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Managing Stress During The Holiday Season

The holidays can be a time to take a breath, recharge, and reflect on the past twelve months. Ironically, though, the season can be the exact opposite for many people. According to a Healthline survey, 44% of people say that they are stressed during the holidays, with more than 18% reporting that they’re “very stressed.”1 Thankfully, there are ways to ease your stress through the holiday season. In this blog, we’ll explore how and why stress peaks during the holidays and some mindful ways you can reduce stress to be able to enjoy the season with calm and joy.

Exploring Holiday Stress

The American Psychological Association found that more people in the United States find their stress increases rather than decreases during the holiday season for a variety of reasons. Lack of money for gifts, lack of time to shop and cook, and the overwhelming commercialism and hype of the holiday season can all increase the amount of stress felt during the holidays.2

According to a recent survey of 2,000 adults that set out to explore stress and the holiday season, 77% of respondents said they have a hard time relaxing during the holidays and usually end up feeling more stressed and worn down than ever. 56% said that the extra financial strain brought on by the holidays is their biggest source of anxiety.3 

Others frequently mentioned that finding gifts for everyone (48%), stressful family events (35%), and putting up decorations (29%) led to their anxiety. All in all, 88% of respondents believe the holidays are the most stressful time of the year with 84% saying excessive feelings of stress start as early as November.4

Two in five respondents say they would rather stand in line at the DMV than deal with holiday stress. Similarly, one in five would rather sit beside a crying child on a long plane ride. Unfortunately, that stress makes it very difficult for many Americans to enjoy the holidays (49%); so much so that a third of respondents said they just don’t find happiness in the holidays anymore.5

Holiday Stress

Pictured: Holiday stress statistics    Source: SWNS Digital

Symptoms of Holiday Stress

For many individuals, the most common symptom of holiday stress is a persistent feeling of sadness that begins during or before the season. This recurring feeling may vary in duration and intensity with some feeling down periodically, but many claim they get small boosts of upbeat emotions throughout the season.

More signs of holiday stress may include:

  • Depressed or irritable mood
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Feeling tense, worried, or anxious
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Feeling more tired than usual

Holiday Stress vs. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Feeling stressed or upset during the holidays can also be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depressive disorder that occurs in seasonal patterns during certain months of the year. Holiday depression and SAD can be difficult to distinguish from one another, but the duration and severity of the symptoms are usually the clues.

Holiday Stress vs. SAD

Pictured: Holiday depression vs. SAD    source: Very Well Mind

If the holiday season passes and you’re still feeling depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional to determine if what you are experiencing is a more significant mood disorder. Your doctor can assess your symptoms and determine a treatment that’s right for you.

Mindful Tips to Beat Holiday Stress

It’s absolutely possible to not only survive the holiday season but to even thrive and connect to your particular observance in a deeper and more profound way. Here are some of the most common stressors that present themselves this time of the year, along with mindful antidotes to help you enjoy the season:

Overwhelming Time Demands

Around the holidays, your schedule most likely fills up quickly with work and personal get-togethers. These back-to-back parties can often feel overwhelming as you try to juggle them with all of your other commitments. Additionally, you may feel pressed for time as you try to plan a holiday experience your family and friends will love. After all, a lot goes into a party.

Antidote: Treat yourself. You don’t have to say yes to everything. In reality, giving and giving without stopping is not an altruistic notion. Becoming aware of when you need to refuel allows time to re-energize and re-center. Self-care matters; you can treat yourself to a simple bath and a night of delicious takeout to let the holiday stress fade away. 

Expectations of Holiday Perfection

While it’s nice to take the time to create an aesthetically pleasing holiday experience, it’s easy to get caught up in a trap of perfection. Not only does this mindset make the holidays less joyful, but it also can set you up to experience disappointment. It’s important to remember that nothing is perfect; coming to this realization, along with finding your way to deal with it, can determine your well-being.

Antidote: Reflect on the meaning of the holidays. It’s easy to get caught up in the commercial version of what the holiday season means in modern times, but taking the time to reflect on what matters, whether it be tradition, spirituality, or religion, can help you keep your perspective as the year draws to a close. 

Holiday Loneliness

The pressure to please the people you love with gifts during the holiday season is ever-present. Instead of a joyful endeavor, gift-giving can easily become a chore causing many to feel down if they don’t receive something equally meaningful. Additionally, pressure can also manifest as you long to spend the holidays with those you love, creating feelings of loneliness.

Antidote: Donate your time to help those less fortunate. The holidays are a great time to practice the art of compassion and to think of others’ needs ahead of your own. You can use the time to give to and establish meaningful connections with those who may not have as much as you. Giving doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical or monetary gift; it can come in many forms like spending quality time or even a heartfelt message saying ‘I’m thinking of you.’

Stress and Family Anxiety

Family stress shows up in many ways. While there might be real difficulties surrounding the interpersonal dynamics of your family, it’s easy to get caught up in fuelling the fire rather than abating it. Most of the stress and anxiety around family is often anticipatory and based on not-so-pleasant past experiences, combined with the upcoming mix of different personalities. 

Antidote: Engage in gratitude. Take the time to step back and regard all that you have. Gratitude goes a long way when it comes to overall wellness, so, while in the midst of the holiday season tumult, try to re-center by consciously being grateful for the multiple aspects of this season, along with the loved ones that you’re blessed with.

Destress With The Humanist Beauty Herban Wisdom® Facial Oil

With the holidays coming up, a lot of us are feeling more stress and sensitivity, and of course, the emotions we feel have a way of showing up on our skin. That’s why we handcrafted the Herban Wisdom® Facial Oil to feel like a soothing sanctuary for weary, worried, vulnerable skin. Just a few drops incorporated into your self-caring ritual helps visibly recharge skin to appear calm and balanced. Here’s to feeling better and holiday cheer! 

 

How do you practice mindfulness during the holidays? Let us know in the comments.

 

References:

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/what-stresses-us-most-at-the-holidays-113015#2 [1]

https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/holiday-stress.pdf [2]

https://studyfinds.org/jingle-bell-crock-88-of-americans-feel-the-holiday-season-is-most-stressful-time-of-year/ [3][4][5]

The Benefits of Journaling

From travel journals to dream and prayer journals, many people write down their thoughts to keep aspirations alive and moments concrete for manifestation and remembrance. Without diarists like Anne Frank and Samuel Pepys, we wouldn’t know much about the personal side of some great historical figures. Although people nowadays keep blogs or vlogs to record their lives on social media, very few of us jot in a journal or handwrite our experiences. Personal journals, which many believe to be a thing of the past, have a multitude of benefits for mental health and creativity. Let’s explore the reasons why keeping a journal can be beneficial for you and how you can begin your own journaling practice.

1.  Journaling Stretches Your IQ

While it’s a hot topic, there are strong cases to support journaling’s ability to increase your IQ. A report by the University of Victoria, for example, noted that “Writing as part of language learning has a positive correlation with intelligence.”1

Journaling is an exploration of language, so you’ll likely have the natural urge to search for new words and increase your vocabulary. The report from the University of Victoria goes on to say that one of the best single measures of overall IQ as measured by intelligence tests is vocabulary.2

A few tips to help stretch your IQ while journaling are:

  • Try exploring and writing about a new topic.
  • Challenge yourself to look up a new vocabulary word daily and use it in your writing.
  • Read a book or magazine you’ve never read and write about what you learned.

You can find out more about writing to boost your intelligence here.

2.  Journaling Reduces Stress

It’s been proven that an overabundance of stress can be damaging to your physical, mental, and emotional health.3 Journaling can be an incredible stress management tool by lessening the impact of the physical stressors you deal with daily.

A study administered by Cambridge found that expressive writing, such as journaling, was especially therapeutic and the participants who wrote about traumatic, stressful, or emotional events were significantly less likely to get sick and less seriously affected by trauma.4 Additionally, James W. Pennebaker, a lead researcher on expressive writing at the University of Texas and the author of Writing to Heal, has found that when we translate a stressful experience or secret into language by writing it down, we essentially make the experience graspable.5

A few journaling prompts to reduce stress are:

  • Right now, I feel challenged by ______. However, I feel supported by ______.
  • What can I do at this moment to bring more peace into my being?
  • What are some accomplishments and victories of today?
  • If you could choose any place or scenario (real or imaginary) to place yourself in right now for your comfort and relaxation, where would it be? Describe it in as much detail as possible.
  • What fears am I holding onto that are no longer serving me? How can I release these?

You can find more prompts to bring peace into your being here.

3.  Journaling Improves Communication Skills

Putting your thoughts to paper forces you to articulate your ideas and, in turn, find words that express those ideas accurately and concisely. Additionally, since journaling is more free-flowing than writing an essay or job report, it will allow you to better express your emotions, no matter what the emotion may be. Since you’re writing in a judgment-free zone with a less formal structure, you’ll most likely explore new areas of expressiveness.

According to a Stanford report, writing has critical connections to speaking.6 Journaling is a form of written communication, albeit to oneself. However, the subvocalization of tracing your written thoughts naturally translates into actual vocalization.

A few journaling prompts to improve your communication skills are:

  • List three people who you think have excellent communication skills. What about them do you admire?
  • How do you communicate?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your communication skills? What are your strengths? What are some areas that might need a little improvement?
  • How does your self-confidence impact your communication?
  • How can you improve your active listening skills?

You can find more tips and prompts to help you enhance your communication skills here.

4.  Journaling Promotes Healing

Science has proven that expressive writing is a route to healing emotionally, physically, and psychologically. James W. Pennebaker has seen improved immune function and a reduction of yearly doctor visits due to writing. Additionally, writing about trauma can be a potent and low-cost method of relieving pain and symptoms of chronic illnesses.7

In a study from 2013, researchers in New Zealand found that 76% of adults who spent 20 minutes writing about their thoughts and feelings for three consecutive days two weeks before a medically necessary biopsy were fully healed 11 days later. Plus, expressive writing for 15 to 20 minutes a day three to five times throughout a four-month period was enough to lower blood pressure and have better liver functionality.8

A few journaling prompts to promote the healing of your mind, body, and soul are:

  • What can I do to make a positive difference in my life?
  • Have a conversation with your body to understand any illnesses or pain you are currently experiencing.
  • What do you need to let go of that you have no control over?
  • Is there an experience inside your head that won’t seem to go away? What is it? Why does it haunt you?
  • If you are struggling, write a letter to a loved one.

You can find more tips and prompts for holistic healing here.

5.  Journaling Boosts Self-Confidence

Journaling is a powerful tool for reversing feelings of low self-worth. If you struggle with negative beliefs about yourself, reading about positive experiences that you previously journaled allows your brain to relive them and reaffirms your abilities when self-doubt appears. These reflections can become a catalog of personal achievements that you continue to go back to. Studies have shown that by reading happy entries, your body will naturally release endorphins and dopamine, which can boost your self-esteem and mood.9

It’s human nature to focus on our weaknesses while downplaying our strengths. It’s hard to be objective, which is why a journal is helpful. When journaling, try to remember that the small things matter. List your good qualities and try to use positive adjectives. Show yourself love and write about yourself in the same way you might describe a best friend or loved one.

A few journaling prompts to boost self-confidence are:

  • What is the best compliment you’ve been given?
  • Name 5 things you did right today, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
  • Write about a time you were recognized for your accomplishments at work or school.
  • CONFIDENCE: Write what this word means to you. How can you improve your confidence?
  • List 5 things you’re most grateful for in your life today.

You can find more prompts to promote self-confidence and self-love here.

6.  Journaling Sparks Creativity

The act of writing itself stimulates the imagination. When you formulate or express ideas on paper it automatically releases your proverbial creative juices. Writing regularly helps you learn to process and communicate complex information while at the same time allowing you to brainstorm new ideas.

You can journal about anything important to you without being judged or critiqued. It’s a stream-of-consciousness exercise that in itself is a form of creativity. Because you’re exploring your thoughts, feelings, and emotions in an unfiltered manner, you can sometimes find answers to very deep questions and then become inspired to explore those revelations further.

A few journaling prompts to spark your creativity are:

  • If you could invent something to make your life easier, how would it work and what would it do?
  • The next time you’re out, pay attention to the nametags of people working in stores or restaurants. Write an imagined life for one or more of them.
  • Write about a treasured memory and what makes it so special.
  • What does love look like? What does it feel like?
  • What question would you most like to know the answer to?

You can find more prompts to help stimulate your creativity here.

How to Start Your Journaling Practice

Starting a journal can seem intimidating at first. Like any other new ritual, it can take a while before it becomes a natural part of your life.

Here are some tips to help you start and keep a journal.

  • Find the journaling techniques that work for you. Many people recognize the additional benefits of physically hand-writing entries; however, if you feel more comfortable starting with a keyboard, you can type up your journal on your computer or phone, then transcribe to hand-written entries in smaller sessions.
  • Let go of judgments (write for your eyes only). When you’re writing, it’s important to feel the uninhibited freedom of whatever is on your mind. Practice self-compassion and leave your inner critic at the door. Journaling is a judgment-free zone. Be yourself and write what you feel.
  • Be realistic with your expectations. When you first begin journaling, don’t expect to write pages upon pages filled with insightful thoughts. Having unrealistic expectations can discourage you from continuing your journaling practice if you don’t immediately see progress. Like any other habit, set realistic goals and take baby steps toward results.
  • Create a writing routine. Creating a writing routine and scheduling journaling time can help you stay on track, even on days when you’re feeling uninspired. For example, you can set time aside every morning after breakfast or every evening before bed, even if it’s just for five to ten minutes. This time blocking method allows you to prioritize journaling and incorporate it into your schedule.
  • Journal about anything that comes to mind. When it comes to what you want to write about, the possibilities are limitless. You can write about your day, your thoughts and emotions, or something that inspired you. You can also use it as an outlet to release heavy emotions like anger, frustration, or sadness. Putting these feelings down on paper can free you from having them lingering in your mind.

Different Types of Journals to Consider

There are many different types of journals; for example, you could have a wine journal, a plant journal, or an anything-goes doodle journal. The key is that there is no right or wrong subject ma when it comes to journaling. You can have several journals going at one time, or you can have one for all subjects. Anything goes.

If you’re having trouble making a selection, here are a few types of journals you can start to begin your journey:

  • Gratitude Journal: Taking note of what you’re thankful for is a great journal to have. Each night before bed, try thinking of three things you’re thankful for instead of your stresses, worries, and concerns. Jotting down a few notes every night before bed is a great way to reflect on positivity, and it also enables you to revisit these thoughts later on.
  • Dream Journal: Dreams can be powerful, peculiar, happy, sad, and everything in between, but most people tend to forget them after a few hours. Getting in the habit of writing down your dreams each morning gives them significance and is a great way to start the day.
  • Hobby Journal: Try writing about a hobby that you’re passionate about. You can add in new projects, challenges, and things you’ve learned. If you have more than one hobby, try splitting the journal into different sections. You can write about what you’re working on that day and keep them in different tabs rather than worrying about chronology. Do what works for you.
  • Personal Journal: These types of journals are usually known as a diary. However, with a personal journal, the possibilities are endless. Try writing about your day, what made you happy, what made you sad, what made you angry, and anything else that’s on your mind. Journaling for a few minutes every night is a great way to reflect and release some of your inner monologues.
  • Travel Journal: A travel journal can be a collection of all sorts of things – photos, postcards, receipts, ticket stubs, and notes of where you’ve been and where you aspire to be. Traveling is a great way to experience new cities, sights, sounds, and cultures, and by documenting these new experiences, you’ll remember them in greater detail later on.

Do you have a journal or a topic you enjoy writing about? Let us know in the comments!

 

References:

https://journals.uvic.ca/index.php/WPLC/article/download/5160/2132 [1][2]

https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#1 [3]

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/advances-in-psychiatric-treatment/article/emotional-and-physical-health-benefits-of-expressive-writing/ED2976A61F5DE56B46F07A1CE9EA9F9F [4]

https://www.mic.com/impact/science-shows-something-surprising-about-people-who-still-journal-16207322#.n0QO5ApTN [5]

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/00346543066001053 [6]

https://www.apa.org/monitor/jun02/writing [7]

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/writing-can-help-injuries-heal-faster/ [8]

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/earn/boost-these-hormones-to-succeed-as-a-leader-at-work/articleshow/66988190.cms?from=mdr#:~:text=DOSE%E2%80%94Dopamine%2C%https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-healthy-type/ [9]

What Is Mirror Gazing?

We often associate staring into a mirror for long periods of time with vanity and narcissism or flaw-finding and self-criticism. But learning how to get comfortable with your reflection can actually be good for you. Mirror gazing, a form of meditation, is a simple concept that involves spending purposeful time in front of a mirror to literally self-reflect. Though simple in concept, mirror gazing is a powerful health and wellness tool that can renew one’s sense of self and improve self-image.

Mirror Gazing Differs From Other Meditative Practices

As a meditative practice, mirror gazing is not far removed from other mindfulness exercises. Like other meditations, it can guide you to be more conscious of the present moment, enhance relaxation, and ground you in calmness amid the various stressors of the day. The main differences that set mirror gazing apart from other meditation practices are the use of a mirror and the focus on outer self as a portal of better awareness to your inner thoughts and feelings. Your gaze becomes the focus of your practice.

The Benefits of Mirror Gazing

Mirror gazing isn’t just checking your reflection to see how you look. It’s an opportunity to build a spiritual connection with the person you see in the mirror. The practice can at first be quite uncomfortable, particularly if self-esteem has been tied to aspects of your physical being. But as a new form of healing, over time, mirror gazing can help mend misconceptions you may hold deep within. This simple yet powerful practice has been shown to offer a multitude of benefits including increased confidence, improved mental health, healthier self-image, increased compassion, better stress management, improved relationships, and enhanced emotional resilience.

Increased Confidence

Mirror gazing engages you to look past mere surface flaws to recognize the profound beauty and true miracle that is your whole embodiment. Focusing solely on yourself quietly with no distractions for a few intimate moments helps you notice your inner voice more clearly. Noticing any negative self-talk and mindfully transitioning toward more positive self-talk each day is a significant step toward greater self-confidence.

Similarly, when you sit with yourself as your own best friend during a mirror gazing meditation, you can single out your favorite features, traits, and attributes and show them love and appreciation. By acknowledging yourself, complimenting yourself, and cherishing yourself, you can begin to grow more confident in your own skin.

Authenticity and Emotional Awareness

Emotions commonly show themselves on your face, but research shows that you also carry emotions elsewhere in your body. For example, distress may be evident by the slouch of your shoulders. Insecurity may be revealed by your inability to meet your gaze in the mirror. Looking at yourself intentionally, though, helps you to practice authenticity and emotional awareness. You can’t run away from the things that are troubling you, so mirror gazing offers a chance to confront them instead.

Noting how emotions shift across your face and show with your body language can help you take stock of your present state of mind, especially those hiding behind false fronts of cheer and calmness. As you fully open yourself up to what comes, find relaxation in the experience instead of fighting it. You may find that sitting with your reflection can help dull the edges of the sharpest pains that accompany distress, making them easier to bear. Learning to understand and accept all your emotions can also facilitate better communication with others.

Greater Self Compassion and Love

Looking at yourself in the mirror might make you feel uncomfortable when your reflection reminds you of imperfections and weaknesses. Mirror gazing, though, can help you embrace a more realistic, forgiving perspective. Sure, you have a few flaws, but who doesn’t? These characteristics that you perceive as less-than-perfect may make you feel like they are staring back at you with disdain. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t worthy of love – especially your own love.

People often avoid thinking about mistakes they’ve made or wish they could alter aspects of themselves that they consider flawed. But in the mirror, you can’t turn away from the parts of yourself and your reflection that you view as imperfect; instead, you have to acknowledge them. The compassionate acknowledgment of your unique self can help disrupt feelings of shame or your own unworthiness. Pushing back negative thoughts that spring up like weeds can, in turn, allow self-acceptance and self-love to bloom.

Studies on Mirror Gazing

Mirror gazing is a relatively new meditative technique that is gaining broader awareness due to research showing benefits of improved mental well-being. Here is a glimpse at two studies that have been conducted to show the incredible power that mirror gazing wields.

Professor Tara Well of Columbia University

Professor Tara Well, a research scientist at Barnard College, Columbia University, discovered mirror gazing for herself before she developed research in the mirror gazing field and began spreading the word through lectures, courses, and Ted Talks. She conducted an experiment where participants were simply asked to mirror gaze for a length of time.

The results were clear on one thing: all participants benefited in one way or another. Many found reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. She also found that the women in the study started to focus less on appearance and more on how they were feeling. This led to self-resilience and a better connection with themselves. 1,2

You can view one of Tara’s Ted Talks here to learn more about her research and what mirror gazing can teach you.

Professor Nicola Petrocchi of La Sapienza University

A 2016 study conducted by Nicola Petrocchi from La Sapienza University in Rome focused on self-soothing while looking at oneself in the mirror. 86 participants were asked to write down words they’d use to console a friend in despair. Afterward, they were invited to apply these very phrases on themselves while looking at their reflection in a mirror. Nicola found that the heart frequency observed under these conditions was similar to the frequency found when we’re feeling compassion toward others.3

This experiment shows that a mirror is a prop that possesses the power to make us feel genuine empathy towards ourselves in the same way we do for others. Our physical response moves us to love ourselves and practicing mirror gazing can unlock great potential for all-around good health and positivity.

A Mirror Gazing Meditation Technique

If you’ve grown up with an inner voice that’s been less than kind, mirror gazing meditation can help release self-criticism, serving to replace it with self-love, self-compassion, and self-confidence. Practicing just 5-10 minutes a day of self-reflection (figuratively and literally) can be a therapeutic outlet to support mental and emotional well-being.

Here’s how to practice mirror gazing meditation:

  1. Set the Space and Intention
    Choose a quiet, well-lit, private place. Sit comfortably on a chair or cushion. Position your mirror so you can see directly into your eyes. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes. Have no goal other than to sit with yourself in peace.
  2. Tune Into Your Breathing
    Close your eyes and slow your breathing. Take several deep belly breaths, allowing yourself to inhale, hold, and then slowly exhale. As your body relaxes, let yourself breathe naturally. Turn your attention to any tense spots in your body. Visualize that tension slowly dissolving with each breath.
  3. Begin to Gaze Into Your Eyes
    Open your eyes and look into the mirror. Notice if your breathing changes when your first look at yourself. Come back to full steady breathing. Consider the message in your eyes. Is it judgmental or kind? Do you immediately focus on something specific you dislike about yourself? Visualize each slow breath dissolving any dislike that arises.
  4. Observe Your Inner Critic
    Notice your thoughts as you continue to gaze. What comes to mind? Do flaws come more readily into focus than praise? Do you feel emotions, self-disdain, or self-adoration? As every thought comes up, observe it, and breathe it away. Notice how emotions move across your face. What does judgment look like? Anger? Fear? Acceptance? Love?
  5. Notice Where Your Attention Flows
    Continue gazing at your reflection, staying open to whatever arises. Notice any sensations or emotions that come up and allow them to simply be there without judgment. Let your feelings and thoughts simply pass by as you breathe, relax your body, and gaze at yourself.
  6. Practice Self-Kindness
    Close with affirmations of kindness and set an intention to fall in love with yourself a little more each day. Breathe into the energy of your light, that inner beauty that shines so brightly for the world to see. Exhale, and thank yourself for spending precious moments of self-care with your reflection.

The Humanist Beauty Self Reflecting Mirror

Every time you glance at your reflection, be greeted with a friendly reminder that you are a beautiful human. The new Humanist Beauty Self Reflecting Mirror is perfect for your mirror gazing meditation practice. The mirror measures 5w” x 7h” and comes with a double-sided engraved wooden base. Perfect for your desktop, tabletop, bookshelf, or windowsill, so you can mirror gaze anytime, anywhere. It makes a great gift and is made in the USA.

Self Reflecting Mirror

You can shop the Humanist Beauty Self Reflecting Mirror here.

 

References:

https://barnard.edu/news/prof-tara-well-shares-expertise-mirror-meditation [1]

https://www.deansignori.com/mirror-gazing/ [2]

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305317589_Compassion_at_the_mirror_Exposure_to_a_mirror_increases_the_efficacy_of_a_self-compassion_manipulation_in_enhancing_soothing_positive_affect_and_heart_rate_variability [3]

The Benefits of Breathwork

Breathwork is a term to describe any type of therapy that utilizes breathing exercises to improve spiritual, physical, and mental health. There are many forms of breathwork used today, and each one employs unique breathing techniques for healing purposes. Breathwork draws from Eastern practices like yoga and Tai Chi, while also incorporating methods from Western psychotherapy.

Typically, breathwork techniques are used to calm your mind, reduce stress, bring clarity and inspiration, and energize your body.1 The practice of breathwork gives your brain’s executive functioning system something to focus on, so you can bypass the mental levels of consciousness and drop into a deeper state of consciousness. This deeper state is where spirit, love, and healing reside. Unlike meditation, breathwork takes you to this place very quickly.2

The History of Breathwork

Breathwork has been practiced in ancient traditions for thousands of years. The word “breath” and “spirit” even share the same origin in many languages. Breathwork practices can be found in many breath-centered meditations in Buddhism and Pranayamas in Yogic practices. Additionally, breathwork was used in Taoism, Hinduism, Christianity, Qigong, Shamanism, Sufism, and martial arts.3 The majority of these religions and cultures used breathwork for the same reasons as we do today – to alter consciousness for healing, self-discovery, and spiritual purposes.

Modern breathwork was mostly forgotten by Westerners during civilization, but it reemerged in the 1960s thanks to four people: Stanislav and Christine Grof, Leonard Orr, and Sondra Ray. These four individuals created the two original branches of modern-day breathwork known as Holotropic and Rebirthing. Since their creation, many offshoots have been born.

In the 1970s, the popularity of breathwork waned, but in the past five years, it has begun to resurface with a bang. Today, there are more than 50 types of breathwork, all distinct from each other. Some types last 2 minutes, while others last 2 hours. However, they all have one thing in common, which is the focus on conscious breathing in a non-regular pattern to alter the mind-body emotional state.4

The Benefits of Breathwork For Your Health

Deep breathing has many health benefits. Even a few deep breaths a day can lower blood pressure and cortisol levels and increase parasympathetic tone; however, breathwork is very different.5 Breathwork practices can exert even more impressive effects on the body while working differently and oppositely.

Here’s the science behind the magic of breathwork:

  • Alkalizes your blood pH by causing a shift in blood pH following hyperventilation, which is called respiratory alkalosis. We take in oxygen with every inhale, and we release carbon dioxide (CO2) with every exhale. But when we take faster breaths, we rid the body of more CO2. Considering that CO2 is an acidic molecule, hyperventilation reduces acid levels in the blood, resulting in a higher, more alkaline pH.
  • Increases muscle tone due to blood alkalinity. Calcium ions that are floating in the blood bind onto large proteins known as albumin. This starts an increased firing in sensory and motor neurons due to the low-calcium state. The low blood calcium now presents itself in the neurological system as tingling sensations, smooth muscle contractions, and increased muscle tone.6
  • Elevates your mood through hyperventilation and respiratory alkalosis causing a “high” feeling that many people report experiencing during breathwork. It triggers the Bohr Effect, which is when blood pH reduces oxygen delivery to tissues. One minute of hyperventilation causes the blood vessels in the brain to constrict, which reduces blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain by 40%. This could be responsible for the deep feeling of well-being.
  • Breathwork has an anti-inflammatory effect due to neurons in the nervous system firing more often during hyperventilation, which releases epinephrine (“adrenaline”). In a 2014 study, Yale Music School found that the adrenaline surge causes the innate immune system to increase its anti-inflammatory activity and dampen its proinflammatory activity.7

Conditions That Can Benefit from Breathwork

The benefits of breathwork can include everything from improved immune function to metabolic functioning, stress management, emotional regulation, and improved quality of life. However, it has been used to aid the following conditions:

  • Asthma
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Anger issues
  • Depression
  • Labor pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Grief and loss
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

While breathwork is exceptional at treating many conditions, it is also nourishing for those who are already feeling healthy and well. Learning to master the breath can help enhance feelings of love, gratitude, clarity, peace, connection, and insights. As such, breathwork can be a great addition to anyone’s daily routine.

Types of Breathwork

There are many different breathwork modalities, many with similar foundations. Here are a few of the most well-known types of breathwork:

  • Holotropic Breathwork: Stanislav Grof, MD, Ph.D. and his wife, Christina Grof, Ph.D. created this form of breathwork after LSD became illegal in the late 1960s. Dr. Grof had been experimenting with LSD and altered states of consciousness, which led him to the creation of Holotropic Breathwork.8 Benefits include stress relief, personal growth, and increased self-awareness.
  • Rebirthing Breathwork: This form of breathwork was created by Leonard Orr. He gave it the name “rebirthing” because, in his first experience with conscious connected breathing, he experienced memories of his birth.9 Rebirthing breathwork has been known to cause increased creativity and inspirational ideas, along with a sense of clarity.
  • Clarity Breathwork: Dana Dharma and Ashanna Solaris co-founded Clarity Breathwork. Dharma and Solaris are both long-standing breathworkers who bring the energy of the feminine to their training and sessions.10 Clarity Breathwork is similar to Rebirthing Breathwork in that the conscious connected breathing is done laying down for an hour, and additionally, the two have the same benefits.
  • Biodynamic Breathwork: This practice was created by a Licensed Massage Therapist named Giten Tonkov. Biodynamic Breathwork blends deep, connected breathing with movement conscious touch, meditation, emotional release, and body awareness techniques.11 It’s said that Biodynamic Breathwork results in the release of long-held trauma in the brain and body.
  • Transformational Breathwork: Judith Kravitz founded Transformational Breathwork in the mid-70s to release trauma experienced during birth. Most sessions include stomping your feet with your hands on the floor while breathing to release energy.12 The benefits of Transformational Breathwork are similar to Rebirthing, but with the added intention of deepening your connection to your spiritual source. 
  • The Wim Hof Method: This method was invented by the man of the same name, famously known as “The Ice Man.” His breathwork method actively uses conscious breathing as preparation to immerse yourself in ice water for around 3 minutes.13 This is said to increase immune system strength and energy, decrease stress, reduce inflammation of the body, and balance hormone levels.

DIY Beginner Breathwork Techniques

Breathwork is an active form of meditation that can allow you to disconnect from your mind and be guided by your heart and body. As you breathe out, you’ll be working to rid yourself of beliefs, thoughts, and actions that don’t support your personal growth. You’ll be striving towards wholeness and a better ability to handle stress, anxiety, and trauma. There are many breathwork techniques out there, and each one has a unique purpose and effect on the body.

After speaking with your practitioner to ensure that breathwork is right for you, you can try these three beginner techniques:

The 4-7-8

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or having trouble sleeping, give the 4-7-8 breathwork technique a shot. The 4-7-8 will slow the heart rate, bring your consciousness to the present moment, slow the nervous system, and bring forth a feeling of peace.

How to do it: Empty the lungs of air, inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, exhale out of your mouth for 8 seconds, and repeat 4 times. As you put this technique to action, try envisioning your chakras at the center of your body pulling any energy or thoughts that do not serve you well.

The 5-5

Give the 5-5 breathwork technique a go when you’re getting worked up. It can help give you a sense of calmness, and it can be practiced throughout the day. Our natural tendency is to breathe at a rate of 2 to 3 seconds per minute.14 However, the 5-5, or also known as Coherent Breathing, is a conscious breathing practice that aims to slow down your breathing to 4 seconds and then 5 seconds.

How to do it: Focus on the natural rhythm of your breathing to measure out how long your inhales and exhales are. For 1 minute, breathe in for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds. Repeat for 5 seconds, then 6 seconds. If you feel the need, you can continue doing this for up to 10 seconds. Begin with practicing this technique for 5 minutes. However, you can gradually increase this time to around 20 minutes.

The 4-4-4-4

For an energy boost or to reduce stress, try the 4-4-4-4, which is also called Box Breathing or Square Breathing. This technique comes from the Navy Seal and is used to eliminate any stress plaguing their minds and bodies. The 4-4-4-4 slows the heart rate and deepens concentration. It’s best to practice the 4-4-4-4 method in the morning to wake up fully, during the day if you’re feeling rundown, or before a big event that requires your focus.

How to do it: Start by releasing all of the air from your lungs, hold your breath for 4 seconds, then breathe through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath again for 4 seconds, and exhale once again for 4 seconds. Repeat these steps for 5 minutes to reap their benefits.

Seek a Professional’s Recommendation

The risks of breathwork are quite low, but it’s important to always seek a professional’s advice before taking part in any kind of breathwork technique.

Breathwork may not be recommended for those with:

  • Cardiovascular issues
  • High blood pressure
  • Respiratory issues
  • Osteoporosis
  • Psychiatric symptoms
  • A history of aneurysms

It’s also not advised to practice breathwork if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have physical injuries, or have recently undergone surgery. Additionally, with breathwork, there’s a risk that hyperventilation can lead to reduced blood flow, dizziness, and an increase in the chance of heart palpitations.

The use of a reputable medical professional, guide, or teacher can help reduce any risks associated with breathwork.

Tell us – have you tried breathwork before? If so, what techniques?

References:

http://www.philadelphiarebirthing.com/articles/ [1]

https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=NtVEEJwgZ5IC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=breathwork+and+consciousness&ots=zY40JXb_S2&sig=QeFlNAl1EUij0TJcDtco-ZiaJ08#v=onepage&q=breathwork%20and%20consciousness&f=false [2]

https://www.beforenoon.co/blogs/news/guide-to-common-terminology [3]

https://sophia.stkate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1000&context=ma_hhs [4]

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455070/ [5]

https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/hormonal-and-metabolic-disorders/electrolyte-balance/hypocalcemia-low-level-of-calcium-in-the-blood [6]

https://drruscio.com/breathwork-techniques-reduce-stress-improve-cognition/ [7]

http://www.stangrof.com/ [8]

https://www.healthline.com/health/rebirthing#:~:text=A%20new%20age%20spiritual%20guru,of%20therapy%20that%20simulate%20birth. [9]

https://claritybreathwork.com/about-dana-and-ashanna/ [10]

https://www.biodynamicbreath.com/about/breathwork-trauma-release-and-healing/ [11]

https://www.transformationalbreath.com/breathwork.aspx [12]

https://www.wimhofmethod.com/ [13]

https://www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-coherent-breathing-4178943 [14]

What is a Sound Bath?

As we dive into new seasons for renewal and fresh starts, many of us would like to wash away aspects of our psyches that do not serve us. If you are looking for new methods to enhance your wellbeing in the new year, consider a sound bath.

Natural Sound Healing

The practice of sound therapy is as old as nature itself. Listening to natural sounds like the wind blowing, birds singing, leaves rustling, or water flowing can work wonders to lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. More organized forms of sound healing such as music therapy dates back 40,000 years to when the Ancient Greeks played flutes, lyres and zitters to heal patients of digestion, mental and sleep disturbances. A sound bath is uniquely different from both. It is an immersive auditory healing session that is intended to help ‘cleanse the soul’ using sonic vibration and frequency.

Ancient Healing

In 500 BC, Pythagoras wrote, “Each celestial body, in fact each and every atom, produces a particular sound on account of its movement, its rhythm or vibration. All these sounds and vibrations form a universal harmony in which each element, while having its own function and character, contributes to the whole.” Even though many frequencies are too low to be heard by the human ear, we do have the technology to record them, and the frequencies for every healthy tissue, organ and bone in the human body has in fact been documented. So, when a body is healthy, it hums like a well-oiled machine. When it is not, the theory is that sound is one method that can be used to restore the body back to balance.

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” – Nikola Tesla

Sound Bath Instruments

Employing such instruments as singing bowls, chimes, gongs, didgeridoos, and tuning forks, sound bath practitioners will envelop their subjects with sound to induce a more meditative state. Once in this state, the subject may be able to experience mental and emotional blockage clearing, relaxation, restoration, even physical healing.

How Sound Baths Work

During a sound bath, sonic energy vibrates through both the ears and the body. The experience is heard, felt and perceived. In some cases, sounds are soft, ethereal, calming, and soothing. In other cases, sounds are sinister, threatening, thunderous and cacophonous. Depending on the type of healing you are looking for, you will want to be choiceful in selecting the type of sound bath best suited for your desired benefit.

Clinical Proof Sound Baths Work

study from 2016 found that people reported significantly less tension, anger, fatigue and depression after doing sound meditation with a Tibetan singing bowl. Feelings of spiritual well-being also increased, and the effects were most notable among people who had never tried sound therapy or singing bowls before.

There’s also evidence that the singing bowls can lower blood pressure and heart rate due to the fact that certain sounds activate the parasympathetic nervous system — the part of the body that regulates rest —which is what induces muscles to relax, breathing to slow, blood pressure to decrease, and heart rate to lower.

My Own Experience Attending Sound Baths

Traditional Sound Baths

I have had the opportunity to attend many sound baths over the past several years. The most common type of sound bath I have experienced is for the practitioner to use crystal bowls to emanate a fluid set of tones. The sound may hold steady, ebb and flow, or undulate, depending on the intuition and intention of the session. There is much improvisation, bringing in other instruments to orchestrate various tones, strikes, crescendos and waveforms, creating a symphony of sound for the subjects. Practitioners may also align sound bath sessions to chakra therapy. For example, a grounding session is tuned to the note of C which aligns with the root chakra; a relationship healing session is tuned to the note of F which aligns with the heart chakra.

Gong Baths

Last year while in Singapore attending the Global Wellness Summit, I had the opportunity to attend two gong bath sessions, both which were incredibly cathartic. The gong therapist, Martha Collard, Founder of Red Doors Studio in Hong Kong, found her calling in serving others through ancient intuitive healing arts. I recall Martha explaining her first-hand experience with the gong’s extraordinary power to exorcise toxicity, blockages, and maladies from the human body, as if the sound would penetrate, latch, dissolve and dissipate the unwanted entities.

“The sound of a meditation gong induces a state of spontaneous meditation and relaxation, which facilitates the movement of chi or prana (positive life force) throughout the body,” notes gong teacher Mehtab Benton. “On a physical level, the vibrations eliminate tension, stimulate the circulation and glandular systems, and regenerate the parasympathetic nervous system. Listeners experience a sense of connectedness and peace. They are lulled from a Beta, or awake state, into a Theta, or lucid dream state; a state that allows our bodies to heal and rejuvenate. The sound waves gently clear blockages to restore inner harmony.” In my experience, the energy I felt from the gong’s vibration felt so powerful in each session, that my whole body felt like it was reverberating even hours later. It was if I had been lifted into a different dimension, one that felt lighter, airier, and freer.

What To Expect During a Sound Bath

When attending a sound bath in person, it is customary to be lying down flat on ones back with your head facing toward the sound source. Blankets, pillows, sheepskins or other comfort objects may be used. Lighting is often soft or dim. An eye mask is helpful for inward focus. Concentrating on the breath, letting go of the mind, and staying present in the moment without drifting into sleep help activate the therapeutic benefits.

Many people feel an immediate sense of stress relief, anxiety reduction and relaxation during a sound bath. Others feel overtaken by emotion and even cry. A sound bath is best not be used as a sole solution for healing. Rather, it is best used as a compliment to other modalities of healing.  Consult a physician before attending a sound bath if you have any head trauma such as a concussion or chronic migraines. When arising from a sound bath, it is typical to feel hyper-sensitive. Gentle movements, low sounds and light may help ease reintegration. Replenishing hydration, minimizing stimulation, and engendering gratitude help to perpetuate the work that has been started.

Virtual Sound Baths

Attending a live concert is a far better experience than listening or watching one online. Similarly, attending a live sound bath is a far richer an experience than listening or watching one online. That being said, there are many sound bath videos on YouTube that can give you a sample of what they’re like.

Have you attended a live sound bath before? If so, what was your experience? If not, would you try it? Let us know what you think!

A Moment for Meditation

Meditation Benefits

Magic happens when we meditate. Clearing the mind, calming the body, and focusing on the present moment while breathing intentionally has not only been proven to support physical health benefits, it also helps create space for you to receive important messages from the universe. Sitting in stillness opens up a portal to awareness so that you can learn more about yourself, uncover answers to challenging problems you’re facing, or shine light on ways forward that may have otherwise been blocked by the freneticism of the day. A moment of calm, absent of worry, cares or commitment, ignites a deeper sense of gratitude for the here and the now. Meditation assists in calming stress, balancing the emotions, uplifting health. It has been discovered to be an integral part of well being.

Going Inward for Life’s Answers

So many times we look externally for support. We disempower ourselves, seeking cues and guidance from others, forgetting that most of the answers can be found within us. Meditation allows us to access the core of our beings. It helps prevent us from getting tossed around by the opinions of those that may not have our best interest at heart and confusion of mixed messages. Going inward simultaneously allows us to take back control internally and release the need to control externally.

Beginner Meditation Tips

“I just can’t meditate,” “I don’t have time to meditate,” “I can’t sit still long enough to meditate,”… There are so many stories we tell ourselves about why we can’t take quiet moments for ourselves. We make the same excuses for exercising or eating healthfully. Truth is, you don’t have to meditate for long perods of time for meditation to have a positive impact on your life. One minute, five minutes, ten minutes…it really doesn’t matter, so long as you are able to consistently incorporate these moments of mindfulness into your life. There are no real mandates for meditating other than clearing your mind and focusing on your breath. Here are some tips to help you sink deeper faster into a meditative state:

Commit To It

Schedule a time and set an alarm for meditation. Make it short enough that you’ll be able to do it easily every day. For example, when you wake up, before you shower, as your coffee is brewing, or before bed. Do your best to honor the time you set.

Meditate Alone

Because you subconsciously pick up energy from others, it’s a good idea to meditate in solitude. If that’s impossible or uncomfortable for you, at least meditate with others that are willing to be quiet and still for the duration of your meditation.

Close Your Eyes

Avoid visual distraction by closing your eyes and turning them inward and upward, as if you are gazing at the point directly between your eyebrows. This is where your third eye resides, the portal to your consciousness.

Dim the Lights

Even with your eyes closed, light can enter through your eyelids and potentially distract you. It’s a good idea to keep the lights dim, but not completely off. You want to be aware and conscious, not asleep and unconscious.

Curate Sound

Some find it difficult to meditate in total silence. If that’s the case, consider trying some white noise or binaural beats to lull your brainwaves into alpha and theta. Ocean sounds, singing bowls, even an air conditioner or ceiling fan have been known to help.

Sit Comfortably

I don’t recommend laying down if you’re just starting to learn how to meditate. You don’t want to risk falling asleep. Take a comfortable seated position. Try keeping your feet planted on the floor and rest your hands comfortably in your lap. Keep your back straight. You can keep your head straight so the crown of your head is pointing directly upward toward the sky, or tilt your head slightly forward with your your chin tipped down slightly.

Breathe Intentionally

You can take long, sweeping breaths, you can hold your breath, you can count your breath. There’s no right or wrong way to use your breath, so long as you are intentional in your breathing.

Don’t Judge

If your mind wanders, just notice it, and then come back to focusing on your breath. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t stay focused. It will come with practice.

Practice Makes Purpose

We’re all familiar with the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’, but that phrase doesn’t necessarily apply to meditation. Meditation is indeed a practice, and the more you engage in the practice, the better you may become at more quickly arriving into a meditative state and going deeper faster. However, meditation is not a goal. It’s not an art nor a science that demands perfection. Rather, it is an insightful, lifelong exploration. The consistent, mindful practice of meditation and tapping into consciousness can help lead you to greater awareness of your purpose. Becoming aware of who you are – recognizing the separation between yourself, your thoughts, and your body, is profound. You realize that you are not your body and you are not your thoughts. You are the awareness of your body and your thoughts. You have been gifted a mind that connects to your higher source and your surroundings and your significance in the universe. You absorb, reflect, assimilate and interpret the importance of your place in the world. When it comes to meditation, I believe practice makes purpose.

Create Your Own Meditation Ritual

When you start becoming more engaged in your meditation practice, you may opt to explore new methods and modalities or even create your own ritual. It’s completely up to you. Some like to meditate in silence. Others prefer chanting or incorporating mantras. Some try different body and hand positions (mudras). Others try guided visualizations or even walking meditations. There are endless possibilities. Make meditation your own sacred ritual. Strive to take time for yourself every day to gather yourself in a state of calm and peace.

Or Try This Meditation Today

Here’s a guided visualization meditation that was taught to me by Jerry Seargent that I very much enjoy. To enhance your meditative state, I recommend applying a few drops of Herban Wisdom™ Facial Oil to your skin. The essential oil notes from Frankincense, Blue Tansy, Vetiver and Petitegrain impart aromatherapeutic benefits of calm, balance, groundedness and serenity as you journey inward.

Sit comfortably with your feet on the floor.

Place your palms in your lap, keep you back straight.

Soften close your eyes. Focus your inner gaze on your third eye.

Start to breathe in through your nose, deep, long breaths.

Exhale out, emptying your lungs completely. Repeat, feeling the way your lungs expand and contract with each breath.

Do an internal body scan from the top of your head, down your face, to your eyes, your ears, your nose, your mouth, your throat, your heart, your arms, your abdomen, your seat, your legs, your knees, your feet, your toes.

Keep breathing deep intentional breaths.

Relish in your own heartbeat.

Give thanks for your breath and for your life.

Visualize a warm, golden orb before you, hovering and undulating inches from your face.

Feel the warmth and comfort of the orb’s glow.

Envision the orb entering your third eye and warming your soul from the inside.

Imagine the orb travelling down your body through your feet, through the floor, descending down to the core of the earth. Imagine it is connecting you to the earth and all its wealth and goodness.

Imagine the orb growing and rising, steadily making its ascent back to you where you are seated.

Imagine it extending out through the crown of your head and connecting to all others in your room, your town, your state, your country, other countries, around the world.

Imagine the warmth and light of the golden glowing orb is connecting all of us, all inhabitants of earth, together in harmony.

Sit in peace. Sit in gratitude. Sit in prosperity. Sit in love.

Namaste.

You Good?

Growing up in New York, I heard the phrase ‘you good’ quite a lot. Thinking back on it, there were so many ways to interpret this casual question or statement. The most obvious meaning of ‘you good’ has for me always been ‘are you ok?’ when asked as a simple question. Beyond that, I came to realize that the ‘you good’ colloquialism could also mean ‘yes, you are in fact ok,’ ‘thanks, that’s enough for me,’ ‘no need to apologize,’ ‘wow, you’re really smart,’ ‘I wonder if everything is okay with you financially,’ and many other things depending on the inflection, the tone, and the situation in which it was asked or stated.

Similarly, in response to ‘you good,’ a person could say ‘it’s good, ‘I’m good,’ ‘all good’ and really mean a variety of different things. It could be a quick way to say ‘yeah, everything is ok’, it could be a polite brushoff to avoid deeper conversation, or it could be a complete masking of true emotions. When we boil our conversations down to these kinds of exchanges, it becomes really clear how miscommunication, misinterpretation and misdiagnosis can easily occur. 

NYC definitions of you good

Dig Deeper

In this time when emotions are running high, fuses are running short, and people are running ragged, it’s important to dig deeper. The power of meaningful conversation happens when you don’t take ‘I’m good’ as a final answer. Try moving on to some follow up questions (without being too annoying of course) if you suspect that a friend or a loved one could use some extra support. The same would also hold true if as a parent you hear your kid say ‘I’m fine,’ ‘everything’s fine,’ or ‘nothing’s wrong’ when their mood, demeanor or actions tell you otherwise.

Words like ‘good’ and ‘fine’ and ‘okay’ are so overused in our society. Yet I would venture to say that many of us are not ‘good,’ ‘fine’ or ‘okay’ right now. If you find yourself feeling less than good or fine, put that ego aside and talk it out with someone – a relative, a friend, or a professional. The important thing is to connect and get help if and when you need it.

Bruce Lee Quote

A Time for Compassion

Lately I’ve come across various social media posts declaring that COVID’s impact on collective mental health has been way overblown. Perhaps those social media post authors should be congratulated for being impervious to and unscathed by the brunt of COVID’s impact. To me, it is truly difficult to fathom how the unquestionable loss of life, loss of income and loss of social connectivity as a direct result of COVID would not cause an increase in stress, anxiety or mental hardship on a widspread scale. Adapting and adjusting to major change is not as easy for some as for others. At this time when so many are in crisis, empathy, kindness and compassion are more important than ever.

I'm good I'm done

In-Habiting Self Care

In a Thrive Global article, Arianna Huffington wrote about microsteps, or very small changes, that we can take to course-correct stress and mental well-being. These are healthy new habits that can literally change your life. Given that up to 45% of our daily behavior is made up of small, habitual activities, it stands to reason that even deciding to change a few of them can have a ripple effect on leading to positive change. Some of her favorites:

For better sleep

  • Pick a time at night when you turn off your devices — and gently escort them out of your bedroom!
  • Make an appointment to get to sleep by setting an alarm 30 minutes before your bedtime.

For better nutrition

  • Sit down when you eat, even for a few minutes.

For more movement

  • Try a walking meeting (Zoom makes it easier!).

For more focus

  • Turn off all your notifications, except those from people who might need to get your attention.

For a healthier relationship with technology

  • Do an audit of your phone’s home screen to reduce time-sapping distractions.

To be more creative

  • Take a planned detour.

To prioritize your time more productively

  • Block time on your calendar to manage your email.

To help integrate work and life

  • Declare an end to the day, even if you haven’t completed your to-do list.

Sharing is caring! Tell us about your favorite positive microstep habits that have helped transform your mind and emotions for the better. Thanks for reading.

Why We’re Stressed And Ways to Cope

When we think about the world we live in and how modern society has evolved, it’s helpful to start by reflecting how it all began for us as humans. Two hundred thousand years ago,  started populating the planet. We formed clans and tribes then clusters of organized villages. Then along came commerce in the form of crafting and bartering and trade. What was once an organic, primal need for existence and survival became commercialized. The natural occurrences of sunrise, sunset, life, death and rebirth became mechanized by humans seeking progress and growth and more. So much good came as a result of our advancements, yet because we are imperfect, we created social structures and governing systems and religious constructs that were inherently imperfect. Soon, culture began to define human self-identity.  Most felt (and continue to feel) powerless to fight the constructs of fabricated society. Why we’re stressed! Some have created (and will continue to create) new societies with different ideals, either by clashing with or fleeing from corrupted constructs. Truth is, there is not a single society, culture, or system this world has upheld to equally and adequately reflect the preciousness of every human soul or the beauty of every human heart inhabiting this earth.

Fast forwarding to modern society, in Western culture, our attention is drawn to impulse, to instant gratification, to immediate transient fulfillment. Like the hollow temptation of sugar, we consume and are temporarily satiated, but then we crash and are left wanting more. This perpetual hunger for “more right now” fuels an economy built upon short term satisfactions neatly subscribed to by eager customers. Western culture also feeds the ego. We are led to believe our importance and self-worth are tied to the things we amass and the accolades we receive.

Finding Ways to Adapt

How do we elevate ourselves above the precept of society to honor the equal value of every life? One way is to remember that society is an evolution of change. It is incumbent for each member to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, face the flaws of present society, call them out for what they are, and work with others to enact real change. Evolution requires adaptability. It almost never occurs without discomfort or conflict. Within the change is the lesson of choice and resolve, of whether we will choose to be compliant or fight for a better construct. Change comes with momentum, with clear direction backed by physical and emotive energy to beat a new path forward.

The problems of this world are as overwhelming or as underwhelming as the human mind allows them to be. Strip away attention given to news and social media and other people’s affairs, and we free ourselves from significant unnecessary pressure. When we actively choose to limit the attention we give to circumstances that don’t directly affect us, our minds have more space to cope with our own concerns.

Try this: Erase everything for at least 5 minutes a day. Set a timer if you need to. Take this short amount of time all for yourself to be in the present moment. It could be in the shower, sipping your coffee, eating your lunch, sitting in sunlight, whatever works for you. For 5 minutes a day, think of nothing at all, breathe, and smile. Why we’re stressed! This simple daily practice of being in the present moment helps dissolve the world’s cares and worries away from your mind, opening up a window for more calm and less stress. With continued practice, your mind may become more open to fresh ideas, enlightenment, and understanding.

The Inner Voice

You may be saying to yourself,  This may very well be the case. I think about all the modern slaves, all the planned marriages, all the parental career mandates, all the choices made for fear of disapproval. I think about all the quiet self-loathing that eats away at people’s minds without anyone being any the wiser. On the surface, we carry on. But inside, we are dying.

When our minds and bodies are repressed in an unjust circumstance, some of us resign ourselves to comply. We behave, we follow orders, we become docile citizens. This form of existence can be satisfying — without much to think about, we go through the motions and avoid conflict. For others of us, this is agony. We seek due power and long for change. But what if we’re afraid? What happens if we feel powerless to change anything? Will we ever find meaningful happiness? Or will life and happiness be at the mercy of the system?

Creating Your Virtual Reality

Trying to fit into what  society wants is not the solution. In fact, I’ve come to believe that society’s main purpose is to facilitate our own evolution. The creator creates the creation, and in so doing, the creation creates the creator. Once this realization set in for me, I started to view life from a whole new perspective. Like taking the red pill in , my eyes were opened, and I felt like I discovered a whole new truth. This epiphany helped me learn that I have more power than I think over any situation. It helped me perceive challenges as opportunities for growth and development. It’s no question that some people on this planet are tested to a greater extent than others. Their sacrifices light the way for others to learn and command change. The ultimate discovery for all of us is that we are here on this earth to love, to be tested, and to gain wisdom. What is that wisdom? It is to know the nature of our true selves, it is to realize our connectedness with all things and all people. It is to recognize that we are all phenomena of love, light, and beauty.

Imagine for a moment that life is like a video game. You’ve been assigned an avatar, and ta-da! You are now in that avatar role, playing the game with a bunch of others, experiencing life on earth together as humans. Imagine that all of a sudden, other avatars started to pick on your avatar. They didn’t like your avatar. Well gosh, you were assigned that avatar. For the course of the game you can give it new clothes, a new do, and new shoes, but the avatar is the avatar. Not much you can do about that. It’s all that the current 3.0 operating system allows until the next upgrade. Oh well. Better to focus on the goal of the game, which is to get through the maze of life and get back home. Getting too caught up in things you can’t control would be a waste of time and energy, right? But sometimes we forget that we’re all avatars. It’s understandable, because we are so caught up in the realness of the game.

Right now, I want you to remember that you are not the avatar. You are way more than just appearances, and this game of life is temporary. When you remember these things, you might find yourself feeling deep sadness, but you would know it won’t last. You might experience suffering, but you would know it was just a rite of passage. You might see madness, but you would know it’s only there to challenge your resolve. Imagine the power you would have over any calamity. Petty bantering would become insignificant. You’d garner the insightfulness to know what’s worthy and unworthy of your engagement. You might feel empowered to make choices out of love, kindness, and compassion. You’d know that happiness is, in fact, the reason why you’ve chosen to play the game.

Extraordinary You

My hope for you is that you discover these truths about yourself. Modern society will tell you that you are less than, that you don’t fit in, that you’ll never amount to anything unless you follow the rules, that others know what’s best for you. These are fabrications. This is part of the game. My hope is that you now start to realize how very powerful you are. You are and have always been in control. You are the master of your own destiny.

Tell yourself, right now, that you are more than your avatar. You are an extraordinary work-in-progress doing your best to figure out this game of life, just like everyone else. It doesn’t matter how you or how others choose to play the game, but kindness to yourself and to others must always be the first move. When you need time to recharge your avatar batteries, you will take it. Tell yourself that the game can be as fun as you want it to be. I’ll be cheering you on.