04/06/2020 Click on the highlighted links to access the SCIENCE :)
Coronavirus is scary. We are all experiencing the very worst of the pandemic, right now, this moment. And if you're over 60, like me, it compounds the anxiety due to the fact that we are the high-risk group, for dying from it. And that is scary.
I have a long history with anxiety, dating back to the 4th grade. Waaaay back then there was no actual diagnosis for a panic attack. If you have never experienced a panic/anxiety attack, let me say, you don't want to. You literally think you are going to die. You have trouble breathing, you break into a sweat, you shake, you feel dizzy, sick to your stomach, claustrophobic and there is no relief. When you finally recover you are left dazed and confused, and even more anxious wondering what/why that was, and where did it come from? And worse, will it happen again? This makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy, yes it will happen again unless you learn the tools you need to stop it. In 1964, you were sent to a psychologist because there was "really nothing wrong with you" and it "was all in your head". Often panic disorder leads to self-medicating, with alcohol or prescription drugs
Fast forward to today. We know what it is, what causes it and we have many ways to control it. We live in a fast lane society, we Americans are driven, we work hard, we play hard, we have debt, we have job and family stresses. Now add a pandemic virus into the mix, shutting down the entire country, job loss, and all the rest of the horrors that come with it. We should have anxiety! I'd be suspicious of anyone that didn't. But we Americans are also brought up to be tough, to laugh in the face of danger. To shut up and gut it out. To be brave. The truth is brave people still get scared.
Through my own battle with anxiety, I learned a lot about it, and some simple, but very effective natural tools that work. The most effective drug for me is free, doesn't cost a dime. It's called breathing. That's right, breathing, something we all do all day long without thinking about, right? Well if you want to lead a calmer, happier, less stressful life, it's time to start thinking about it. I'm talking about mindful meditation.
So at this point, you're thinking, "ok Mike M has gone all woo woo, metaphysical on us" and a couple of years ago I would have agreed with you. I am not talking about becoming a Buddhist (although he had some powerful insight into the human condition). I am not recommending you buy crystals or bark at the moon or any other "non-science therapies". I'm a science guy, I need proof, or at least powerful evidence, real evidence before I buy into something.
I already knew about breathing correctly to stop a panic attack. An attack is literally hyperventilation. As you become more anxious, you begin to breathe faster and shallower. This action traps carbon dioxide and reduces oxygen intake. This imbalance causes even faster breathing, which incre3ase your heart rate and blood pressure, which causes sweating and dizziness and...well you get the picture. You see it really is a medical condition, but the cure is as simple as taking some deep breaths, from the diaphragm, then continuing to breathe deep and slow, until you have rebalanced your blood oxygen and you feel calm again. See? Science.
So, I have an open mind about natural, breathing techniques and the mind/body connection. One day a couple of years ago I watched a documentary about mindful meditation that featured a neurologist explaining how the human brain works. He cited a research study conducted at Harvard. (science) In a nutshell, that eliciting the body’s relaxation response could even affect our genes – in just minutes. They found that meditating (even just once) could dampen the genes involved in the inflammatory response, and promote those genes associated with DNA stability (hello longevity!) Other short-term benefits include reducing and and . It may even help us . It’s fairly clear that in establishing a consistent practice we can experience enduring health benefits. For instance, the short-term benefits described above are typically enhanced with regular practice. Other studies are beginning to shed light on the long-term benefits of consistent practice. Researchers have found in brain areas related to memory and emotional processing in expert meditators. Additionally, having a regular practice is associated with benefits to social aspects of our health, like boosting our . It can also help us regulate our thoughts so that we’re not so quick to judge, diminishing the potentially .
Although meditation still isn’t exactly mainstream, many people practice it, hoping to stave off stress and stress-related health problems. Mindfulness meditation, in particular, has become more popular in recent years. The practice of mindful meditation involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.
But when researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, they found 47 trials that addressed those issues and met their criteria for well-designed studies. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindful meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.
Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says that mindfulness meditation makes perfect sense for treating anxiety. “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power,” she explains. “They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”
“If you have unproductive worries,” says Dr. Hoge, you can train yourself to experience those thoughts completely differently. “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self,’” says Dr. Hoge.
One of her studies (which was included in the JAMA Internal Medicine review) found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program helped quell anxiety symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder, a condition marked by hard-to-control worries, poor sleep, and irritability. People in the control group—who also improved, but not as much as those in the meditation group—were taught general stress management techniques. All the participants received similar amounts of time, attention, and group interaction.
To get a sense of mindfulness meditation, you can try one of the guided recordings by Dr. Ronald Siegel, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. They are available for free at www.mindfulness-solution.com.
Some people find that learning mindfulness meditation techniques and practicing them with a group is especially helpful, says Dr. Hoge. Mindfulness-based stress reduction training, developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA, is now widely available in cities throughout the United States.
In closing, there is a lot more, but you get the picture. I feel better mentally and physically now than I ever have. I actually stop and smell the roses. You can too if you want. Feel free to email me directly mikem@bionatures with any questions, I am happy to share the things that have worked for me. Stay safe, stay healthy, see you next time
The author has no financial relationship with any products or services associated with this article. Special thanks to Harvard Medical School for excerpts used in this article.
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