Right now, synonyms for American culture include stress, burnout, depression, and loneliness. Our days, our lives, everything seems to be moving too fast. No one seems to be saying: “Hey, stop! Take a deep breath and relax!”
We seem to be more connected to our phones than we are with people. Most of us are never fully present in our lives because we are continually distracted. If you are trying to engage in a conversation with a friend, do not expect an enthusiastic response. Many times, it seems that our words simply go in one ear and out the other. The constant connection to others through social media applications on our phones is sabotaging and destroying our inner peace. We are forgetting how to simply be present in our everyday lives.
How can we stay Zen and shrug off the daily stress that is making us feel sick? What can we do to avoid that little hit of dopamine associated with how many “likes” our selfie of the day received? How can we feel happy without basing our lives on accumulating the maximum amount of approval from all the people who live in the devices in our pockets?
There are three simple things we can incorporate into our daily routine that will slow life down and, in doing so, allow us to recharge and find peace: exercise, meditation, and gratitude.
Get up and Go!
Research shows that exercising is one of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety, and we have heard our doctor remind us countless times that exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Moving our bodies and staying fit is the foundation for managing stress.
While a tough workout in search of relaxation seems like a paradox, it is exactly what the mind and body need. The endorphins and dopamine released during and after exercise will make you relax and feel good. This is not pseudoscience. This is biology.
There is also an undeniable sense of confidence, and a boost in self-esteem, associated with being in shape. This has nothing to do with shaming others for how they look, and everything to do with the sense of accomplishment that comes from setting and achieving a difficult goal. Presenting yourself with a challenge, like a hard run, and pushing yourself through all your doubt, excuses, and pain to achieve it, will undoubtedly make you feel better about yourself. You can then take the confidence and work ethic gained from overcoming that obstacle on a regular basis and apply those qualities to other areas of your life. That important paperwork you need to complete at the office will seem like nothing compared to the pain and doubt you overcame the other day during your workout.
“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” – Oprah Winfrey
To stay Zen in a stressful world, daily meditation is a must. By taking deep breaths, we automatically send fresh, oxygenated blood to the brain, while also lowering blood pressure and slowing down our heart rate.
Meditation is not as straightforward a concept as exercise. What are its benefits? Is there a right and wrong way to do it? To learn more about staying mentally fit through meditation, I asked a psychotherapist from Corpus Christi, TX, Mr. Dennis Ramos, to share his thoughts on meditation.
Dennis Ramos, Psychotherapist
“Most people have heard of meditation, but very few actually use it. For me, it is a very helpful tool to use for myself and my clients. Meditation is simply the process of focusing one’s mental attention on a specific thing. The thing can be an object, a sound, a word, an image, your breath, or many other possible activities.
I have been a psychotherapist for almost 30 years, and I’ve come to realize that meditation can be used in a beneficial way by every person. My most important exposure to the practice of meditation happened at around 30 years old, when a Native American friend showed me a chant he had learned as a child. Over the years, I have learned many different variations of meditation to help a person with anything from physical pain to anxiety and stress.
It is very common to hear someone say “I can’t do it” or “That’s not for me.” Like shooting a free throw, it takes practice and time. Having trouble clearing your mind or stopping your thoughts is always difficult, especially at first. Even after years of practice, this can still be a challenge, but it’s a normal part of the process.
Allow the distracting thoughts to pass, then return to what the focus of your meditation is. When someone is practicing playing music, working out or jogging, singing, or doing Yoga, it is often a form of meditation. The goal is to minimize distracting and unproductive thinking, sort of like eliminating these thoughts by filling your mind with something positive. There are only so many brain activities a person can do at one time, so we can try to fill that space up with things we choose to focus on.
In my therapy practice, meditation has been helpful with Attention Deficit Disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, addictions, and many other common problems of our modern lifestyles. To get started, you can find a counselor or therapist, google written guides to meditation, or find one of the many helpful videos available online.”
Count your Blessings:
Sometimes, the answers are right in front of us.
It is too easy to get wrapped up in our own problems and not see all the beauty in life. If you ignore all the good, you will only notice the bad. We have all encountered someone who seemed to have everything anyone could ask for, but was always wanting more and stressing about how things could be better if only they had that one “thing” in life.
Most of us have probably also encountered someone who seemed to have very little, but was incredibly gracious, thankful, and happy. Why? Is this person unable to realize they have nothing, or is gratitude the currency for happiness?
Gratitude strengthens our relationships with our loved ones and friends. Being grateful enhances our perspective on life by reminding us that maybe our “terrible, worst day ever” is not that bad after all. Would you rather be cut off in traffic or have a loved one get seriously ill? Would you rather put up with a passive aggressive person at the office or lose your home?
Sometimes, the most trivial things seem like a big deal until we stop and consider what an actual big deal is. By keeping ourselves in check in that way, we dump all the unnecessary stress from thinking life is worse than it really is, and we make ourselves more emotionally available to our loved ones. We simply become more fun to be around.
At The End of the Day:
By exercising, meditating, and counting our blessings, we can relieve stress and improve our mental and physical health. No one is immune to stress, but everyone has access to these tools to fight back against the “daily grind.”
In a culture where being antisocial, ungrateful, and super stressed-out is becoming the new “classy,” we need to set our priorities straight. We need to stop feeling insecure if our friends seem busier than we are. Too often, we try to prove to everyone how exciting or perfect our lives are. As a result, we are putting too much pressure on ourselves to live up to the non-existent image that we created, the one people now think is real.
Let us remember that, just as we work hard at the gym to get ourselves in better shape, we need to apply that same effort to our minds.
The Dalai Lama wrote a book called The Art of Happiness. In it, the Dalai Lama said this:
“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own auctions.”