In previous posts in this series on stress management, I covered the importance of drinking enough water. I also shared information on the importance of eating well. And I have covered getting adequate sleep, exercise and breathing properly. In this post, I will offer the benefits of a practice of daily prayer or meditation– or both.
Now, what this section is NOT about is religion. I am not proposing that you need to adopt a religious practice if you don’t already have one. I am suggesting that if you are feeling stressed, you might consider taking some “time out” each day. This could include a 10-minute meditation practice. It might be a short visualization session. You could listen to calming music. Or you could turn off all your electronic devices—and your thoughts—for a few minutes every day.
Pray if you feel more comfortable with that. Pray for world peace or peace of mind…but use the time it takes to pray as a way to slow down your mind for a few moments. Studies suggest that people who pray or meditate see physical benefits. They have lower blood pressure, slower breathing, and a slower heart rate. Their brain waves show that while still alert, they can relax more deeply. These are all benefits of stress management.
They are among other celebrities who tout its benefits. If you search “meditation” online, you will find that there are dozens of ways to meditate. Find one that suits your style.
The idea behind meditation or prayer is to focus on the present moment. Slow your mind. Focus on the present moment. Let go of worry about tomorrow. Let go of regret over the past. Both of those activities are useless. Instead, focus on the NOW.
Too many people spend time in regret over things that happened in the past. If someone has hurt you in the past and you are having trouble getting past it get help from a counselor or a minister. You don’t need to continue to suffer over something that is now in your past. Turn to a brighter future, but live in the moment.
On the flip side, many people are consumed with fear or anxiety about the future. Again, it is time wasted. I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t prepare for the future by getting a good education. I think it is a good idea to save for a rainy day. That is healthy planning.
If you are so worried about the future that you forget to enjoy the present moment, what’s the point? Life is made up of moments. These moments that cannot be retrieved except through memories. If you are so consumed with the past or the future that you forget to focus on the present moment…well, you get the drift.
Many people have trouble developing the discipline that a meditation practice requires. That is meaningful. Have seen the movie, Eat, Pray, Love? There is a scene in the book in which the main character attempts to quiet her mind. Instead, her mind is racing with commentary about the deficiency of her efforts.
That is how we are. We are running a commentary all the time. It is that commentary that we need to switch to the “off mode.” We only need to do it for a few moments each day, but it takes practice and discipline. Stress management, after all, requires managing your stress with intention.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have trouble. Each of us has to start somewhere. Give yourself a break. You probably didn’t grow up learning how to meditate. You need not set up expectations that you are unlikely to meet right away. Give yourself time to practice. Take five minutes to set aside the commentary. But if they come up, that’s okay. Just keep setting them aside.
Set aside five minutes to sit and be still and to quiet your mind. After you have mastered the ability to do five minutes, you may increase it by a minute a day. Be gentle with yourself. Some days will be easier than others. Don’t make creating a meditation practice something that adds to your stress! That would be self-defeating.
If nothing else works for you, try remembering the first lines from the “Serenity Prayer.” It is a prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12- step programs. It works for me in moments of stress: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can. And wisdom to know the difference.” Remember there IS a difference between those things that you can change and those you can’t. I don’t know about you, but I find that idea very comforting.
A Note about the Importance of Gratitude as Part of Your Practice
A growing body of research points to the importance of feeling gratitude. “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart, a German theologian, philosopher, and mystic offered that piece of advice.
Studies show that a practice of gratitude affects our lives in positive ways. It can impact your physical health. It can also affect your psychological well-being and our relationships with others. It definitely helps with stress management.
Keeping a gratitude journal is a good practice.
It is a way of reminding ourselves of the many things for which we have to be grateful. In one study, a thousand people from ages eight to 80, kept a gratitude journal. In as little as three weeks, participants reported the following benefits:
✓ Stronger immune systems
✓ Less bothered by aches and pains
✓ Exercise more and take better care of their health
✓ Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
✓ Higher levels of positive emotions
✓ More alert, alive, and awake
✓ More optimism and happiness Social
✓ More helpful, generous, and compassionate
✓ Feel less lonely and isolated
Practicing gratitude offers clear benefits. You can find thousands of books on the topic of gratitude and the importance of being thankful. The research is clear and continues to come out each day.
My best advice to you is practice gratitude every day. You will start to see benefits almost immediately.
If you are in a place right this moment when things seem so bad that you are thinking, “Yeah, right. I should be thankful that I lost my job”…or “I should be thankful I have been diagnosed with cancer. Fat chance.”
I get it. Sometimes, life sucks. We all suffer at times. Being alive means experiencing challenges. Try to feel grateful for what you do have as opposed to dwelling on what you don’t have. That can help. And even on your darkest day, there is something that you can find for which to be grateful.
If you don’t believe me, try this one experiment for three days. For three days, first thing in the morning, write down on a blank piece of paper the things for which you are grateful. Start with being able to get up. Some people can’t do that much. So you have an opportunity to start fresh on a new day.
Not feeling so grateful about that? Then how about your first cup of coffee? How about the rain pattering on your windowsill? How about the sunrise? How about whatever you have for breakfast? How about your car—beat up and dilapidated as it may be—that is going to take you to that job interview—or the doctor—today? How about the air that you breathe. Or the water running from the faucet? Or the phone call from a friend who is checking on you to see how things are going? Get the idea?
The only people who don’t experience stress in their lives are the ones who are already dead.
As long as you have life, there is hope. No job? You have an opportunity to get an even better job. Got a bad diagnosis? No diagnosis is ever final. There are miracle cures in the news all the time. You have to be willing to believe in miracles. And you have to be willing to do what your doctor or your healer tells you to do. But we hear of “miracle cures” all the time. They happen.T
As I said earlier, the only people who don’t experience stress in their lives are the ones who are already dead. As long as you are living, you have hope. And as long as you have hope, you can make things better. Remembering the things for which you have to be grateful can help. Try the three-day experiment and see if you don’t start to feel better. I am betting you will.