One of the biggest things getting in the way of living your best life is stress, especially since the onset of the pandemic. Stress affects us across the board, causing problems with sleep, eating, sex drive, anger, and drugs and alcohol. And stress is often hard to fix too, especially stress from jobs or family situations.
Having said that, here are the daily strategies and practices the Cleveland Clinic recommends to help manage stress:
- Relaxations activities, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises
- Take care of your body with healthy food and good sleep hygiene (no blue lights an hour before bed, completely dark room)
- Acknowledge the good parts of your day or life
- Find ways to let go of worry about situations you cannot change
- Learn to say “no” to additional responsibilities if you don’t have time for them or need time for self-care
- Maintain social relationships with people who are good listeners and who make you happy
The above list can seem like a can of worms as each one of the bullet points can require its own research and plan of action to fit it into your life.
However, there is a single practice that can accomplish many of these strategies and offers other tangible “Living Your Best Life” benefits as well. It’s called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
What is Mindfulness & Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
According to the creator of MBSR, Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
This means not focusing on the past or present, but being here now. And it takes practice!
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week program that offers secular, intensive training to learn mindfulness.
MBSR was developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in the 1970s by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, and it uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, yoga, and exploration of patterns of behavior, thinking, feeling, and action. And MBSR has been studied in well-designed experiments, which allow the conclusion to be drawn that MBSR is the cause of the positive changes found in the studies (as opposed to just being correlated with the positive changes). Most excitingly, it’s been found that MBSR leads to physical changes in the brains of beginning practitioners in just 8 weeks of practice. Let me say that again… spending 30 minutes a day learning to follow a mindfulness practice physically and measurably enhances your brain.
Here are the brain regions that grew and thickened:
- The posterior cingulate, which is involved in controlling mind wandering
- The left hippocampus, which assists in learning, cognition, memory, and emotional regulation
- The temporoparietal junction, or TPJ, is associated with perspective taking, empathy, and compassion.
- The Pons, an area of the brain stem where a lot of regulatory neurotransmitters (neurotransmitters are messengers for the brain; more neurotransmitters means the brain can communicate more easily with the body) are produced.
There are many more studies by other scientists showing benefits of mindfulness from increasing telomere length (telomere length is used as a marker of biological age), fighting Alzheimer’s, and being associated with higher vagal tone (lower systemic inflammation).
But what about stress? Well, the amygdala, the main stress detector in our brains, has been found to decrease in size after just 8 weeks of MBSR and correlated to a reduction in stress levels.
But wait there’s more! MBSR also helps you:
- Get into the practice of appreciating life and the people around you
- Teaches you how your thoughts, emotions, and beliefs shape the way you see the world
- Connect with your deeper motivations and core values
On a personal note, I find taking a break to do 20 minutes of MBSR mentally refreshes my mind after a long stretch of work. Beyond my personal experience, researchers have found (again through an experiment with a control group) that mindfulness practitioners experienced “significantly less emotional exhaustion and more job satisfaction than participants in the control group”. This means practicing MBSR as a work break gives you all of the personal health advantages above, and makes you more productive and happier with your job, and gives you an immediate recharge during the workday.
Living Your Best Life with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
To sum up, the benefits of MBSR are:
- Makes your brain work better, including improved working memory and focus
- Makes you less susceptible to stress
- Helps you gain insight on who you really are
- Improves your relationships with others
- Increases telomere length and could lead to longer life
- Helps prevent Alzheimer’s (which affects 11% of people 65+)
- Makes you better at your job and like your job more
And these are just the benefits we know of so far!
How to Start with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
So now that you’re totally convinced to start MBSR, how can you get started? There are classes of course and apps (Healthy Minds is a free, donation-based app that is actually among the best), but how are you going to make sure you actually take the classes or use the apps?
You need to establish a new habit.
Establishing habits is a whole other topic that you can read about here but here are some quick tips:
- Attach the new habit to an existing habit
- For example, you automatically eat lunch every day, so if you decide to practice your new mindfulness habit to the beginning or end of your lunch break, it will be much easier to remember
- Start very small
- If you’re piggybacking your mindfulness onto your lunch break, just start by doing 1 minute before lunch every day, and then expand as you feel able. You can even start smaller, for example by saying to yourself “Now is when I practice mindfulness”. The point is to establish a foothold and work from there.
- Don’t miss twice
- Life is going to get in the way. The important thing is to not let it get in the way two times in a row! If you miss performing your habit two times a row, it’s much more disruptive to establishing the habit than just missing once.
I pulled these tips from “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, which goes deep on habit establishment and is seen by many as the best book on habits out there (as of the time of writing this post, “Atomic Habits” has 4.8 out of 5 stars, with 54,573 positive reviews on Amazon).
For additional insurance, you can also ask yourself, “What will get in the way of me practicing mindfulness?” and then adapt your plan for these obstacles. Additionally, you can ask yourself “How will I make sure I follow through on my mindfulness practise?” and then establish a system of accountability (maybe ask a friend to check in on your progress each day).
Finally, if you’ve tried unsuccessfully to establish a mindfulness practice already, or have doubts that you’ll be able to succeed you can reach out and schedule a session with a Best Life Coach. We’re trained in helping you think deeply and in new ways about your goals, and will help you establish plans of action and accountability systems.
Classes: Jon Kabit Zinn teaches Mindfulness
Apps: Healthy Minds
Find a Life Coach: Right here!
To Sum Things Up
One of the biggest things getting in the way of living your best life is stress, and while there are many ways to manage stress, however, the #1 foundation for reducing stress is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
Give it a try and let me know what you think!
👉 Not sure where to start? All of our Life Coaches are trained to help guide you through the steps necessary to make the changes you want in your life. With different specialties and life experiences, you will find the best life coach for you. Find a Coach today!
Your Guide to Finding the Right Life Coach
This simple guide will help you:
☑️ Understand what a Life Coach does and how to find the right one for your needs.
☑️ Gain clarity on what you want from a coach and where to find one that understands your unique needs.
☑️ Finally get the support you want so you can start living your Best Life!
☑️ BONUS! 10 Questions to ask on a discovery call.
Last modified: October 26, 2021