by adult Americans has increased 22 percent from 2001 to 2010, with one in five adults taking at least one psychotropic medication. These numbers are a wake-up call for us to use more holistic approaches like mindfulness-meditation to prevent and treat stress, anxiety and depression. In addition to the rise of depression and anxiety, we are living in a culture that demands busyness, longer work hours and productivity. This climate has us looking for more ways to increase energy and maintain our focus. The US spent approximately 7 billion dollars on medication to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in 2010 and it has been estimated the US spends 750 million dollars annually on energy drinks. While medication is appropriate in many cases, and the occasional energy drink may help us get through the day, these interventions are clearly being overused – and their benefits end when we stop buying them. If the all benefits of practicing mindfulness and meditation could be found in a pharmaceutical drug, it would make national news and be hailed as a wonder drug.
People who practice meditation often see they are not their thoughts and while their thoughts are real, they are not always true. This kind of awareness can be liberating for those suffering with anxiety and depression and provide an increase in positive emotions and creativity for the otherwise “healthy person.” Paying attention to this moment is vital because it’s the only time in our lives we have the opportunity to learn and grow. Practicing mindfulness helps us recognize that we have a choice on what we’re paying attention to and how we pay attention. Mindfulness brings awareness to an expanded field of choices and empowers us to see reality more clearly.
To find out more about mindfulness you can attend the SHIFT Charlotte conference March 13th to hear me speak about how mindful intentions can rewire your brain for happiness. The SHIFT conference is a two day event and I will be a vendor all day on the 14th, so please stop by to say hello. Another way to learn more about mindfulness, free of charge, is to access the podcast through A Keen Mind which will be published in ITunes within the next two weeks. The podcast will include guided meditations, and education on mindfulness and stress. You will also hear interviews from guests who will provide tips on how to improve health and wellness.
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Mark Twain