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  • Writer's pictureDAJ

“Every day brings a choice to practice stress or practice peace!”

I had an appointment for a two-hour root canal procedure today. Of course, I wasn’t looking forward to it, but then when I got there they told me after looking at the x-rays it looked like they were going to have to remove what was left of the tooth. They told me I had many more complicated dental procedures to look forward to. I could feel my stress going through the roof.

We should be proud because those of us who have a significant stress response inherited it from our ancestors, and that is part of the fight and flight reaction that helped prevent us from being consumed by a tiger, allowing our gene pool to survive. Our ancestors were always on the lookout.

In our modern world, we don’t need to run away from tigers, so we don’t need an intense stress response. But our complex world also exposes us to more frequent stressors, and reacting to each of our daily challenges with a significant adrenaline burst is not helpful. We need to change our relationship with stress to help us bounce back from life’s frequent challenges. When stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, so we need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to get the “relaxation response”. The relaxation response encourages our bodies to release chemicals and brain signals that make our adrenaline system slow down.

We can help train our body to activate the “relaxation response” through focused breathing, meditation, yoga, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, and other activities - even knitting. Meditation has been shown on MRI to induce healing changes in the brain. Sometimes even retraining our belief system can help activate the relaxation response.

Focused breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are two resiliency techniques that are great for turning off the fight or flight response. The more it is done the more it comes naturally to you any time you feel the adrenaline rush of stress. Stress provides us with an opportunity to practice what resiliency is all about, and by using these techniques, we can mitigate the negative effects of stress and thrive.

“Peace is every step.” Thich Nhat Hanh

“Gratitude is one of the most powerful human emotions. Once expressed, it changes attitude, brightens outlook and broadens our perspective.” Germany Kent

A year ago I bought a five-year gratitude journal. I’ve been writing 5 things that I’m grateful for every day. I’m now overlapping entries I wrote a year ago on that same day. I finally came around to a year and I have had the great opportunity of seeing the many blessings of my life in a different light. Sure, there were days when I had only written three things I was grateful for, but even looking back on those days I feel blessed.

Gratitude in any form can make us feel happier no matter what we are grateful for.

According to positive psychology:

“Expressing gratitude not only to others but also to ourselves, induces positive emotions, primarily happiness. By producing feelings of pleasure and contentment, gratitude impacts our overall health and well-being as well.

When we express gratitude and receive the same, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions, and they make us feel ‘good’. They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.”

By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help these neural pathways to strengthen themselves and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves.

So take a few minutes each day and write down three things you are grateful for. You will be glad you did.

My youngest son is home visiting from medical school. He’s shared many interesting stories from his classes and tales about trying to learn remotely. It sounds like there are ups and downs and a lot of stress, which I know is to be expected. His ability to handle all the challenges that lay ahead seems doable to him because he knows this would help him achieve the purpose for his life. His entire life he has wanted to help the human race. He hopes to do this through medicine. His purpose is what drives him forward. Everyone needs a purpose in life.

Having a fulfilling purpose is a fundamental element of a fulfilling life. When we don’t have a sense of purpose, it leaves us open to boredom, anxiety, and depression. Viktor Frank, in his book “Mans Search for Meaning” about the holocaust, describes this. People in the concentration camps that were not able to find a purpose suffered from more depression, anxiety, and despair, whereas those that maintained their sense of purpose fared much better.

Everyone’s purpose is personal. Your purpose may be as simple as spreading kindness by smiling at everyone.

No matter what your circumstances in life, remember that your story is important. Your dreams count. Your voice matters. If you discover your purpose it will make an impact and that will have an impact on you!

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