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Train your brain

Life brings plenty of reasons to feel stressed and the pandemic has only ramped up stress levels for many of us. We’re concerned about our health and the health and safety of our loved ones. We worry about the future of our jobs and our economy.

Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Any type of challenge – a presentation to your boss, an argument with your spouse, a sick child - can be stressful. Not all stress is bad. In the short-term, the body’s stress response can help you react quickly in an emergency or motivate you to prepare and deliver a great public speech.

Long-term or chronic stress, however, can do a number on your health. The body never receives a clear signal to return to normal functioning, resulting in digestive, cardiovascular and autoimmune problems, loss of sleep, depression, anger and irritability.

Several months of pandemic, various levels of quarantine, and an unknown future definitely qualify as a period of chronic stress, so how can we manage it? A key part of stress is feeling like we don’t have control, that we’re just reacting to what life is throwing at us. You may hear people say, “I can’t stop thinking about this” or “I lie awake for hours worrying.” The good news is we can take control of our thoughts and better prepare ourselves to cope with stress.

Start practicing

Meditation is a practice where you can learn to focus and concentrate, clearing your mind and calming your emotions. It has many health benefits and is a proven way to relieve stress and maintain a healthier lifestyle. On the surface, the techniques for meditating may seem simple, but it takes practice to learn to control your thoughts.

There are many ways to learn to meditate, but breath counting meditation is a great method for beginners. All you need is a quiet, comfortable place to sit, three to five minutes of free time, and a judgment-free mindset. A timer is helpful to let you know when your session is done so you don’t have to keep checking a clock.

  1. Find a spot to sit and get comfortable. Close your eyes or let your gaze soften.
     

  2. Check-in with how you’re feeling – mentally and physically – and know that whatever’s going on is okay.
     

  3. Focus on your breathing. Don’t try to change it. Just notice the breath flowing in and out. Begin to count your breaths: inhale and exhale, count one; inhale and exhale, count two; until you get to ten, then start over at one or count back down to one and continue.
     

  4. When you notice your mind wandering, don’t get frustrated. Simply return your attention to your breath and start counting again. This will get better with practice.
     

  5. Whatever thoughts or feelings arise, notice them and dismiss them without judgment and return to your breath.
     

Commit to practicing every day for a month, perhaps extending the time by a couple of minutes each week. You can meditate anywhere – sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, walking through the park, sitting outside on your lunch break.
 

Want to learn more about mindfulness and meditation? Check out the My Life YouTube channel.

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