Mindfulness 112019

Practicing Mindfulness to Relieve Stress

Stress is an element in the Power of 5 because it is an ever-present factor in our lives. It is a major contributor to disease and chronic inflammation, which, in turn, accelerates the aging process. Medical science has clearly identified the pathways in which internal and external stressors cause deterioration in our health.

I have included a much more detailed discussion in the Power of 5.

Stress weaves itself into the fabric of our being, and in one way or another it interacts with the four other elements of the Power of 5 leading to a reduced health span.

The inspiration for this blog came to me while on vacation in Cancun, Mexico. My wife and I arrived at the beginning of a week when the weather forecast was for rain every day and night. Each day, I looked at the forecast only to find no change whatsoever. To be totally honest, we did get two hours of sun on the second day which resulted in a mild sunburn. On our fifth day, we decided that rather than aborting our trip, we would make the best of a cloudy day at the beach. As we relaxed, we were suddenly approached by the activities director, Jorge. With a big grin, he asked me to join the water aerobics activity. I obliged. (It seemed as if his paycheck depended upon my participation.)

As I dipped my toes into the pool, I realized that the water temperature was much cooler than I am accustomed to in Florida … far from 90 degrees! I jumped in and, after a few minutes, acclimated to the cool water. The 30-minute class began.

I found myself immersed not only in the water but following the movements of smiley Jorge who was encouraging me to perform each aerobic move.

Thirty minutes passed in a flash, and after exiting the pool I realized that during the entire class, my mind was in total focus. I was in the moment, being mindful of what I was doing, just like the advice and information I provide to my patients (and readers) with regard to what “mindfulness” is all about. What a great stress reducer!

When I got out of the pool my mind was more clear, not cluttered or fixated on the temperature of the pool water or the poor weather we had been experiencing! The pool aerobics activity left me calm, happy, refreshed, and mindful of my good fortune in life.

As I developed the Power of 5 formula I became well aware that each of the five elements would have to be addressed with intention. My intention was to get some exercise for the day, but the unexpected dividend was that I enjoyed 30 minutes of mindfulness as well.

That’s a check mark for exercise and stress reduction with the same activity. Wow, what a coup!

Meditation of one type or another is generally considered optimal to achieve mindfulness, but it may not always be practical. We all have time constraints or difficulty learning the best techniques.

Here are a few alternatives or options you can add into your day to remain mindful:

  1. Exercise! Take a walk, run, kayak—alone, without your phone or playlist to truly disengage from the world for just a few minutes.
  2. Enjoy your morning beverage, coffee, tea, etc., without distractions. Turn off the TV and put your smart phone and the newspaper down. Just be present.
  3. Spend time in a shower or hot tub just to unwind. Be mindful of the peace and quiet.
  4. Find time to look at the miracles of nature. Birds flying and fish jumping, trees blowing, stars in the night sky, or rain falling.

Here are some things you can do during your workday to use mindfulness to ward off stress:

  1. Set an intention for success at the beginning of the day. Choose your mental mantra for the day.
  2. Make your work meaningful. Be present and focus on one task at a time. Again, silence your phone and put a “do not disturb” sign on your office door. Seriously, we are not hard-wired to multitask.
  3. Take a meditation break.
  4. Take time to eat lunch—relax and recharge.
  5. Take deep breaths to help relax and stretch. Our bodies were not designed to sit at a desk all day long.

Now it’s your turn to find time in your day and integrate  activities such as those mentioned above to settle yourself down. Adopt mindfulness habits to counteract the effects of stress and enhance your health span.

To a long and healthy life,

David Bernstein, MD