Have you ever been under this much stress? A volatile market alone would be enough. Add the pandemic, with ever increasing projections of infections and deaths, schooling children at home and, for many, the loss of employment.
It’s the perfect storm.
Even before the pandemic, Americans were under considerable stress from overwork, troubled relationships and long commutes.
The pandemic has created much additional stress but it also this silver lining: It’s caused us to be conscious of how fleeting life can be. Perhaps it’s an opportunity to recognize the pernicious effect of stress on our health and to start a program to de-stress.
According to the Harvard Medical School, stress may trigger inflammation, which is a known cause of heart disease. But it also has more insidious consequences, like eating badly, lack of exercise, smoking and too much drinking.
Fortunately, reducing stress is well within our control.
It’s surprising how easy it is to change daily habits and significantly reduce our level of stress.
Walk in the park
One study found participants who were instructed to walk in nature, and photograph images meaningful to them, experienced a host of positive benefits compared to control groups given other assignments.
These days, negative news abounds. It’s almost impossible to avoid. Train your brain to scan for the positive.
While the pandemic creates many problems, it also provides opportunities to deepen relationships, spend more time with family, take courses online, go for long walks and engage in other enjoyable activities.
Here’s a stunning observation from Brain Rules, by John Medina: One of the greatest predictors of successful aging is whether or not you live a sedentary lifestyle.
The difference between languishing in a nursing home, and thriving physically and mentally as you age, is directly related to exercise.
Seniors who exercised outperformed coach potatoes in cognitive tests measuring long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving skill and “fluid intelligence tasks” (which test the ability to reason quickly and improvise).
The benefit of meditation is supported by over 389 peer-reviewed studies. Some of them were conducted at Harvard Medical School, Stanford Medical School, Yale Medical School, and UCLA Medical School.
Meditation makes you more empathetic. It reduces stress and has a positive impact on depression, blood pressure, fatigue and insomnia, among other health issues. It improves learning and memory. It makes you more creative.
One study from the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that meditation produced a greater reduction in pain than morphine.
An easy way to get started is with an app called Headspace.
If you want to de-stress, start small. Make a plan. Track your progress.
The result may not just enhance your life. It could save it.