Stressed out? Worried? Anxious? With all that is going on in our world right now, it is no surprise that stress and anxiety are on the rise. But did you know that all that stress can greatly weaken your immune system and reduce your ability to fight off infections? Research has shown one’s state of mind affects one’s state of health. And that extra Vitamin C you’ve been taking may be counteracted by all that extra worry!
But what can we do about it? Simply- take a deep breath! Just a few minutes a day of mindful breathing or meditation can greatly increase stress resilience and boost your immune system. For many of us mindfulness and meditation feels foreign and awkward. I get that. I’m fairly new to the practice myself! But believe me, the benefits are worth the effort! Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
Belly breath for 5-10 minutes. Belly breathing helps promote relaxation, stress reduction, increased efficiency in stretching, increased energy and creates better body awareness. Think of filling your whole torso with air when you breathe in (pushing your belly out) and pushing the air out with your stomach muscles when you breathe out (contracting your belly in). For most people it is the opposite of our normal breathing and will take some concentration and practice when you get started. Try making your exhale just a bit longer than your inhale as well. You can do this anywhere, but it’s most effective when you are in a quiet place so you can focus on your breathing. Try to clear your mind of your daily worries and if your mind wanders, gently bring it back to where you are at. I like to incorporate a little montra with each breath- “Peace in, stress out” or “Love in, fear out”. Find what works for you.
Don’t have 5 minutes? Breathe for 1 minute 5 times a day!
Can’t sit still?
Try some yoga stretches while doing your breathing or even some rebounding on a small trampoline.
Feel like you can’t fit a work out in and meditation? Try doing them together!
Mindful walking simply means walking while being aware of each step and of your breath. It can be practiced anywhere, whether you are alone in nature or with others in a crowded city. You can even practice it in between business appointments or in the parking lot of the supermarket. Concentrate on the physical sensations of walking- the sights and sounds and physical sensations of each step. If your mind starts to wander, just gently bring it back by saying ”left, right” or counting with each step. Mindful walking allows us to be aware of the pleasures around us. During this time, there is no rush, no place to get to, no hurry. Mindful walking can release our worries and help bring peace into our body and mind.
If walking is not your pace, try the same with running.
Or try some Mindful Weight Training!
Start with a few belly breaths to get you started, then be mindful as you move. You can start with just breathing as discussed before. You can add a mantra again: for example
Inhale: “Yes” Exhale: “I can”, Inhale: “I am” Exhale: “Strong”
Or think of each movement:
- What muscles am I working?
- What does it feel like (burning, powerful, achy, etc.)?
- Concentrate on your form in every rep? Has it changed?
- What rep starts to feel really hard?
- When you come up against your limit, is it really a physical limit or a mental one?
Once again, if your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to your breath or movement. Don’t beat yourself up. It’ll never be perfect, but keep at it!
Still too formal? Just DANCE! Dance like no one is watching- because they’re not!
We know that dancing can have positive effects on your physical wellbeing, but dancing has also been shown to reduce stress, improve memory, and improve psychological well being. Whether it’s formal with a partner or free style by yourself, focus on the music, how you feel, and just let it go!
There are also some great apps to guide you through some meditations like Insight, Headspace, and Calm to name a few.
Meditation doesn’t have to be just sitting and humming. Find something that works for you! Have fun with it! You’ll be amazed at how you’ll feel and your immune system will thank you too!
Amy Ray, FNP
Adult Functional Functional Practitioner