“I’m stressed all the time, and I feel silly even admitting it. I’ve been retired for years, so relaxing is the only thing I have on my “To Do” list. Do you have any suggestions on what can be done to relieve stress?”
–Angela from Mount Airy, North Carolina
First of all, you should know you’re not alone, Angela. Times are tough, and stress levels are soaring right now. In fact, a new survey just found that 63 percent of adults say their stress levels are at an all-time high.
Honestly, between the pandemic, politics, and economic tensions, it’s a wonder that 100 percent of the folks surveyed didn’t report those off-the-charts stress levels. And unfortunately, as you’ve discovered, being retired doesn’t save you from battling those demons.
All that stress is taking a real toll on our well-being, too. Over two in five survey participants said poor sleep quality and inconsistent sleep schedules were their biggest stress-related complaints. And seven in 10 agreed that their stress levels would likely improve if they could sleep better.
One in three surveyed admitted to canceling plans with family or friends to help them cope with their stress. And an inability to focus and physical exhaustion rated high on the complaints list, too.
Five Senses Focus method to erase stress
Many folks admitted they still find it hard to share their feelings with friends and family. But there was some good news. Nearly 60 percent of folks said they are now more comfortable talking about these issues than before the pandemic.
This also likely means many folks are ready for some tips on how they can dial down the stress and start to feel more like themselves again. And lucky for us, some big brains at Harvard have a potential solution for us.
“Mindfulness” seems to be the buzzword of the moment. There’s an endless parade of articles and podcasts spouting off about how great it is. And if you have any hippy-dippy type friends, they probably won’t shut up about it either.
But the problem is no one ever actually seems to say what the heck mindfulness ACTUALLY is. And I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word, I automatically think of dreadlocks, incense, and chanting.
Here’s the truth. The word mindfulness is just annoying jargon. But as my wise mother always says, you shouldn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. And that does happen to apply in this case.
Because it turns out that when you try to concentrate entirely on one small task at a time, it can have remarkable stress-reducing benefits. And when you get right down to it, that’s all so-called mindfulness actually is.
Making “mindfulness” work for you
When we’re stressed… or a Type A personality, driven to get things done… our minds tend to run a mile a minute. We call ourselves “multitasking” when we manage to juggle doing two or more things at once. But we’re actually just distracted. And that can INCREASE our stress levels.
However, simply FULLY tuning into some small tasks we do every day is a great way to blow off that tension and reset our stress meter. They call it mindfulness, but I like to call it the Five Senses Focus method. And the easiest way to get started is to pick a single small task you do every day.
I typically suggest folks make brushing their teeth their first mindfulness practice since we all do it seven days a week. The idea is to think about NOTHING else but the act of brushing your teeth during those two minutes.
Don’t contemplate your plans for the day, make shopping lists in your head, or mull over a conversation you had with a friend. Instead, SMELL the freshness of the toothpaste, TASTE the minty flavor, FEEL the brush touching your gums, LISTEN to the sound the bristles make as they roll over your teeth, and WATCH as the foam forms in the mirror.
Research proves “mindfulness” works
It may sound easy to do, but I’m willing to bet you’ll be surprised how difficult it is at first. It turns out human beings don’t have the best attention spans. And some researchers say it’s getting worse, likely because of technology.
When you’re applying the Five Senses Focus method (mindfulness), your job is to RE-focus on that toothbrushing task every time you start thinking about something else. With some practice, you will get better at it. And that’s when you can expand the technique to other tasks like washing the dishes or folding laundry.
Congratulations, you’re now perfectly on-trend, practicing mindfulness with the best of them. But more importantly, you’re relieving stress. And the science backs that up.
In fact, there’s evidence that mindfulness meditation could be every bit as effective as other forms of stress relief, like drugs. Remember those Harvard researchers I mentioned earlier? They, along with some colleagues from other institutions, studied mindfulness meditation for years.
And not only do the researchers say the practice can be on par with meds. They also performed functional magnetic resonance imaging testing that showed that even when folks weren’t actively practicing mindfulness, the positive changes in brain activity lasted.
And another Harvard study found relaxation training… clearing your mind… for 15 minutes a day can cause changes in your genes that regulate inflammation, glucose metabolism, and circadian rhythms. And that, in turn, reduced blood pressure, as well.
For another novel way to counteract anxiety, see my recent report, “Gut secret could hold the key to blowing off stress.”