Quick tip: look at the brain and the other organs of the body as a single team. Once you’ve gotten yourself used to the idea that the brain and all the other wiring and squishy things inside you work TOGETHER, it starts to get easier to understand the impact of stress on exercise, appetite, mood, sleep, and weight changes.
Before that, though – let’s clear one thing up. Some people believe in concepts like ‘positive thinking’ and ‘mind over body’ so much that they blame themselves for anything bad that happens to them, no matter how out of their control this bad thing was. That’s NOT what I’m talking about. For one thing, I don’t believe the concept of ‘mind over body’ makes sense – your mind is part of your body. It’s subject to almost all of the same environmental stressors as the rest of you. So with that out of the way, let’s move on.
It’s May, so the frenzy of beach body desperation preparation is upon us – I’ve seen the Facebook ads suddenly ramp up and everyone’s gearing up to take extreme measures to…participate in summer??? Pardon me for a second while I say, “Screw that.” You don’t have to earn wearing shorts or a tank top. You don’t have to lose 20 pounds to wear a bikini. You don’t have to lose x pounds to sit by a pool. You do what makes YOU happy. You. Do you actually WANT to stress over what judgmental strangers think?
Part of being happy in our bodies is recognizing that the various industries that make money by dealing with our bodies are only interested in a part of our bodies: the part they get money from. That’s a serious oversimplification, but it is part of why we are so disconnected from ourselves. We see our skin issues as separate from our sleep issues, and we see our stress issues as distinct from our bellyfat obsession. That’s because the company/person who sells wrinkle cream isn’t the same company or person who sells mattresses, or diet pills, or CBD, or yoga. The thing is, bodies don’t work like that. What happens in one area affects every other area. And stress affects everything.
If you’re stressed about your body image, that stress will be blocking you from making positive changes, even though you desperately want those changes. So, I’m not here to talk about food or exercise today. I’m here to talk about meditation.
Just like I can slack off with meditation by convincing myself that “being outdoors is like meditation!”, “gardening is like meditation!” etc etc, the truth is that I know that’s not accurate. When I’m gardening or hiking, I’m often still ruminating or mulling over things I need to do, maybe thinking about something I’ve been concerned about, etc. I’m in no way putting the brakes on runaway thoughts. So, I’ve gone back to meditating. Started this morning, actually. 10 minutes of nothing but breathing and being. And after that 10 minutes was up, I tore around the house in my usual Jack-Russell-terrier-ish manner. But happier. And more focused. And feeling just…better.
You have some minutes for lowering your stress. Maybe for now you only have 2 minutes, or 3, or 5. But they’re very important minutes, as they add up to you getting most of the things that you hope for. By giving yourself a 5,10, or 15-minute meditation a day, you’re creating a positive repetitive thought cycle: that you’re worth it, and that you’re not just surviving. That ratcheting down of stress might be tiny, but it accumulates! Just like snowflakes are tiny, or grains of sand are tiny, but we wouldn’t have glaciers or beaches without those tiny things.
The world can be a hostile place – the oldest, truest ally you have is YOU, your body & mind. Your ally needs you. And you need your ally. All it takes to start is a couple of minutes a day. Give it a try.
If you need free resources for mindfulness meditation, here are some:
- (YouTube) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HYLyuJZKno – this is from Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, whose work helped get meditation practices incorporated into cancer treatment.
- https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/mindful-meditations (scroll to the table of meditations, and click the “play” link to play in your browser)
- And here is a simple meditation practice from MD Anderson, if you don’t want or need guided meditation:
“Sit in a comfortable position, on a chair or cushion, with your eyes open or closed.
Focus on breathing a little more deeply than usual, not just into your upper body, but deeper into your abdomen. Breathe in a comfortable way.
Let the mind guide the breath into your body.
Become aware of your breath, focusing as your breathe in and out.
If you get distracted by a sound or thought, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
Try this once a day for three to five minutes. Each day you can add a little more time until you can do the breathing exercise for 20 minutes.”