When I borrowed the Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress Free Living by Amit Sood from the library, I expected it to be a sort of “Everything” guide to avoiding stress. I expected facts, figures and warnings about smoking and excessive drinking as well as the benefits of getting a good night’s sleep and eating a proper diet. What I encountered instead was quite surprising. The book is about the brain and how it can sabotage our efforts to find peace of mind. Further the book provides strategies for harnessing the brain’s awesome power to do good. Stress Free Living is based on a stress management program developed by Sood and offered at the Mayo Clinic.
Negative thinking and the resulting stress is bad for your physical health increasing the risk of a variety of life threatening illnesses including diabetes, substance abuse, depression, anxiety and cancer. In fact Sood issues a dire warning. “Your physical health and whether you are still alive in 10 years depends on the quality of your thoughts today.”
That is definitely a wake up call.
Sood offers these tips and others to train the brain to be stress free:
Practice joyful attention: Train your brain to find greater joy and meaning in the external world. Start your day by being grateful for your blessings, refrain from checking email first thing in the morning and notice nature at least once a day. For city dwellers like myself, a local park qualifies as nature. Sood also says that if you are stuck inside due to inclimate weather, music and art can be considered nature as well.
Practice acceptance: Sood says that while our unhappiness may come from living in a flawed society, a greater source of unhappiness comes from trying to control or change the people in your life. Lack of self-acceptance is a big problem too. “In a recent workshop, I asked participants if they were fully comfortable with who they are,” writes Sood. “Not a single person raised a hand. Our attention finds plenty in our heads to latch onto. As a result, many of us get stuck in a cobweb of negative thoughts.” Practicing acceptance enhances inner peace and fosters pragmatic optimism, says Sood.
Practice meditation: In 2002, when a maximum security state prison in Alabama offered inmates a 10-day meditation retreat, the results were astounding. Behavior improved, coping skills increased and there was a significant reduction in disciplinary actions. “Mind-body programs have shown remarkable benefits for all groups,” writes Sood who continued saying that in addition to changing behaviours, relaxation can improve physical health conditions as well. Individuals suffering from anxiety, asthma, chronic pain, depression and a host of other illnesses can be helped by the implementation of relaxation programs.
You technically don’t have to meditate--sit cross legged on a matt in a silent room--in order to reap the benefits of relaxation. Sood says that relaxation programs should be based on an individual's personality. My daughter’s relaxation techniques of choice are meditation and puzzles. My son prays and studies languages. My husband practices photography and listens to music. I read and write to relax. “The beauty of relaxation and mind-body programs is that the specific one you choose doesn’t matter, as long as you do something,” writes Sood.