bringingupbuddhas

suburban adventures in bu-curious mothering

Tag: stress

7 tips for election equanimity: surviving tonight’s political smackdown

By Dr. Christopher Willard & Vanessa Gobes

This year’s presidential election has devolved into something that feels disturbingly like a pro-wrestling match. In fact, Ellen DeGeneres ran a perfect spoof on EllenTube last week:

clinton-trump-wwe

Clinton and Trump are locked together, trading insults and elbows, and the show they’re putting on – be it via debates, rallies, social media, or resurrected B-roll – is generating huge reactions from audiences. The more we watch, the more impact we feel in our own gut as our favored candidate absorbs another brutal punch. Each face-off, commercial, or round of polls may bring grief or elation, but always brings more anxiety.

Our physical, mental, and emotional reactions echo the low blows and shouts of righteous indignation we see onscreen: Sweaty palms, tight chests, and furrowed brows, gasps for air, primal screams into pillows, cries of disbelief and frantic internet searches for Canadian citizenship and more.

While we may feel powerless to affect the outcome of the election (beyond our vote), we can empower ourselves to affect our reaction to it, in turn helping those around us. Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” Mahatma Ghandi urged, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” These two men could hardly be more different, but consider the commonality – their belief that change starts here, with us. And while few of us will escape 2016’s presidential slugfest with total equanimity, here are seven mind-body trainings that offer us a fighting chance.

1. Don’t show up to every match you’re invited to

 

Don’t show up for events that proliferate anxiety. Instead, proliferate the positive. Take a break from the news and from your social media feed. Impossible? Limit your social media use to times when you feel emotionally composed. To further quell any political resentment, you may also choose to resign from live posting and real-time online debate.

Instead, consider appealing to the best in yourself and others. While this may sound easier said than done, consider the last question of Sunday night’s debate, “Can you name one positive thing you respect in one another?” Ask yourself this question, not just about the candidates, but also friends, family, and neighbors with whom you disagree. It’s a way to send them to a neutral corner in your mind.

2. Physical training

You are a mindful, compassionate, insightful human being, but during this election cycle, you may find yourself dizzy or even down for the count. In this case, physical awareness is your best defense. When you notice your physical reactions to political rumbles, purge that build up deliberately through exercise, emotional release (crying, laughing, screaming), or through your favorite mindful movement practice, like yoga or tai chi.

3. Take a dive and stay down for the count

The ten count is considered a victory in professional wrestling. But consider the ten count before getting back into the social media ring with that perfectly-composed, snarky Twitter retort. Count to ten, or even count ten breaths, ten sensations in your body, or ten sounds in the environment. Then, return focus to your post and read it aloud. Does it meet your own standards of mindfulness and compassion? Will those words bring out the best in everyone?

4. T.H.I.N.K. before you speak or post online

It’s an oldie but goodie. Ask yourself, is it True? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary and is Now the time? And lastly, is it Kind? Imagine if the candidates followed these guidelines in their stump speeches

5. Use your hometown advantage

We mindful types know that half the challenge of mindfulness, is remembering to practice mindfulness. Try triggering your practice by employing your environment. Use simple decorating details to make your home a constant reminder to take a deep breath and clean up your thoughts. Before the next presidential bout begins, prop a bouquet of flowers next to your computer or television screen. Allow its beauty to remind you that nothing lasts forever, including your tight jaw, your clenched fists, and this disaster of a debate. No flowers in the house? Adhere a sticky note with the word BREATHE in capital letters next to your screen.

6. The Breathing Game

Rumor has it that college kids have made a drinking game of the debates, taking a drink each time one candidate interrupts the other. (This strikes us as an ambulance ride waiting to happen.) Why not take one full breath in and one full breath out each time one candidate interrupts the other, or interrupts the moderator? Think of how relaxed you’ll be by the end of the debate!

7. Work up to the heavy lifting

Going for the world heavyweight title in equanimity this election season?  You can cultivate compassion for yourself and for others.

A friend jokes that the barometer of his spiritual condition is his level of compassion for the opposing political party. It’s a useful yardstick, and you might ask yourself how you are doing with it today? If you’re anything like us, you might not be quite as compassionately-advanced as you’d like to see yourself.

So how do you build that compassion muscle? Begin by directing well-wishes toward yourself during a seated meditation. Wish for yourself what you most need to survive the next three weeks of political counterpunch. For example, May I be happy… May I live without fear… May I approach Facebook with equanimity… Choose unique phrases that resonate with you. Internalize these wishes, then send those same words outward toward a friend, perhaps toward a buddy of your political affiliation.

Next, send these wishes toward a neutral person, maybe one of those mysterious “undecided voters.” From there, move to a difficult person, perhaps a high school nemesis crossing your candidate online. From there, if you can stomach it, send these wishes toward that challenging candidate, and then ultimately, toward all of us suffering together through this political title match.

Be warned: you may get jammed up by your challenging candidate. While attempting to send well-wishes toward Donald or Hillary, your mind may try to eject from the meditation. Instead of forfeiting, get playful. Use your imagination to neutralize his or her outsized ego by turning that heavyweight into a featherweight. Still too big? Imagine the candidate a tiny, helpless baby. Swaddle him or her in a soft blanket and play peek-a-boo, May you be happy. May you live without fear.

When all contenders are happy and feel safe, be them candidates, friends, or pundits, we all go home champs.

***********

Click here to watch the Ellen video: http://ellentube.com/videos/0_bwagip8k.

willard-christopher-__-kevin-day-2016

Christopher Willard, PsyD, is a psychologist and educational consultant based in Boston, specializing in mindfulness with adolescents and young adults. Author of Child’s Mind, Growing Up Mindful, and three other books on mindfulness, compassion and mental health, Willard has been practicing meditation for more than 15 years and leads workshops internationally.

He currently teaches at Harvard Medical School and serves on the board of directors at the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, and the Mindfulness in Education Network.

Headshot Vanessa 1.jpg

Vanessa Gobes is a meditation teacher and workshop facilitator, focusing her work in Greater Boston. She co-founded Chrysalis Meditation Center in 2015 in Winchester, Massachusetts, where she especially enjoys introducing mindfulness techniques to women and children. Vanessa continues to write about mindfulness, motherhood, and mayhem with humor and truth for a long list of online publications.

 

Meet your best friend and worst enemy.

image

Say hello to cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands, two triangular-shaped organs that live just above your kidneys. At the risk of oversimplification, cortisol is the reason you are here today. If not for this quick-acting hormone, your primitive ancestors would have been gobbled up by bears and tigers thousands of years ago.

Cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone,” shuts down nonessential bodily functions and provides the body with everything it needs to fight, flee or freeze. Cortisol overrides your immune and reproductive systems (you’re not worried about healing a cut or making babies when you’re about to be someone’s lunch) and temporarily disables bone and muscle growth. It increases gastric acid production in the belly and stimulates sebum oil production in the skin. (Maybe if you taste really disgusting you’ll turn off that predator.) Cortisol raises blood sugar and insulin levels for a big burst of energy. It sends lactic acid to your muscles so you can pump those arms and legs, and it forces the oxygen you inhale into your lungs so you can run top speed. All of this and more happens in milliseconds, without any conscious effort from you. Pretty amazing, right?

 

Cortisol is designed to hang out in your body for short stints. If you walked around jacked up on cortisol all day long you’d look and feel absolutely INSANE. Can you imagine feeling stressed all the time? Feeling like you’re always running away from something or chasing something or hiding from something?

 

Hmmmm… Come to think of it, this is exactly how your life may look some days. Traffic, money, terrorists, deadlines, relationships, work, sordid pasts, kids, over-scheduling… all stimulate cortisol production. And those are just the obvious stress triggers. Your life may be filled with other complexities that people couldn’t even imagine! If this describes you, cortisol may overproduce in your body a dozen times a day or more. This is not good. Here are just a few reasons why:

 

1. When cortisol floods your hippocampus (the part of your brain responsible for memory and emotional responses), it kills brain cells. Fortunately, the hippocampus protects itself with something called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, or BDNF. Unfortunately, when cortisol secretes chronically, BDNF cannot keep up with demand and your brain cells bite it.

 

2. Cortisol thins the skin by depleting it of hyaluronic acid, a moisture retainer, stripping it of elasticity and suppleness. Additionally, it triggers inflammation resulting in damaged skin cells. The stress hormone also produces more sebum in your skin. Sebum is an oily substance that mixes with your dead skin cells and clogs up hair follicles. Clogged follicles leads to… you guessed it. Acne, pimples, cysts. Ugh.

 

3. Cortisol interrupts the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that relays messages in the brain, including messages about mood, sex drive and function, appetite, and memory among other things. Serotonin is called the “feel good” hormone, and an imbalance may severely influence your mood and drop you into depression.

 

4. One in ten people experience the discomfort of a peptic ulcer. While ulcers are believed to be caused by a bacteria, stress aggravates them. Remember that increase in gastric acid production provided by your friend coritsol? Yup. Not helping. Especially when it’s triggered multiple times daily.

 

These conditions are often self-induced or self-exacerbated. They’re created through habitual negative thought patterns, unreasonable expectations, and unhealthy lifestyle choices.

 

You may think that tolerating stress is necessary for your survival: it makes you feel needed, important, alive. And if so, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans interpret stress the same way. The fact is, stress is toxic and has become America’s number one killer.

 

Here’s the good news. It’s not too late to reverse some of the chaos you’ve created in your body and mind. Those dead cells in your hippocampus? They’ll grow back. Those pimples and cysts? They’ll go away. That ulcer? It’ll heal. Depression? You can get through it. But not if you keep doing the same harmful things you’ve been doing. In order to create beneficial change, you need to change your stressful conditions or learn how to live above them. This begins with intentional, compassionate awareness of self and surroundings.

You may have heard of this thing called mindfulness? It can reduce your active cortisol production by 30%. Meditation researcher and expert Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” He also calls it “a radical act of sanity,” and never before have we needed such a radical act. This planet is suffering, threats of terror and destruction pierce daily life, and you don’t have time or resources to fix the problems created by the entire human race. Instead of taking on the burden of healing this collective disaster, you have permission to just work on healing yourself.

The Dalai Lama says, “World peace begins with inner peace.” He’s saying, Listen, y’all. You just do you. Fix your life. Deal with your drama. Everything else will fall into place around you. So say “no” to work. Say “yes” to play. Make time for silence. Spend time in nature. Hug someone. Care for an animal. Eat real food. Listen to your breath. Truly be with your children. Smile at strangers. Forgive your mother. Do nothing and be okay with it. Connect to yourself and others with full presence and compassionate awareness, and see how your world changes.

And when and if you feel compelled to engage a formal meditation practice, your friends at Chrysalis Meditation Center are here to support you. We are intimately familiar with your friend cortisol, because cortisol is our friend, too. In fact, we are so intimate with cortisol that we can see it before it arrives, and a lot of times we can even lower the gate before it floods in. Not because we are especially talented, but because we’re watching it closely. On purpose. Right now. Without judgment.

From mine to yours,

Vanessa

http://www.insidethechrysalis.com

Headshot Vanessa 3

Vanessa Gobes has been researching, reporting, and writing for 20 years: from spotlights on war heroes for her local newspaper, to the history of women’s golf fashion for 19th Hole Magazine, to mindful parenting for Mallika Chopra’s Intent.com. No topic has enthralled her more than mental and spiritual health. In response to this passion, she cofounded Chrysalis Meditation Center, Winchester, Massachusetts in September 2015.

Beat Stress – and Boredom – through Mindfulness