stress

Release

“What led me to mindfulness was my own relationship to anxiety. So for this particular film, I felt it was important for the viewer to be able to experience the transformation a mindful meditation practice can have on an individual’s state of mind.”

~ Julie Bayer

Stress as Personal Engagement Barometer

"The same circumstances that give rise to stress, also give rise to these positive experiences and that’s what I call the stress paradox. That even though we experience stress in the moment as distressing and we often think of it as being undesirable in our lives, we might wish for a less stressful life."

~ Kelly McGonigal

Carry On Your Own Strategy

Carry On Your Own Strategy

Nobody wants to learn new coping strategies from the people who they perceive to be orchestrating their immediate discomforts.

Training Individual and Collective Adaptive Capacities

"It's really important to be able to come back to the present moment. This is where change can happen. This is not just adaptive capacity for individuals, but it resonates out to collective adaptive capacity: more resilient organizations, more resilient communities, more dynamic, flexible institutions. These are the capcities that can face any possible future. We don't have to be able to predict, because we can't. Humans can't. But then we can really show up and meet any experience."

~ Dr. Elizabeth Stanley, from "Optimizing the Caveman within Us," TEDx Talks, October 2013   


See also:

  • Mind Fitness Training
  • "The Biology of Risk," by John Coates, The New York Times, June 7, 2014 
  • Clark, T. (2011). Nerve: Poise under pressure, serenity under stress, and the brave new science of fear and cool. New York: Little, Brown and Company. (library)
  • Linden, D. J. (2008). The accidental mind: How brain evolution has given us love, memory, dreams, and God. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap. (library)
  • Ryan, T. (2012). A mindful nation: How a simple practice can help us reduce stress, improve performance, and recapture the American spirit. Carlsbad, California: Hay House. (library)
  • Stanley, E. A. (2009). Paths to peace: Domestic coalition shifts, war termination and the Korean War. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press. (library)

Something You Want to Cultivate

Pete Marovich | Photos for The Dispatch"When you taste it, it’s something you want to continue to cultivate. You realize how much better your days are, how much better your relationships are because you’re actually there for them. Then you start to realize how much energy you can waste by fretting about the future or regretting things in the past that we just carry with us."


~ Tim Ryan, from "Congressman Uses Meditation to Relieve Stress," by Jessica Wehrman, The Columbus Dispatch, March 31, 2013

Decreased Symptoms of Stress in Students

Excerpt from "Mindfulness Programs In Schools Reduce Symptoms Of Depression Among Adolescents: Study," by Carolyn Gregoire, The Huffington Post, March 15, 2013:

University of Leuven study looked at the experiences of 408 students from five different schools in Flanders, Belgium, all between the ages of 13 and 20. At the beginning of the study, the students answered a questionnaire designed to reveal symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, and were then divided into a test group and a control group. The test group followed an in-class mindfulness training program which consisted of instruction in mindful breathing and body scan exercises, sharing experiences of these exercises, group reflection, inspiring stories, and education on stress, depression and self-care. The control group, meanwhile, received no training. All students filled out the questionnaire after the training, and again six months later.

The researchers found that students who adhered to the mindfulness program exhibited decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression both immediately after and six months after the program. Whereas before the training, 21 percent of the test group and 24 percent of the control group reported symptoms of depression, after the mindfulness training, 15 percent of the test group versus 27 percent of the control group had depression symptoms. Six months later, 16 percent of the test group and 31 percent of the control group showed signs of depression.

The study is the first to examine the effects of mindfulness on depression among adolescents in a classroom setting, but previous research has found that mindfulness meditation can reduce symptoms of depression and chronic pain in adult patients...

This month, the first international conference for mindfulness in schools will take place in London. And in the U.S., the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) program, supported by Congressman Tim Ryan, is bringing mindfulness training into schools as a way to boost students' emotional resilience and help improve academic performance.

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A Quiet Revolution

"It's a quiet revolution that's happening...It's happening now in the military, in the prisons. I think at some point the more we understand about how the brain works, the more this is going to catch on."

Congressman Tim Ryan 

See also: Ryan, T. (2012). A mindful nation: How a simple practice can help us reduce stress, improve performance, and recapture the American spirit. Carlsbad, Calif: Hay House.http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/754725090

After a While It Becomes Normal

Excerpt from "Meditation Fit for a Marine," by Vanessa Gregory, Men's Journal, Nov. 11, 2010:

[A 2008 research study, partly funded by the Department of Defense, tested a group of] Marines for something called “working memory capacity,” a term that brain scientists use to define a cognitive resource that is much more than simple recall. Working memory capacity powers complex thoughts. It’s what we call upon to figure out restaurant tips, break down spreadsheets, or even settle ethical dilemmas like whether or not to pull a trigger. The level of this resource can be depleted throughout the day. A morning disagreement with a co-worker — or a roadside bomb for that matter — can make it harder to solve a problem that requires math skills a few hours later in the day. In the battlefield low levels of working memory capacity might mean the difference between life and death.

The results of the Marines’ experiences, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Emotion, showed that the men who embraced meditation walked out of pre-deployment training with minds that were more agile than those who didn’t. They also reported improved athletic performance, relief from anxiety, better sleep, and stronger memory. “I wasn’t scatterbrained anymore,” says Major Jeff Davis, a 39-year-old infantry officer. “I had no problem concentrating when I was upset.”

Meditation, of course, has made headlines for years for a range of health benefits, from reducing symptoms of depression to lowering blood pressure and speeding healing. One UCLA study found that meditation slows the progression of HIV by reducing stress that hurts immune function. But many of those studies involved experienced practitioners; some of these Marines had never meditated before but still made mental strides, suggesting the practice is more accessible to first-timers and faster-acting than commonly thought.

The Marines engaged in a form of secular meditation called mindfulness, which is characterized by paying attention to the present. A beginner exercise, for example, involved concentrating on an area of contact between the body and whatever it’s touching, like a chair, for about five minutes. Whenever their minds wandered, the Marines were instructed to refocus. “It doesn’t take you to some transcendental state,” Davis says. “It’s not as foofy as that.” Some of the men, accustomed to excelling at everything they did, were surprised at how much focus they had to muster. As the weeks passed, Elizabeth Stanley introduced more complicated exercises. The Marines practiced “shuttling” their attention between contact points and sounds like wind or the hum of electricity. That may seem remedial, but consciously switching between focal points exacerbates the mind’s natural tendency to wander, and focus can easily drift to a dozen thoughts instead of two.

Near the end of training, the Marines attended a mindfulness retreat at the mansion of John Kluge, a former television mogul whose foundation also partially funded the study. The men spent an entire day in silence, trying to be mindful about every move they made. But some men, like Hermes Oliva, a Navy medic assigned to the unit, still weren’t buying it. “We’re barefoot on this guy’s lawn doing yoga, and we’re supposed to be silent,” he says. “We’re like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ ”

However, once Oliva was stationed in Iraq’s Anbar province as the sole medic for 60 Marines and 200 Iraqi soldiers, he “did a 180.” He remembered Stanley’s lectures about how mindfulness could cultivate an ability to more easily endure racing thoughts and the body’s primal fight-or-flight responses — those physical manifestations of stress that include shaking and a knotted stomach. “In my tent at night all by myself, I started doing those exercises,” he says. “It would help me recognize the symptoms in my body before they got out of control.”

It doesn’t take a situation as intense as Iraq to trap people in unhealthy stress cycles. Everyday life has the potential to weaken the immune system and diminish psychological resilience, especially in the age of e-mail, text messaging, and nonstop multitasking. Davis, who remains on active duty in Quantico, continues to meditate every day. “I can’t think of any aspect of my life that this hasn’t helped me in — academically, as a dad,” he says. He compared mindfulness to a physical workout like running: At first it seems impossible to fit in your schedule, but after a while it becomes normal. What’s the minimum to get results? Scientists aren’t certain, but none of the Marines in the Emotion study actually stuck to the full 30-minutes-daily regimen — the high-practice group saw benefits with an average meditation time of just 15 minutes a day. What’s important, notes Stanley, is to be consistent on a day-to-day basis.

How You Can Benefit From Marine-Style Mindfulness

Meditation improves concentration, zaps stress, increases memory, and promotes restful sleep. Here are a few exercises to get you started.

Boost concentration (5 minutes)
While sitting, use your hands to find tension in your brow, jaw, neck, and shoulders. Spend half a minute or so trying to release it by rubbing the tension with your hands and relaxing the tightness with your mind. Then focus on the contact points between your body and the chair. Focus on the point where the pressure is greatest. Whenever your attention wanders, refocus it on that contact point, thinking about nothing else.

Relieve stress (10 minutes)
Again, start by focusing on a contact point between your body and the chair. Then switch your attention to a single sound. It could be the traffic outside or even something quiet like the hum of a computer. Alternate between the contact point and sound at a slow, steady pace. This will free your mind from stress. End the exercise by returning to the contact point, and then slowly widen your focus outward to the rest of your body.

Induce sleep (15 minutes)
This exercise should be done right before bedtime, either in a chair or lying down. Wiggle and flex your toes. Focus on the sensations in your feet. Pause and continue to observe any feeling in your feet. Continue this pattern of flexing and resting sequentially throughout your body: ankles, knees, hips, fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, jaw, and eye sockets. Soldiers found this exercise to greatly improve sleep.

Read the entire article...

Benefits Beyond Relaxation

Excerpts from “How Meditation Might Ward Off the Effects of Ageing,” by Jo Marchant, The Guardian,  April 24, 2011:

The assumption that meditation simply induces a state of relaxation is "dead wrong", says Charles Raison. Brain-imaging studies suggest that it triggers active processes within the brain, and can cause physical changes to the structure of regions involved in learning, memory, emotion regulation and cognitive processing.

The question of how the immaterial mind affects the material body remains a thorny philosophical problem, but on a practical level, "our understanding of the brain-body dialogue has made jaw-dropping advances in the last decade or two," says Raison. One of the most dramatic links between the mind and health is the physiological pathways that have evolved to respond to stress, and these can explain much about how meditation works.

When the brain detects a threat in our environment, it sends signals to spur the body into action. One example is the "fight or flight" response of the nervous system. When you sense danger, your heart beats faster, you breathe more rapidly, and your pupils dilate. Digestion slows, and fat and glucose are released into the bloodstream to fuel your next move. Another stress response pathway triggers a branch of the immune system known as the inflammatory response.

These responses might help us to run from a mammoth or fight off infection, but they also damage body tissues. In the past, the trade-off for short bursts of stress would have been worthwhile. But in the modern world, these ancient pathways are continually triggered by long-term threats for which they aren't any use, such as debt, work pressures or low social status. "Psychological stress activates these pathways in exactly the same way that infection does," says Raison…

Meditation seems to be effective in changing the way that we respond to external events. After short courses of mindfulness meditation, people produce less of the stress hormone cortisol, and mount a smaller inflammatory response to stress. One study linked meditators' lower stress to changes in the amygdala —a  brain area involved in fear and the response to threat.

Read the entire article here…

See also: Shamatha Project

Even A Little Calm Goes a Long Way

“Mindfulness, then, is not about ecstatic states, as if the marks of success are oceanic experiences or yogic flying. It's mostly pretty humdrum. Moreover, it is not a fast track to blissful happiness. It can, in fact, be quite unsettling, as it works with painful experiences, to understand them better and thereby get to the root of problems.

Research into the benefits of mindfulness seems to support its claims. People prone to depression, say, are less likely to have depressive episodes if they practice meditation. Stress goes down. But it's more like going on a journey than taking a pill. Though meditation techniques can be learned quickly, it's no instant remedy and requires discipline. That said, many who attend lessons or go on retreats find immediate benefits—which is not so surprising, given that in a world of no stillness, even a little calm goes a long way.”

~ Mark Vernon, from “How to Meditate: An Introduction,” The Guardian, Jan. 22, 2011

How to Meditate by Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace, for The Guardian

Thanks to Jonathan Carroll.

 

Capturing the Patient’s Attention

Dr. Richard Fratianne, from “Art and Medicine,” produced by Kerrie Hillman, Studio 360, December  10, 2010:

The problem is music therapy is not compensated by either governmental programs or private insurance policies, because there just isn't very much science in music therapy — yet. And so, I thought that it might be interesting to see if we could prove the value of music therapy in the burn center where pain and anxiety are really very, very high.

A burn injury is so profound that it effects every part of the person. It's not only physical and emotional, but it's an intellectual challenge and there's a spiritual threat because patients don't recognize who they are anymore. They don't feel the same. They don't look the same. Oftentimes they feel ashamed of how they look and they're so afraid. We chose burn patients because the pain is so severe and the anxiety is so high that we thought if we can prove that music therapy can actually have a positive effect in these patients, then we can rest assured that it's going to work in every patient.

Obviously, we can give pain medication, we can give sedatives and tranquilizers, but if it's a really painful dressing change there's no way you can relieve all of the pain except under anesthesia and you can't anesthetize a patient two or three times a day. The body won't tolerate it.

Music requires and integration of many parts of the brain. There's the motor part that's the physical response to playing or tapping to the rhythm of music. Then there's the limbic system, the emotional response to hearing music that brings forth feelings and thoughts and ideas. But also there's rhythm, there's tempo, there's melody — all of these things have to be integrated at the same time to appreciate music. It's amazing how the brain can do this.

The reason we need a professional music therapist to intervene in these painful procedures is that by their training they're able to capture the patient's attention. We call that entrainment. It is actively involving the patient in the musical experience. Because when their mind is diverted to participating in the therapy, they cannot think about the pain.

The earlier research just asked the patient before and after a musical experience, “Do you feel better yet?” That doesn’t really prove anything. It’s only when you’re dealing with patients like we’re dealing with in the burn unit that you can clearly identify changes in their response with music therapy. And we have done that.

One of our latest studies is utilizing the measurements of a stress hormone which is one of the products of the adrenal gland in response to stress. We know when patients are highly stressed these levels go up. And we’re measuring to see whether music therapy can actually depress those levels of the hormone. And our initial studies have shown that.

What we’re doing is new. We know that. And that’s why it’s exciting, because it is new. But the music can have a calming effect on people. How it works is still being discovered.

At Ease and Relaxed

Excerpt from a thank you letter I received after sharing strategies for finding and creating rest with a group of very attentive and engaged high school students:

linworth-letter “Overall, the day was a success in demonstrating that the path of wellness can begin with a few small steps that are approachable and fun. Students and other community members enjoyed the offerings at the Day of Wellness. The relaxation techniques workshop was a success. Students and staff took away valuable information on ways in which to relieve stress that was timely as finals were just around the corner. Attendees left the session feeling at ease and relaxed despite the abrupt ending due to the fire alarm.”

Developing Our Human Qualities

Excerpt from “Matthieu Ricard: Meditate Yourself Better,” by Curtis Abraham, New Scientist (Feb. 3, 2010)

Matthieu Ricard (Photo: Angeles Nassar) “Experiments have indicated that the region of the brain associated with emotions such as compassion shows considerably higher activity in those with long-term meditative experience. These discoveries suggest that basic human qualities can be deliberately cultivated through mental training. The study of the influence of mental states on health, which was once considered fanciful, is now an increasing part of the scientific research agenda.

Twenty minutes of daily practice can contribute significantly to a reduction of anxiety and stress, the tendency to become angry and the risk of relapse in cases of severe depression. Thirty minutes a day over the course of eight weeks results in a considerable strengthening of the immune system and of one's capacity for concentration. It also speeds up the healing of psoriasis and decreases arterial tension in people suffering from hypertension.

Why should we bother to meditate? The answer is that we all have the potential for positive change, which largely remains untapped. That's a great pity, because we know the virtue of training and learning. We spend years going to school and training in things like sports, but for some strange reason we don't think that the same need applies to developing and optimizing our human qualities.”

[Thanks Alex!]

Dealing with Distress

barack_obama

Here is a excellent four-step plan for dealing with distress from Google’s Jolly Good Fellow, Chade-Meng Tan.

1. Know when you're not in pain.

2. Do not feel bad about feeling bad.

3. Do not feed the monsters.

4. Start every thought with kindness and humor.

Read more about these steps on the Huffington Post.

Meng was one of Google’s earliest software engineers and now serves as Head of the School of Personal Growth for Google University. One of his projects is the Search Inside Yourself program which is based on mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Norman Fischer has taught for the program and I just read a tweet from Meng indicating that my mindfulness teacher, Shinzen Young, is visiting Google today.

What’s Essential in Life

Bob Shumaker, a former POW in Vietnam, describes how he and his fellow prisoners developed a social network that was crucial to their surviving three years in solitary confinement. They succeeded by creating a tap code that allowed them to communicate through their cell walls. "Being a prisoner really focuses on what's essential in life and there are a lot of things we can do without and still be happy. The key lessons from Bob Shumaker's story are that inside almost all of us is the capacity to overcome the most horrific of stress in our life and even ultimately learn from that stress and thrive and grow as a person."

~ from Rethinking Happiness, an episode of the PBS program This Emotional Life

Don’t Quit

Excerpt from “Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious,” by Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, November 22, 2009:

“It looks more and more like the positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” says Michael Hopkins, a graduate student affiliated with the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory Laboratory at Dartmouth, who has been studying how exercise differently affects thinking and emotion. “It’s pretty amazing, really, that you can get this translation from the realm of purely physical stresses to the realm of psychological stressors.”

The stress-reducing changes wrought by exercise on the brain don’t happen overnight, however, as virtually every researcher agrees. In the University of Colorado experiments, for instance, rats that ran for only three weeks did not show much reduction in stress-induced anxiety, but those that ran for at least six weeks did.

“Something happened between three and six weeks,” says Benjamin Greenwood, a research associate in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado, who helped conduct the experiments. Dr. Greenwood added that it was “not clear how that translates” into an exercise prescription for humans. We may require more weeks of working out, or maybe less. And no one has yet studied how intense the exercise needs to be.

But the lesson, Dr. Greenwood says, is “don’t quit.” Keep running or cycling or swimming. (Animal experiments have focused exclusively on aerobic, endurance-type activities.) You may not feel a magical reduction of stress after your first jog, if you haven’t been exercising. But the molecular biochemical changes will begin, Dr. Greenwood says. And eventually, he says, they become “profound.”

 

Mindfulness Training Improves Attitudes about Patients and Their Care

Excerpt from “Mindful Meditation, Shared Dialogues Reduce Physician Burnout,”  News Room - University of Rochester Medical Center (September 22, 2009):

Training in mindfulness meditation and communication can alleviate the psychological distress and burnout experienced by many physicians and can improve their well-being, University of Rochester Medical Center researchers report in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).


The training also can expand a physician’s capacity to relate to patients and enhance patient-centered care, according to the researchers, who were led by Michael S. Krasner, M.D., associate professor of Clinical Medicine.

“From the patient’s perspective, we hear all too often of dissatisfaction in the quality of presence from their physician. From the practitioner’s perspective, the opportunity for deeper connection is all too often missed in the stressful, complex, and chaotic reality of medical practice,” Krasner said. “Enhancing the already inherent capacity of the physician to experience fully the clinical encounter—not only its pleasant but also its most unpleasant aspects—without judgment but with a sense of curiosity and adventure seems to have had a profound effect on the experience of stress and burnout. It also seems to enhance the physician’s ability to connect with the patient as a unique human being and to center care around that uniqueness.

“Cultivating these qualities of mindful communication with colleagues, anectodotally, had an unexpected benefit of combating the practitioners’ sense of isolation and brought forth the very experiences that are such a rich source of meaning in the life of the clinician,” he said.

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