If you feel stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious sometimes, you are not alone. This happens to the best of us. Oprah Winfrey, in a 2013 interview with Access Hollywood, spoke about her nervous breakdown.
“It was just sort of speeding and a kind of numbness and going from one thing to the next thing to the next thing. I thought … if I don’t calm down I’m going be in serious trouble.’ I was in the middle of doing voiceovers, you know? And I remember closing my eyes in between each page because looking at the page and the words at the same time was too much stimulation for my brain.”
– Oprah Winfrey
Thankfully, Oprah took measures to calm her mind. She wrote: “Meditation gave me the opportunity to be aware of a new world I didn’t know existed, and gave me the understanding that there was a place that no one could take away — that it was my own personal, sacred space that existed within myself, and all I needed to do was quiet my mind and go inward and connect…”
Many other celebrities and business leaders – from Katy Perry, Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, Will Smith, Paul McCartney to Marc Benioff swear by meditation and other strategies to keep their body and minds in great shape – and rightly so.
With the pace of modern life and everything that is going on around us, it’s not easy to maintain a calm and peaceful mind. Mental health problems are actually very common. One in five American adults experience a mental health issue. The most common mental health issue is anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
The good news is that it is possible to cultivate a mind that is calm, peaceful, and focused. However, it takes consistent practice. In my primary care practice, Lifestyle Medical, we host weekly group meetings to practice evidence-based techniques and skills to cultivate a healthy mind. Here is a preview of what we are practicing together.
1. Mindfulness Breathing
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we areand what we are doing, and not overly overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Wheneveryou bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing, you are choosing to be mindful.
Studies have shown that deep breathing increases attention and focus. When you take a deep breath in, your heart rate quickens slightly. As you exhale, your heart rate grows slower. Repeated deep breaths will naturally bring your heart rate more in sync and in tune with your breath. This leads your brain to release endorphins, which are chemicals that have a natural calming effect.
Let’s practice mindfulness breathing together here.
2. Walking Mindfulness
Walking is something we make use of every day, so it doesn’t require any extratime out of your day. Walking mediation is a simple and universal practice for developingembodied awareness.
Researchers have found mindfulness walking significantly reduces anxiety.When our bodies are exposed to a sudden stress or threat, we respond with a characteristic “fight or flight” response. This is sometimes called an “adrenaline rush” because the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine are released from the adrenal glands, resulting in an increase in blood pressure and pulse rate, faster breathing, and increased blood flow to themuscles.
Develop your walking mindfulness practice here.
3. Daily Affirmations/Peace Words
One of the fundamentals of meditation is to remain in a relaxed, calm, and tranquil state of mind. There is an increased need to let go of your worries, release your stress, and let your internal thoughts become quiet. Sometimes we need to be told we are capable of everything in order to get through our day. We can use daily affirmations as an anchor to help us regain our focus and cultivate confidence and self-acceptance from within.
A key psychological theory behind positive affirmation is the self-affirmationtheory. This theory has investigated whether we see changes in the brain when we self-affirm inpositive ways. There is evidence suggesting that certain neural pathways are increased whenpeople practice self-affirmation tasks. Cultivate a habit of consistently speaking power words. If necessary write them down and say them over and over again on a daily basis.
Build your daily affirmations habit with this guide.
4. Guided Visualization
Visualization involves using your imagination to help put your body in a more relaxed state. Just
as our bodies can become tense in response to negative and anxious thoughts, our bodies can also become relaxed in response to pleasant and peaceful thoughts.
One of the most basic ways we can experience this state of mind is to close your eyes and imagine being in a place that is peaceful and relaxing. It might be at a quiet beach, private garden or in front of a warm fireplace. Enjoy all that comes with being in that moment and relax your mind. You can use this as a regular relaxation technique in times of stress when you need to find some peace.
Practice the mindfulness visualization technique here
5. Mindfulness Music
Music can be a wonderful way to reduce your stress and reconnect with your bodyand your breath. The practice of mindfulness music can stop our nonstop and often negative mental chatter and offer us an opportunity to inhabit the present moment more fully and meaningfully. This mindfulness practice can also be practiced at any time and from anywhere. Both mindfulness and music can be used together as a source of strength and positive energy.
Check out this example of mindfulness music that we have put together for you.
6. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is an exercise that reduces stress and anxiety inyour body by having you slowly tense and then relax each muscle. There is no right or wrong way to do progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation is used to help lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve blood flow, and decrease anxiety. It has also been used to reduce the perception of pain.
Learn more about progressive muscle relaxation here.
To cultivate and express gratitude might seem like a natural human response tosome. Living a lifestyle that is fast-paced and many distractions can make it difficult toremember the importance of gratitude. Mindfulness can help us to decrease these distractions: from your breath to the food that you eat, to the sun rising and setting.
Looking through just one chain of events could fill you with gratitude for all the people and things involved. Gratitude has shown to increase determination, attention, enthusiasm, and energy. It has also shown to cause a reduction in physical ailments, causing fewer aches and pains.
Find out more about cultivating gratitude here.
We all know self-esteem can be an important part of success. Too little can leavesomeone feeling defeated. Self-esteem levels at extreme highs or lows can be harmful. It isimportant to understand how to find a good balance in between.
Healthy self-esteem is when one is able to see and accept both strengths and weaknesses, has the ability to express their needs, has a positive outlook, and displays confidence. Self-esteem is associated with better health outcomes and longevity, likely higher optimism, relaxation, gratitude, and joy.
Discover ways to build your self-esteem here.
9. Feeling Sensations
Let’s do a quick activity. Close your eyes and think of a single person. Keep thinking of them and keeping your mind focused on that person. Now, think about where you feel the warmth in your body. Where did you feel the cold in your body? Does the way you felt match where you felt the heat/warmth in your body? A new study by Finnish researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences suggests that our emotions do indeed tend to influence our bodies in consistent ways.
Let’s practice feeling sensations together here.
10. Letting Go
There is so much weight and heaviness we carry with us on a daily basis — theweight of past relationships, betrayals, and pain inflicted by others. It’s easy to get swept awayby our thoughts, especially in the face of strong emotions. We get stuck ruminating and dwelling about the past, filled with guilt or regret. In order to practice mindfulness, it is thereforeimportant that we learn to let go.
Learn some techniques that will help you to let go here.
11. Growth Mindset
Nurturing a growth mindset helps build resilience and motivation to persist even in the face ofadversity. Most often times, failure keeps us from thinking positively and knocks us down. Itsends people spiraling into a fixed mindset in which people assume that their character and their circumstances are static and cannot be changed. A growth mindset, on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence or an end, but as an opportunity for growth.
Understand how to build a growth mindset here.
12. Goal setting
Goals are very useful for setting direction. One way to set goals is by creating vision boards.
Vision boards are tools that allow you to define goals and then align those goals withinspirational images that will excite and motivate you along our journey to achieving those goals.
By having the ability to visualize your goals, it can promote positive thinking and create inner motivation.
Learn more about best practices for goal setting here.
If you are having a hard time with stress or anxiety, remember that you are not alone, and that it is in your power to change how you feel. Taking care of your mind’s health may seem elusive or out of reach, because we can’t see it or touch it. But remember that there is solid evidence that the techniques we went over will have a measurable impact on how you feel, with consistent practice.
I hope that this article has given you a good start. In my primary care practice, Lifestyle Medical, many patients have found freedom from stress and anxiety through practicing these mental health skills in a community of other people who are on a similar journey, while also working on their physical health which reinforces a healthy mind. Lifestyle Medical is a primary care practice with a mission to ignite hope for a healthy, flourishing life. If this may be something you are looking for, please feel free to schedule a freeappointment.