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Mindfulness Reduces Self-Induced Stress

Updated on April 6, 2011

Okay, most of us already know that stress is bad for us. Stress can make us sick and kills brain cells too.

But did you know that many of our stresses are self-induced?   Yes, below are some examples.  One antidote to reduce our self-induced stress is practicing mindfulness.  There are other ways too (such as exercise).

Stress from a Person that Is Not Even There

The mind is always thinking. It is thinking when you are driving. It is thinking when you are brushing your teeth. It is thinking when you are eating. Driving and brushing your teeth has become so routine that your brain can do it on auto-pilot. The task is so easy that the brain got bored and started to think about other things.

And sometimes it may end up thinking about a recent past event of when someone as wronged you. This though may occur out of nowhere. Let's say that you were just driving to work or something. You may not even realize that your mind had started to think about that event again. Until all of a sudden, you "catch yourself" and realized that you are thinking about it. You now become aware that your muscles are tense and your face might be warm. You are getting stressed. The cortisols are flowing.

And the funny thing is ... The person who wronged you isn't even in the car with you. Event was a past event that had already happened and there was nothing you could do about it. Yet, your body had triggered this stress response causing physiological effects.

With regular mindfulness practice, you will end up "catching yourself" earlier. That is the point of mindfulness practice. You become more aware of your thinking, and you pull yourself back to present moment sooner. You escape the harmful effects of the stress response.

Count Thoughts Instead of Sheeps

Have you ever woke up in the middle of the night and can not fall back to sleep? Your mind just wanders, thinking about this and that. And perhaps you start to worry that you are not getting enough sleep, might cause a decrease of immune function and catch a cold or gain weigh from lack of sleep, or whatever. Well, that's stress.

Dr. Mark Hyman's book "The UltraMind Solutions" says ...

"Sleep deprivation also increases stress hormones such as cortisol, which kills brain cells in the memory and mood center called the hippocampus." [page 58]

That is extra stress that we don't need.  Read article on how cortisol kills brain cells.

Mindfulness will help calm your thinking and may help you get back to sleep and avoid that extra stress. In fact many people who practice meditation end up falling asleep even when they don't intend to. ( See this question and answer portion of this video where Jon Kabat-Zinn's talk about mindfulness. The lady mentions that she keeps falling asleep.)

By practicing mindfulness when you can not fall asleep, you re-focus your mind away from the racing thoughts and back to your breathing. By not getting caught up in the racing thoughts, you can more easily fall asleep. Note that mindfulness does not eliminate thoughts (and that is not its purpose). You still will have thoughts as you should. The difference is that now you no longer get caught up in them. You just watch the thoughs come into your mind and float like clouds across the sky of your mind. And then you watch them float out. Alternatively, you can count your thoughts. It is just like telling kids to count sheep when they can not fall asleep. But better, because you don't have to conjure up images of sheep.

Arguments are stressful

In this last example, let's say that one is having a "discussion" with another which is turning into an argument. If one is not mindful, one might reflexively act out and say something that one might regret. It happens so fast, that one doesn't realized what one had said until after one had said it. But too late. Now one has to apologize.

Let's face it. Arguments are stressful. It is best to abort the "discussion" before it turns into a stressful argument.

Mindfulness practice trains one to monitor oneself in as close to real time as possible -- in the present moment. One will realize exactly when an discussion starts to turn into an argument and one is able to take evasive action.

Although this last example is not exactly "self-induced" stress. It takes another to be involved in an argument. But nevertheless, it can be perceived as "self-induced" in that it is oneself that did not become aware of the impending argument and did not take another route that avoids the argument.

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