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Mindful : August 2013
in practice Time: 1 to 3 minutes Two-thirds of Americans say they need help for stress. But stress itself is not the problem. It’s how we relate to stress. The stress response is critical to our sur vival. It can save our lives or enable a firefighter to carr y a 300-pound man down 20 flights of stairs. Of course, most of us don’t encounter a life-or-death threat all that often. We usually experience stress re- actions in response to thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations. If we’re actively worried about whether we can put food on the table or get the per fect exam score, presto: the stress reaction activates. And if the bodily systems involved in stress don’t slow down and normalize, the effects can be severe. Over time, we can succumb to, among other things, high blood pressure, muscle tension, anxiety, insomnia, gastro- digestive complaints, and a suppressed immune system. Creating space in the day to stop, come down from the worried mind, and get back into the present moment has been shown to be enormously helpful in mitigating the negative effects of our stress response. When we drop into the present, we’re more likely to gain perspective and see that we have the power to regulate our response to pressure. Here’s a shor t practice you can weave into your day to step into that space be- tween stimulus and response. Stop what you’re doing; put things down for a minute. For more on mindfulness practice, go to mindful.org/ inpractice. To submit questions about techniques, the workplace, or relationships and home life, email inpractice@ mindful.org Proceed with something that will suppor t you in the moment: talk to a friend, rub your shoulders, have a cup of tea. Treat this whole ex- ercise as an experi- ment: Get curious about where there are opportunities in the day for you to just STOP—waking up in the morning, taking a shower, before eating a meal, at a stop light, before sitting down at work and check- ing email. You can even use your smar tphone’s message indicator as a reminder to STOP, cultivating more mindfulness with technology. What would it be like in the days, weeks, and months ahead if you star ted stopping more often? — Elisha Goldstein Observe your experience just as it is—including thoughts, feelings, and emotions. You can reflect about what is on your mind and also no- tice that thoughts are not facts, and they are not per- manent. Notice any emotions present and how they’re being expressed in the body. Research shows that just naming your emo- tions can turn the volume down on the fear circuit in the brain and have a calming effect. Then notice your body. Are you standing or sitting? How is your pos- ture? Any aches or pains? Stressing Out? S.T.O.P. techniques Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D ., is a clinical psychologist and the author of The Now Effect and coauthor of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook. Take a few deep breaths. If you’d like to ex tend this, you can take a minute to breathe normally and naturally and follow your breath coming in and out of your nose. You can even say to yourself “in” as you’re breath- ing in and “out” as you’re breathing out if that helps with concentration. T S O P 66 mindful August 2013