A friend of mine, who’s also a long-term meditator, recently fessed up that she’s often a bit embarrassed to admit when she is feeling stressed. If mindfulness helps with stress (and it does, as has been shown in research studies countless times), then shouldn’t she be continuously cool and ‘zen’ by now, rather than let stuff stress her out at times?!
Mulling it over, we decided that we could only guess how bad it might have been if she didn’t practice mindfulness (and neither of us really wanted to go there!), and we reassured ourselves that Rob Nairn has often said that ‘there’s no exemption certificate!’ I’ve always understood this as a caution to not think that just because you meditate, you will become exempt from the tricky stuff of life, which obviously includes getting stressed.
Luckily, although it doesn’t make us immune to stress, mindfulness can definitely help by not making things worse. And even, recognising it either early on or in mid-flow, offers more opportunities for using our freedom of choice to see how we may respond wisely to this situation – which can be a huge improvement compared to getting completely caught in the maelstrom of reacting from our habitual patterns. In fact, there are several skills that we practice in mindfulness that can make a big difference – but I recently learned something new about stress, which surprised me.
Apparently, (as you can hear in more detail in this TED talk or check out in its original research form here and here), research has shown that what you believe about stress has a significant impact. Generally, as is common knowledge, stress makes a whole lot of bad physical stuff worse and can shorten your life in various ways. BUT… if you believe that the stress responses you notice, are your body helping you rise to the challenge that’s in front of you, then your stress responses lose their negative impact and actually become healthier. And more over, if you reach out to others when you’re under stress, either for support or to support them, a hormonal release means your stress response gets healthier and you recover more quickly from the stress. (I do recommend listening to Kelly McGonigal explain this in more convincing depth in that TED talk I mentioned!).
Learning this, it seemed to make sense to include these helpful reminders in a variation on the self compassion break, especially for when there’s stress in the air. Try it out and see what you think!
TRY THE SHORT SELF-COMPASSION BREAK (5 mins)
PS And if you’d like to meet some new lovely people who also sometimes struggle with stress and spend a weekend practising some useful mindfulness skills, there’s an opportunity to do just that in Samye Ling with the wonderful Elanor Kortland and myself on 2-4 February…(You can have a look at that HERE)