Given the last few decades of increased everyday demands on the lives of most folks, it has become clear that management of such stress is critical for attaining optimum health.
Stress management is also vital for preventing a pro-cancer environment, and it is essential to employ stress reduction techniques while undergoing active treatment for cancer. These practices also advantage long-term survivorship.
Stress reduction is a key part of the three-legged stool of lifestyle medicine, the other two being diet and physical activity.
My Meditation Experience
Twenty-six years ago, when I was diagnosed with ‘incurable’ leukemia at 28-years young, the stress-induced emotional responses were: increased fear of the unknown, mild depression, anxiety, and unremitting anguish.
However, I did discover mindfulness-based stress reduction, and my wife, Linda, and I attended group sessions over a three-month period. With dimmed lights, in a small cabin, in a suburban setting, we sat quietly as thoughts came, were acknowledged, and sent on their merry way.
But the stillness, quiet, and crickets, did not seem to work for me. Sure, I felt relaxed, but I never entered into any meaningful level of a meditative state.
My mind was less frenzied, but not completely still; thoughts—many thoughts—continued to come and go. It proved difficult to wave them all away. The experience of mindfulness-based stress reduction group classes was positive, but it did not connect deeply enough to become part of my lifestyle.
While meditation is a state of mind, it does not have to be a static state of place in the traditional crossed legs, dimmed room scenario. At least not for me.
I have discovered not everyone reaches a state of calm in the same way, and yet the individual results of self-created meditational sessions can be as beneficial as the traditional vignette we associate with meditation. I am a true believer that there is no one-size-fits-all best approach to stress reduction.
In my book, n of 1, I describe my daily walks, swims, and workouts as ‘relaxational exercise’. For me, I can get to that place that settles my mind and brings inner-peace—total relaxation—without sitting completely still.
My dog Leo, like our first pup, Jazz, is part of my stress reduction therapy regimen.
The more physically active I am, the less stress I feel. The more positive chemicals that are unleashed from my brain—the natural pharmacopeia that sits permanently upon my shoulders—the more peaceful my state.
I spend as much time outdoors as possible. For me, nature is powerful medicine. The sounds of animals and insects, scents of plants, breezes, rain, and sunshine—all nature’s splendor—work for me.
Alternatively, I find music is therapeutic. It takes me places. It dissolves stressful thoughts.
Yoga and Pilates also get me to a good place, not to mention keeping my lower back in check.
I can take 10 deep breaths, at any point in the day, to instantly reduce my blood pressure, anxiety level, and reset my focus. That focus may, in fact, be my way of being quiet and still.
I’ve even taken 10 deep breaths ahead of many bone marrow biopsies. Better than a Valium. Seriously.
I often use visualization while exercising. I describe, in n of 1, an example whereby I envisioned my body decimating the leukemia cells that traversed my veins.
Maybe you already have mindfulness-based stress reduction, or employ other forms of meditation and relaxation—got it down pat. If so, that is awesome.
Some may find that going to church, or doing regular volunteer work, brings inner-peace and relaxation, thereby reducing stress. Whatever it takes to get you to the magical place of relaxation: placing your hands on green earth, digging in the dirt, walking your dog, hanging with friends and family, or working on art projects—do the things you love with effortless abandon so as to make stress reducing activities a regular part of your lifestyle.
It doesn’t matter HOW you reduce stress, what’s most important is you find the best approach(es) for you… and do it daily. (click to Tweet)
How do you go about reducing stress—what’s your special formula?
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