Are you stressed? If so, you’re not alone, there are many out there who find the end of the year stressful.

In 2014, the American Psychological Association published the top causes of stress and they are, in order: job pressure, money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload, and sleep deprivation.  I find it interesting that this list of stresses can build off of one another.  You work hard to have more money, which affects your health and relationships, causing you to eat poorly, so to unwind, you scroll through social media and then you end up not being able to sleep.

“An estimated 80 to 90 percent of visits to the doctor are stress-related but less than 3% of doctors talk to their patients about how to reduce stress”. – Psychology Today

A few ways to reduce stress…

So, with all the talk of stress and how it can impact our health, what are some valid ways to reduce stress?  You can go for a walk, take a vacation, try to eat better, exercise, and do some things that you’re passionate about.  These are all valid ways to reduce stress and find some balance in your life.  I want to suggest that there are deeper ways you can reduce stress by freeing the body and the mind and how these parts interact with each other.  So how do we do that?   Yoga and meditation are excellent and scientifically proven ways to find balance in life and help reduce stress.

Don’t be so hard on yourself

One of the main concepts in yoga is being non-judgmental toward yourself and others.  According to Marlynn Wei, Psychiatrist, Yoga “is a powerful tool for stress relief because much of our stress comes from us being hard on ourselves or frustrated with others.  A fundamental principle of yoga is that your body and mind are one and connected. Many of us live primarily in either our mind or our body, which creates imbalance and even a lack of awareness.”  The yoga postures work on the body and mind connection and train your counter-stress response system called the parasympathetic nervous system. Medical research has found that with regular yoga practice, your chronic daytime stress hormone levels drop and your heart rate variability increases, which is measure of your ability to tolerate stress. This has been shown to improve even after a few sessions of yoga.

Add in some meditation

Meditation takes this even further.  After you do yoga postures, your body has done some form of movement or stretching and feels relaxed.  The yoga postures prime the body so that you can sit for a few minutes, breath, and exercise the mind.  There are many different meditation strategies from Mindfulness-based practices, to iRest, to more esoteric practices like Buddhism.  In my opinion, whatever gets you to sit still, focus on your breathing, and be the in present moment will reduce stress.  There have been countless studies on meditation’s positive impacts and here is a list of a few of them:

  • 75% of insomniacs, who started a daily meditation program, were able to fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed.
  • Production of the stress hormone Cortisol is greatly decreased, making it easier to deal with stress and its effects on the body
  • Heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and oxygen consumption are all decreased.
  • Meditators are less anxious and nervous.
  • Thickness of the artery walls decreased which effectively lowers the risk of heart attack or stroke by 8% to 15%.
  • Relaxation therapy is helpful in chronic pain patients, helping them to feel less pain
  • 60% of anxiety prone people showed marked improvements in anxiety levels after 6-9 months.

Combine yoga postures & meditation

By combining yoga postures and a meditation practice you can effectively bring the body and the mind into balance.  Yoga prepares the mind and body to work together and then meditation takes you to the next level of mental clarity and focus.  The best part is that you don’t need to do hours of each daily, the effects happen with regular practice so fitting in 10-30 minutes a day can result in huge changes whether you do yoga, meditation or both.

As the year comes to a close, enjoy your Christmas and summer break and try to live in the present and remember what is important in life, our health and well-being, and being to spend as much time with our loved ones as we can.  Enjoy!

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