” If you listen to your body when it whispers….you won’t have to hear it scream.”
John, an engineer, felt very angry and anxious at work. He felt that his boss hated him. He suffered from back-aches, headaches and upset stomach. He felt very depressed about going to work. In addition to working with his psychologist, a friend suggested that he learn meditation from me. As he worked on his meditation practice, he was surprised to note a wide variety of physical symptoms, such as butterflies in his tummy and tension in his neck and shoulders.
John, now knows, that relaxation is just a by-product of meditation; the primary goal of meditation is to understand the mind, to understand that stress manifests and comes from our thoughts, stories and the way we choose to look at life. Feelings like anger and anxiety are signals and, often are present as tension or pain in the body. He realized his moods are created by his perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs - what he says about something or someone.
The first step I taught John, was to listen to his body – because much of our strong feelings like joy, anger, anxiety and pleasure are felt in our body. Fortunately, John was a regular yoga practitioner, and it was easy for him to understand the signals and respond to them. He was able to learn to relax his body within a few minutes by paying attention to the tense areas of his body. He leveraged anxiety and stress to focus on his work and learned to let go when he came back home. His regular walks and yoga practice helped him find the balance. His headaches and backaches have reduced significantly and he is getting to sleep better too.
Mental training for toughness and resilience is about:
Here are 3 simple steps you can do to listen and respond to your body!
Do these regularly and you can see the improvement in your heart and brain and see progress in how you handle anger, stress or anxiety. In future articles, we will discuss the role of posture and, our perceptions and attitudes, thoughts, feelings and stories to change our moods.
Most online stress measurement tools use an "life-event" method to determine your stress levels. If you have a divorce, a job loss or major illness; you are considered to have high stress levels. However, the problem with this approach is that it does not measure our daily activities and how we react to this. We may have a boss that we do not like or our stress related to specific relationships may be increasing in small but significant measures.
The best analogy I found for stress assessment is that of RPE - (Rating of Perceived Exertion by Borg) to measure the intensity of your daily exercise routine. Instead of using a heart-monitor or trying to measure your pulse, you can estimate the intensity of your exercise by how hard you feel you are working out. You give yourself a rating of 6-20 - 6 being no exertion at all and 20 being very intense exercise. Typical walking can have RPE levels of 9-12 while intense aerobics may cause you to give a rating 16-19. While this may seem subjective, your mind is pretty good at assessing your exercise intensity. These measures are often as sensitive as heart monitors or pulse counter techniques.
A similar method is used to assess your stress levels. Dr. Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University pioneered in a unique self-assessment technique for stress called PSS (Perceived Stress Scale). Similar to RPE above, you are asked to estimate your own level of stress based on the uncertainty, lack of control and overload that exists in various areas of your life. Here are two websites that give help you self-assess your stress levels based on Dr. Cohen's technique.
Try this Stress Vulnerability Self-Test online
You may also have a hard copy printed out from the MindGarden.com website and use it to assess your stress levels during the week.
The University of Minnesota - Twin Cities campus offers an online screening for depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and alcohol.
The bottom line - the few minutes you take to become aware of your stress levels and the causes for it - actually will help you lower your stress levels. These free screenings are taken anonymously. I suggest you use your browser in incognito mode when you do this test, if you wish complete privacy.
Please remember these tests and screenings are not a substitute for a clinical evaluation.
Contact a health professional for more information and a complete exam.
Do you have your own method of assessing your stress levels? I would love to hear about it!
a guided finger meditation
Engage your senses with soothing music, guided imagery and a labyrinth tracing activity which leverages the power of touch. Click the album cover to learn more.