A big part of being healthy is being awake. What I mean by being awake is being conscious, being aware, of what’s going on inside of you emotionally and mentally and around you with the people you interact with, which I would call empathy which is also vital for good health. Values, which I write about often, are to me the most important thing about being healthy, but being awake is important too. Good news: being awake, or mindful, is a skill which can be learned, just like learning to speak Spanish or play piano or ride a bike. It takes knowledge and practice to be mindful. The amazing part about being mindful is that your life and relationships improve and are dramatically healthier.
In 2007, I purchased my first home. Well, actually I should say I purchased my first mortgage. For me, this was quite a large sum of money. Especially for someone who had been raised with conservative financial values. After closing on my house at the end of the previous week, when the stress of taking on this debt was added to an existing car loan, a lack of sleep, too much caffeine, too late of a Saturday night, and some personal issues I was dealing with, Monday morning proved to be too much and I had a panic attack. Yes, I had a panic attack. It seems almost too bizarre to believe for most people who know me. I really can’t even believe it myself. I’m pretty easygoing, happy, and usually stress-free.
It turns out what actually happened is that because my eyes are sensitive to fluorescent light, I started to see flashes of white that Monday morning, and because of all the stress I was dealing with, I got really paranoid and felt like I was dying. Unbelievable! My mind said “you’re dying” and I felt like I was, the room got blurry, I felt sick, and I had to lie down. The paranoia and obsession fed back and forth from the mind to the body.
Some of the people in my work environment actually went with me to the hospital to check in to the emergency room. I thought I might be having a stroke. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it but it happened again a week later. In both cases, I was fine. I came to realize later on, I had had a panic attack and breathing had played a big part in it. I got stressed, and mental stress and obsession fed into physical symptoms (shallow breathing, tense muscles, cold skin). The more I talked to people about this over the following years, the more I was amazed how many people have had panic attacks- very successful and seemingly poised individuals.
Since those initial two panic attacks I have learned a few techniques to stop the obsession. I credit Dr. Andrew Weil for providing some excellent information in his books and on his website with this. I’ve also developed some of my own techniques to deal with the problem of panic and anxiety, and to improve emotional awareness. Mental stress, driven by our thoughts and obsessions, many of which act like tapes running over and over again, can cause us to have physical stress – high cortisol, high blood pressure, stiff muscles. In order to avoid walking through life in a slumber, overreacting and obsessing, try to use these mindfulness techniques to relax, become aware, and deal with stress appropriately.
- Stretching: Breathe and focus only on breathing and relaxing your muscles. Tia Chi and Yoga are excellent forms of mindfulness exercise.
- Physical Touch- in the case of a bad case of anxiety, or panic, it can be helpful to use a technique I call grounding where you actually physically touch something and study the way it feels in your hand. This is a great technique to shut off the mind temporarily.
- Meditation: Sit quietly and focus on your breathing for a few minutes.
- Walking: Walk, breathe, and just enjoy the moment.
- Running: Use the same techniques as when walking.
- Canoeing / Rowing / Paddleboarding: Get into the Rhythm and enjoy the moment. Breathe in tempo.
- Work: Yes, work can actually reduce stress. Get into the moment and be present. Give of yourself and practice your craft. Craftsmanship is a mindful and joyful way of life.
- Breathing Exercises:
- Take Ten Slow Deep Breaths
- Do the 3-3-3: 3 seconds in, 3 seconds holding, and 3 seconds out
- Learn to do diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe into your stomach instead of your chest. Take 5 slow breaths into your stomach and then slowly release.
- Journaling: Journaling and writing out what is going on in your life can be incredibly good to help relieve stress and become more mindful.
- Prayer: Prayer is powerful. Talk to God about what is bothering you and ask him to lighten your load. Approach the maker with humility and awe and ask for wisdom and guidance.
What is the most important thing you can give someone? Your time and your attention is the best thing you can give someone. This is one way we love. We stay in the moment and let others know they’re important to us. We listen, we pay attention and we are there for them. It is also good to take care of yourself in this way. Take time to breathe, be present and learn and use techniques for mindfulness. Listen to what your conscience says, what your mind is telling you or obsessing on, and this will give you a big advantage in dealing with stress.
Read Next: It’s Just As Good