Medical experts have noted that illness is the product of disease and that it is often stress-related or stress-intensified. Many studies support the validity that in women, the mind-body connection may be particularly strong because of how their changing lives, moods, and bodies influence each other. Over the past five years, the skills described in this book have been used with women attending group classes and in one-on-one psychotherapy sessions with my clients. Approach them with an open mind, persistence, and attention, noticing what works best for you.
While the stress reaction was biologically designed to protect us from external threat by signaling alarm and preparing our bodies to fight or flee, it is frequently triggered in today’s world by internal thoughts and worries. These “fears” are regarded by the mind and body to be as real as external threats. Chronic prolonged stress may damage our immune system and physical health. Although we know stress is not good for us, many of us are reluctant to slow down for fear of being judged or judging ourselves.
Remember that most of our stress today is triggered by stressful thoughts instead of saber-toothed tigers. Mental states of worry and regret activate the stress reaction just like physical threat. In mindfulness- based skills practice, these unpleasant or negative mental states are called the tigers within. Research indicates that human beings spend 80 percent time worrying about the future and 20 percent regretting the past. With mindfulness-based skills, we can learn to re-direct our attention away from these tigers within to quiet our minds and bodies.
Mindfulness-based skills enable us to ease physical stress and tension. They have been shown to reduce mental distress and worry, relieve depression and anxiety, and improve immunity and mind- body health. They are the most effective, non-medicinal remedy to reducing stress that currently exists, which is why they are the subject of countless books, including this one. Visit our resource section at the end of this book to learn more.
How Mindfulness-based Skills Reduce Stress
The strategies taught in this program are based on decades of research that have shown practicing these skills reduces stress, depression, anxiety, physical tension, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and pain (Kabat-Zinn, 1990; Garland, Gaylord, Palsson, Faurot, Douglas Mann, & Whitehead, 2012). These skills also increase health and well-being and improve immune functioning. They are currently being studied in women with fertility issues, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and menopausal symptoms with promising results.
Although everyone talks about how stress is wrecking our health and ruining our lives, far fewer have committed themselves to pursuing a life of less stress and more ease while resisting the urge to overdo. To lead this kind of life requires that we pay attention to how experience is affecting us and not ignore or minimize our feelings when we are overwhelmed or exhausted. It means noticing when our emotional pitcher is getting empty and taking actions to refill it.
Mindfulness-based skills including the ones in this program counteract the stress reaction and ease the body’s preparedness to fight or flee by decreasing the surge of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. As physical arousal decreases, the body calms down and thoughts of impending danger decrease. In the moment that we direct our attention from an unpleasant thought or emotion or bodily sensation to a pleasant or neutral one, we regain control of our ability to respond with choice instead of reacting with stress.