Dr. Richa Mittal
You can feel your heart rate going up, you are starting to sweat, you feel anxious, maybe you are breathing faster-all of these symptoms have something in common: stress. Stress has become an acceptable part of modern-day life. We just have to "deal" with it as part of our every day demands of home, work, and life. Or do we? Is it worth it to try to reduce this constant stress?
Stress not only causes us that uncomfortable feeling, but it has serious and long-term health consequences. If we delve a little deeper, we come to understand how detrimental stress really is. "Stress hormones" like cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and growth hormone are released in response to stress: our body's flight or flight survival mechanism. These hormones are part of the endocrine system, which is involved in the regulation of many factors, including blood sugar, metabolism, blood pressure, heart function, breathing, and reproductive function. When these hormones are released repeatedly over time, the effect is a slowing down of the metabolism and an increase in blood pressure, which can lead to problems like diabetes and congestive heart failure. Over time, these problems are additive and can contribute to an event like a stroke or heart disease.
Our survival mechanisms are definitely useful to us in the right situation, but when every day life is causing a state of constant release of these hormones, we are in trouble. So, what can we do about this? Besides going on vacation, how can we implement easy, practical solutions that can stop this cycle?
How do we bring more mindfulness into our lives? How do we do this given our packed work and family life schedules? You may have heard of mindfulness. What is the data to support the use of mindfulness and meditation to improve our health?
Additional studies on meditation are needed, but the studies so far show benefit. Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce attention deficits in veterans. Yoga has been found to reduce stress and anxiety in children and adults. In September of 2017, the American Heart Association performed a review of studies about meditation and issued a statement saying that given the possible benefit in lowering cardiovascular risk and the low cost and risk, meditation should be considered in addition to traditional therapies.
So, we have been told "just meditate". How does one get started? We do not need to meditate for hours on end to reap the benefits. Meditation is essentially being IN THE MOMENT. You can either do this on your own, participate in a yoga class or follow a program.
A great way to start is to carve out 5 minutes twice a day to focus on the present. In this day and age of phone alerts, go ahead and set an alarm for your daily mindfulness time! Put your devices down and have a seat or lie down. Close your eyes, focus on your breath, start at your toes and work your way up as you imagine each body part slowly relaxing. You can slowly increase the amount of time or how often you do this. It is delicious to have this time to refresh and recharge!
If you are a fan of technology, you have probably heard of several apps that can help you bring mindfulness into your life. Some popular ones are Headspace, Mindfulness App, Calm, and Simple Habit among others.
Regardless of what method you choose, I hope you make being present in the moment and decreasing stress a priority!
The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.