It goes without saying that, at some point, we will be faced with a stressful situation; sometimes we may face several at a time. This is just a symptom of being a human being that we need to learn to live with.
First off, I think that it is relevant to describe why stress happens; it is, essentially, a survival technique from the days when we needed to either fight to survive, or flee danger. Hence, stress is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. Our bodies engage in a state of “hyper-arousal”; that is, hormones are released, our muscles tense up, and our pulse quickens in preparation for one of the two reactions: fight or flight. Clearly, since we are still around after all these years, this reaction has been a pretty successful one! However the downside is that, in modern times, we much more commonly experience this response while we are worried about a work deadline or stressing about relationship troubles instead of outrunning a giant hungry predator. In short, our reaction to life-threatening situations tends to also respond to non-life-threatening events.
Now, I think we can all agree that running a bit late due to traffic is an infinitely better situation than trying to escape a hungry animal; however, the problem lies in the duration of this stress response. We can easily be faced with daily stressors like deadlines, traffic, high-stress meetings, relationship strains, for long periods of time: days, weeks, even years at a time. Conversely, our stress response is really only designed for short frames of time, ie just long enough to get us to safety. This is where a lot of us face difficulties.
Being in a state of “hyper-arousal” for a long amount of time is, put simply, uncomfortable. Mind racing, heart beating fast, sometimes sweating, tense muscles leading to chronic pain, etc. So naturally, we often turn to the quick solution: unhealthy coping strategies in order to bring these levels down quickly so that we can feel comfortable again.
So, knowing all this, what are some healthy ways to manage stress?
Try mindful walking!
The practice of mindfulness can be used in practically every situation, and has been proven to be an effective technique to relax the body and the mind. Essentially, it is a form of meditation where one takes on a non-judgmental stance and plays the role of an “observer” rather than an “actor”, and focus is shifted to only the present moment. Paying attention to body cues and emotions, and accepting them instead of judging them, allows for more clear thinking and can break the habit of reacting before thinking. A good metaphor for mindfulness is that it is like taking the car off of cruise control and really experiencing the feeling of the road.
Below is a link to a small blurb about Mindful Walking by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a specialist in the act of mindfulness and stress reduction. He outlines ways to engage in the activity, appropriate settings to practice, and other information about the practice.
Feel free to comment and respond with your thoughts! We want to know what you think!
- Is mindful walking something that interests you?
- Which part of mindfulness do you think would be most helpful to you?
- Does joining a mindful walking group seem like something that would be beneficial to you?
- What are some ways that you can introduce mindfulness into your everyday life?
Want to learn more? Please enjoy these other mindfulness links!
- http://mynoise.net – meditation/white noise generator
By Hilary Lougheed
ADMH Graduate Certificate Placement Student