Improve Stress-Related Health Conditions with Mindfulness | Mindfulness Rewrites

Monday, February 22, 2016

Improve Stress-Related Health Conditions with Mindfulness

Improve Stress-Related Health Conditions with Mindfulness
     by Dr. Linda Miles

Do you have high blood pressure? 
Do you experience shallow or rapid breathing? 

Do you have difficulty sleeping and/or
do you feel fatigued during the day? 

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, I strongly encourage you to consider incorporating mindfulness into your life.

Meet Bart

Bart, a client of mine, was a forty-seven-year-old, straight-laced, and successful businessman with high blood pressure. After prescribing medication, Bart's physician referred him to me for stress management.

Bart's work life was full of pressing deadlines, challenges, and long hours. His personal life was even more stressful, as he was caring for aging parents, including his father who had Alzheimer’s. He was never off duty.

Bart had no safety valve to release his pent-up feelings. Years of holding in strong emotions had taken a toll on him. His stress hormones were playing havoc with his mind and body. Bart's fight-or-flight reaction put his system in overdrive and kept his motor racing.

This physiological response is designed to help us face a sudden need for extra energy. People like Bart, however, overuse their brain’s alarm system. While some stress hormones are helpful and may even save your life, the drip, drip, drip over time with no way to empty the build-up is hazardous to your health.

The gunning of Bart’s stress engine caused his pit crew of hormone chemicals—adrenaline and cortisol—from his adrenal glands, speeding up his heart rate, elevating his blood pressure, providing a surge of energy, and shooting up his blood sugar. Bart’s health suffered because his only forms of relaxation were overeating, drinking, and mindlessly watching TV.

Once Bart began practicing mindfulness, journal writing, and attending to his health, his symptoms dramatically improved. His brain's alarm system quieted down, his tension was lifted, and he felt more at peace.

Mindfulness and Stress-Related Health Symptoms

A study in Perspectives on Psychological Science identified four components of mindfulness that improve health:

  • Regulation of attention 
  • Body awareness
  • Self-awareness
  • Relation of emotion 

You, like Bart, can use these mindfulness components to support healing. Specifically, mindfulness can produce the following changes to your physical health:

  • Decrease your level of stress hormones
  • Change your brain structure so that you are less reactive
  • Enable you to sleep better
  • Lower your blood pressure
  • Support weight loss 

Mindfulness also positively influences your emotional well-being. With regular mindfulness practice, you can expect to experience:

  • Higher levels of self-awareness and self-compassion
  • Reduced "volume" of your racing thoughts
  • Increased bodily awareness and ability to monitor your health
  • Better coping skills to deal with personal and professional pressures
  • Improved ability to release emotions in a positive, constructive way

Your Turn

Close your eyes and go to a beautiful place in your mind; maybe the beach, maybe the mountains. Just be there. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. Allow yourself to feel a deeper sense of relaxation. Take seven deep breaths and feel your diaphragm rise.

Now, picture yourself beside a large body of water. Look around your feet and notice small stones. Take a moment to put a stone in your left hand and a stone in your right. What problems do these stones represent? When you are clear about the problem in your left hand, throw the stone in the water to suggest that your brain found ways to let go. Repeat with second stone. Once you have thrown both stones, take deep breaths, letting go of tensions.

Next, think about the health of your parents and family members. What connections do you see between good physical and mental health, and positive behaviors toward one another? Identify those habits you might need to change in order to have a healthy and lasting love.

Draw the following four-column chart on a sheet of paper,  then fill in the blanks as each column relates to you.
Health Effects
Harm to Health
Healthy Behaviors

 As an example, here is how Bart might expand upon one of his key behaviors, the inability to calm down:

Health Effects
Harm to Health
Healthy Behaviors
Inability to calm down
·       Chronic tension
·       High blood pressure
·       Increased blood sugar
·       Nervous tension
·       Weight problems
·       Sleep problems
·       Possible heart attack
·       Diabetes
·       Mindfulness practice
·       Express feelings in journal
·       Aerobic exercise

Review what you have written down. Do you need to:
  • Practice mindfulness? 
  • Change your lifestyle to one that is healthier? 
  • See a doctor, or maybe a therapist? 

Mindfulness is a powerful tool, and it can change your life for better. If you make and follow through on the commitment to practice it daily, it won't be long before you see the results in improved physical and emotional health. 

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