Blog Categories: managing stress

A Simple Breathing Meditation

Posted on April 11, 2016

mindful-breathing

Taking time in the midst of a busy work day to breath deeply has been shown to increase awareness, decrease stress and anxiety as well as enhance work performance.  To learn more read this brief “how to” article complete with a 5 minute breathing meditation instruction.

Take Ten Minutes Out

Posted on July 18, 2014

take time out_article

TAKE TEN MINUTES OUT

By Lloyd J. Thomas, Ph.D.

Stress plays a major role in our lives. We can become addicted to
it. We can become ill with it. Using it, we can achieve more. We
can “break down” from it. We can adapt to it. Some of us are so
adapted to it, we don’t know how to function without it.

Over the past 20 years, the U.S. Surgeons General have reported that
85 percent of our illnesses are related to stress. Stress can kill
us. Dr. Herbert Benson coined “the relaxation response” to describe
the opposite response to stress. But these days, who has the time to
learn the relaxation response? We’re so busy running on
stress-created biochemicals; we rarely incorporate relaxation into our
lifestyles. Failure to balance the stress response with the
relaxation response, however, puts us at high risk for some type of
physical, mental, emotional or relational breakdown.

Here are a few quick, five- or ten-minute activities, which you can
rapidly incorporate into your high-speed, highly-stressed daily life.
They just might help you create a stress-relaxation balance in your
life.

Go on ten-minute mini-vacations in your mind. At the workplace or
at home, close your eyes, take 5 deep, sighing breaths, and in your
imagination, create a sensory-rich picture of your favorite vacation
spot. Picture yourself there. Smell the scents in the air. Feel the
breeze on your skin. Listen to the sounds of the birds, insects,
water or wind. Listen to the silence. Experience the warmth or
coolness of the air around you. See the colors, light and shadows of
the scene. And taste your favorite food while in this vacation spot.
Picture yourself lying down and enjoying the surrounding environment.
And relax. Soften all bodily tension. And breathe as if you were
falling asleep. This ten-minute vacation can profoundly generate the
relaxation response.

Go to the restroom or home bathroom. Splash water on your face.
Take time to massage your facial muscles with warm water. Let your
jaw drop slightly and massage your cheeks. When your hands are very
warm, rub the back of your neck. Focus your attention on softening
all your face and neck muscles. Allow your eyes to rest in the warmth
of your hands covering them.

When you return from work, or before bed at night, take a very warm
bath or shower. Light candles and incense. Softly play your favorite
music. Imagine that the stress in your body is being dissolved and
washed away by the water. Focus your attention on dropping
responsibilities and stressors of the day. Imagine them dropping off
you like scales, as you gently rub your body…perhaps with scented
soap or lotion. Put your mind in neutral. Let your entire body go
limp, and imagine it becoming a part of the water itself. Focus on
your long, slow, deep breathing.

Learn how to meditate. Meditation and grateful prayer are very
helpful in de-stressing you. Once you have learned, you can pray or
meditate almost anywhere and any time. Repeat a favorite word or
phrase, e.g. “I am completely safe.” “I am loved.” “I am at peace.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Read inspirational, positive
affirmations. There are books available, collections of brief stories
or single phrases. Carry around a small book to read for ten minutes
at a time, and invite your mind to re-focus on what you read.

Go for a walk. Yes, I know exercise is that grim “E-word.” But
moving your body when it has been still for a long time, relaxes all
those stiff muscles used in holding you upright against the pull of
gravity. So move around, walk, do isometrics or take ten minutes to
jog in place. You will find such activity very relaxing.

Drink a glass of water or juice. Eat a healthy snack. Eat it
alone, in a quiet place. Keep the sips of water in your mouth for
full minute before swallowing. Chew your mouthful at least 150 times
before swallowing. Pay attention to how it smells, tastes and feels.
Imagine it as restoring you with vitamins, minerals, and energy lost
to the stress you’ve been experiencing. Become totally absorbed in
the process of chewing and swallowing…and do it very slowly.

None of the above activities require more than ten minutes. Why not
incorporate each of them into your daily life? When they become
habits, you will begin to balance the stress-response with the
relaxation-response. It may just resolve 85 percent of the problems
you have now. A balanced life is a healthy one. Enjoy!

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dr. Thomas is a licensed psychologist, author, speaker, and life
coach. He serves on the faculty of the International University of
Professional Studies. He recently co-authored (with Patrick Williams)
the book: “Total Life Coaching: 50+ Life Lessons, Skills and
Techniques for Enhancing Your Practice…and Your Life!” (W.W. Norton
2005) It is available at your local bookstore or on Amazon.com.

Love 2.0

Posted on March 13, 2013

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some but for everyone.”
                                    Burt Bacharach and Hal David

 

Jackie DeShannon soulful rendering of this song, written in 1965, transported listeners for a few minutes – to feel lighter, breath easier and to imagine the possibilities of love.  In the 1960’s, our nation was just beginning a large shift of consciousness that was felt in vast social, historical and political shifts.  As the negative emotion felt by the anger of change grew, some thought that increasing our ability and capacity to love was the answer.  However, back then, science had few tools for studying positive emotions like Love.  Instead this emotion found expression and calibration through artists and songwriters.

Fast forward to the 21st century: our world still needs more love, more positive emotion expression.  Science can now observe and collect clear data on how we express positive emotions like love… the greatest positive emotion. Advances in science give scientists this opportunity –  neuroimaging of the brain, as well as the tools of medicine that allow us to measure neural activity and hormone secretion.One of the most exceptional social scientists on the scene today, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a distinguished Professor from the University of North Carolina, has written a compelling, cogent and warm-hearted book, called Love 2.0, How our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything we Feel, Think and Do.  A gifted writer, she is able to interpret the hard data experiments that she and other scientists have done on the subject, interpreting and combining it with her own experiences, and at times poetical words to challenge us to consider a new definition of love: she calls it positivity resonance.

Love, she posits, is not just the stuff of lovers/married folks/parents and children…this emotion she renames “positivity resonance” can happen with strangers—even for a few minutes.  Dr. Fredrickson’s research show that love is connection and therefore is:

 “…The momentary upwelling of three tightly interwoven events: first a sharing of one or more positive emotions between you and another; second, a synchrony between your and the other person’s biochemistry and behaviors; and third, a reflected motive to invest in each other’s well-being that brings mutual care.”

A familiar example of what she describes as a “micro-moment of positivity resonance”: imagine waiting in an airport and casually telling a story with a stranger sitting next to you and, before you both know it you are laughing, even sharing similar life events, feeling lighter, more relaxed. Forgetting that the plane is 2 hours delayed, you are enjoying the brief exchange, where by the way, you not only make the time go faster, meet a kindred soul, but share a few traveling tips as well.  That Barbara Fredrickson says is love… or positivity resonance.  She has chapter after chapter of describing her own and other’s research showing changes in the brain, vagus nerve, respiration and one’s hormonal level during such positive emotion exchanges which gives proof of how love does indeed calm and connect us with ourselves and others.

So why is this important in living, relating and working?

We now know by Dr. Fredrickson’s own research as well as other research completed by Drs. Marcial Losada in mathematics and John Gottman in marriage – that there is a 3:1 tipping point of positive to negative emotion at which point, when experienced, people begin to flourish.  At work that means we then can begin to interact with co-workers creating higher team productivity, smoother communication and more successful client interactions.

This research shows that negative emotion narrows our awareness (“fight or flight”) and positive emotion broadens our perspective (“calming and connecting”) which results in more creative thinking and some studies show, a higher IQ after interacting with someone in a positive way.

In the workplace, this could mean: creative breakthroughs, more flexible problem solving, and increased resilient behavior that allows for a broader array of skills to deal with difficulty, disappointment and loss.  Dr. Fredrickson describes this as the ability of positive resonance to “unlock collective brainstorming power.”  She even outlines a meditation practice that leads you to “re-designing your job around love.”

The book also gives myriad resources and tools on practices to increase positive emotion, particularly borrowing from the Tibetan tradition of Loving Kindness meditation.

She has crafted a most informative website: www.positivityresonance.com which offers tools, videos and a series of mp3 meditations, in her own voice, that you can practice and a few from some more famous meditation masters like Sharon Salzberg.  As we strive to increase our positive emotion so that we can move toward flourishing in our work and life, Dr. Fredrickson’s book is a must read.

References:

Love, 2.0, Barbara L. Fredrickson, PH.D, Hudson Street Press, 2013

www.Positivityresonace.com – Dr. Fredrickson’s website on Love 2.0 that has many tools and meditations available for listening.

Fredrickson, B.L., Losada, M.F.,  “Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing” American Psychologist, October 2005.  This article is available on a Google search.

Gottman, John.  Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last, Simon and Schuster. 1994

 

 

Five Secrets of Effective Communication

Posted on March 10, 2010

Five Secrets of Effective CommunicationDavid Burns, MD has contributed many books to our understanding of how our thoughts and feelings can be managed to change our moods.  His method for effectively communicating is excellent especially in situations that are difficult, “heated” or in conflictual conversations in the work place – or at home.  The key here is to use a method below which you can genuinely express. If it seems inauthentic to the listener, it is not effective.  Practice!

 

LISTENING SKILLS

1. The Disarming Technique – You find some truth in what the other person is saying, even if it seems totally unreasonable or unfair.

2. Empathy- Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see the world through their eyes.

  • Thought empathy: You paraphrase the other person’s words
  • Feeling empathy: You acknowledge how he or she is probably feeling.

3. Inquiry: You ask gentle, probing questions to learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling.

SELF-EXPRESSION SKILLS

4. I “feel” statements: Shift to “I feel”, e.g. “I feel confused by this…”  rather than “you” statements. i.e. “you’re wrong” or “You make me furious!”

5. Stroking: You find something genuinely positive to say to the other person even in the heat of battle. You convey an attitude of respect, even though you may feel very angry with the other person.

*Copyright © 1991 by David D. Burns, MD. Revised, 1992.