You need to chill out. Seriously. Doctor’s orders.
Research has long established a link between anxiety and health issues
as grave as cancer and heart disease. In today’s world, stressors
are everywhere. But thankfully, so are the antidotes to stress.
From yoga studios in your local shopping center to mediation apps on your
phone, there are no shortages of ways to decompress, de-stress and simply
breathe. And it seems that more people are aware of the health benefits
and necessity of meditation and mindfulness.
Still, the term “mindfulness” can elicit puzzled looks from
people. What does it mean to be “mindful” and how exactly
is mindfulness medically beneficial? Western philosopher John Kabat-Zinn
has a definition that I find helpful, “Mindfulness is awareness
that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment,
It isn’t as tricky as it sounds. There are guided meditation apps
that can help you incorporate healthful meditation into your life every
day, and yoga poses can be struck at home right after you wake up. And
the effects these small changes can have on your health can be enormous.
Pain: In a study of 342 people who had experienced significant lower back pain
for at least one year, 43% of people who attended a weekly mindfulness
training session experienced a meaningful reduction in pain, versus 26%
of people who maintained their usual pain treatment regimen.
Depression: A small, but sound
study of adults suffering from major to moderate depression found that an eight-week
hatha yoga intervention resulted in statistically and clinically significant
reductions in depression severity.
Memory and brain health: Harvard researchers discovered that meditating for 30 minutes every day
for eight weeks actually increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an
area important for learning and memory.
If it still seems strange to focus on breathing as a complement to modern
medicine, consider that how we breathe changes drastically over the course
of our lives. When we are babies and toddlers, our breathing center is
in our bellies. As we become adults, we begin breathing from our chests,
resulting in less diaphragmatic breathing. When we are ill, we often experience
shallow breath. The healthier we are during the course of our lives, the
slower and deeper our breathing.
By “relearning” how to breathe, we can reduce that “fight
or flight” response that causes our bodies to go into stress overdrive.
This can help us to better control our mood and our responses to stress.
In all mammals, a higher resting heart rate is related to a higher mortality
rate. Mice, which breathe at rate of 90 to 250 breaths per minute, live
an average of two to seven years, while whales, who take only 3 to 5 breaths
per minute live 130 to 200 years. (If you’re curious, humans clock
in at an average of 6 to 16 breaths per minute.)
When we experience anxiety, we breathe too quickly – essentially
“using ourselves up” faster than we should. So, instead of
worrying and scurrying, take your time. Breathe. Notice the world around
you and stress a little less about your specific place in it.
In other words, chill out. Doctor’s orders.