There is a way to battle the wear and tear of stress.
Story: Julie Potiker
Stress is a major contributor to many of the physical, mental, and emotional troubles we experience daily. The scariest thing is that it often remains a hidden contributor. We are so busy trying to stay afloat and solve immediate problems at any given moment that the resulting stress is left to build and build, eventually overloading our systems as various ailments, from heart disease to depression.
I experienced this in my own life in 2006. As an attorney and a typical baby boomer—sandwiched between aging parents and my three adolescent kids (including a set of twins)—life was full of stressors, yet my first thought upon experiencing unusual symptoms was I might have a brain tumor or be exhibiting signs of a stroke. Words kept coming out of my mouth all wrong. Instead of “topsy-turvy” I said “bunky-burvy.” Instead of “cappuccino,” I said “captino.” “Magical” came out sounding like “maginal,” and so on. I scheduled an appointment with a neurologist, fearing the worst.
After a series of detailed tests ensured my worst fears were not responsible, the doctor asked me about my life: what my days consisted of—my job, my volunteer work, my family, and so on. Then he asked if I’d ever heard of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which I hadn’t. The doctor recommended I enroll in an MBSR course to reduce stress and improve my life.
I dived head-first into mindfulness training, registering at the University of California at San Diego Center for Mindfulness. After eight weeks of study, not only did I have a new set of tools to deal with the stress in my life, I also knew there was more to learn—and I wanted to learn it. Of the dozen or so mindfulness courses I participated in, one of the most powerful practices—and the one that has become the heart of my current personal practice and mindfulness-teaching practice—is mindful self-compassion.
Mindful self-compassion teaches us to treat ourselves as we would a dear friend. It also reminds us of our common humanity. You see what is coming up when you have an emotional reaction (the mindfulness part), and then the “compassion for yourself and common humanity” part guides you to soothe those emotions at a physical level. It also keeps you aware people all over the planet have or are having similar feelings. This expanded exploration of mindfulness is incredibly powerful in terms of addressing and preventing the feelings of isolation that may lead to depression.
The more we address ourselves with love and compassion, the more easily difficult feelings sometimes encountered tend to melt away. To be clear, the point of mindful self-compassion practice is not to make the “bad” feelings go away; it’s to be loving and kind to yourself when you feel bad. Feeling better just happens to be a common result!
Some of the other proven results of mindfulness practice include:
Increased emotional well-being.
More satisfying personal relationships.
More effective maintenance of healthy habits like diet and exercise.
Realizing there is an effective, evidence-based approach to creating such meaningful results in our lives is a relief! It’s easy to believe we are at the whim of life, especially on the hardest days, but this limiting mindset is now at risk of extinction thanks to the simple reality that mindfulness classes are accessible all over the world.
The point is: we have options, even in those moments when it feels we don’t. Knowing that can anchor us to hopefulness long enough to make a new choice. Don’t wait as long as I did so that stress become a frightening physical ailment. If you’re already there, however, take heart; there is a path forward to a more manageable way of living.
We can’t stop the world from turning or stop people from doing their respective things—particularly the ones that bug us. However, we can give ourselves the gift of being less reactive, less angry, and less stressed. Challenging and upsetting feelings happen from time to time, and as I mentioned, the point is not to make them go away but being able to let them pass easier. Wouldn’t your life be more joyful with less strife? For me, the difference mindfulness made was lifesaving. Whether you decide mindfulness is for you or not, leave enough space in your consciousness to remember a proven path to more peaceful living is out there if you choose to explore it.
About the writer
Julie Potiker is an attorney. Her new book is “Life Falls Apart, But You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos.” Learn more at mindfulmethodsforlife.com.