• Jared Ng

9 Ways to Stop Anxiety, Stress & Promote Mind-Body Harmony


Many people assume that good health is primarily due to healthy nutrition and regular physical activity. Although those 2 are vital, other factors such as your attitude, thoughts, and feelings are important too.


Positive thoughts and positive emotions such as love and happiness contribute to vitality, optimism, and joy, which motivates living healthfully, aid healing, and increase longevity. On the other hand, negative thoughts and emotions such as anger and frustration contribute to poor overall health, depression, pessimism, and decrease longevity.


Our attitudes play an import role in promoting health and recovering from illness. I am sure you have heard of the saying "the will to live". The mind affects health and well-being because the mind and body are unified as a whole. No body exists without a mind, and no mind exists without a body. The mind communicates with the body via the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems, allowing thoughts, feelings, and physiology to change body physiology and vice versa.


Joy, creativity, and contentment leads to a state of mind-body harmony and well-being while fear, anxiety, stress, and depression leads to a state of mind-body disharmony, which increases risks for illnesses, and impedes healing.


Luckily, there are ways to focus on the mind to improve health, reduce stress, prevent diseases, and foster healing in times of illness. They are autogenic training, biofeedback, hypnosis, relaxation response, image visualisation, progressive muscle relaxation, virtual reality therapies, massage, and meditation. Everyone responds differently to different methods, so you can test out and see which one works best to calm your anxiety, stress, and improve your mind-body harmony.



Autogenic Training


Autogenic training uses autosuggestion to establish a balance between the mind and body through changes in the autonomic nervous system. Studies have shown that it can help to relieve anxiety, as well as manage chronic medical conditions such as insomnia.


The goal is to concentrate on one of six basic autogenic phrases for a few minutes each day over a week or more. After weeks or months of practice, one is able to go into a deep sense of relaxation, often within seconds, which can lead to healthful physiologic changes.


The six basic autosuggestion are as follows:

  • My arms and legs are heavy.

  • My arms and legs are warm.

  • My heartbeat is calm and regular.

  • My lungs breathe for me.

  • My abdomen is warm.

  • My forehead is cool.

Directions:

  1. Go to a comfortable and relaxing environment and turn off all electronic devices and distractions.

  2. Sit and breathe comfortably.

  3. Choose one of the autogenic phrases from the list and silently repeat it to yourself seven times.

  4. Follow up by quietly saying to yourself: “I am completely calm.”

  5. Repeats step 3 and 4 for ten minutes.

  6. Change to another autogenic phrase every week.


Note: The exact phrasing of any autogenic suggestion is not important as the words carry no particular power. You can rephrase it to make it comfortable, believable, and acceptable to you.


Biofeedback



Biofeedback uses the mind to alter bodily functions. The recording device is connected to a part of the body (e.g. forehead, arm), and information about biological activity in that region is “fed back” on a screen. With the help of the visual or auditory feedback, the person can learn to control the activity in a desired manner.


Biofeedback therapy is a process of training as opposed to a treatment. Much like being taught how to tie their shoes or ride a bicycle, individuals undergoing biofeedback training must take an active role and practise in order to develop the skill. Rather than passively receiving a treatment, the patient is an active learner. It's like learning a new language.


Several sessions are needed as each session’s goal is to push it with just the right amount to make subtle changes to the mind/body that leads to the end desired effect.


Biofeedback has been used to successfully treat many medical conditions such as high blood pressure, panic attacks, asthma, headaches, and insomnia. The table below shows the efficacy ratings on various medical conditions with level 5 having the most efficacy, and level 1 having the least efficacy.


Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2939454/

There are many different types of biofeedback namely: breathing, heart rate, galvanic skin response, blood pressure, skin temperature, brain waves, and muscle tension.

Personally, I have experienced a type of biofeedback, called the neurofeedback. It utilises electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brainwave activity and teach self-regulation of brain function. Scalp sensors are connected to an EEG device. Neurofeedback, also known as neurotherapy, is used as a non-invasive treatment for ADHD, pain, addiction, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.

I decided to try it for my insomnia issues and went for 4 sessions. Each session lasted about 45 minutes. It did help a little, as I was able to sleep at 3am instead of not being able to sleep at all, and the quality of sleep was improved. However, I am not sure if it is due to a placebo effect or not. Either way, I stopped after 4 sessions as it was expensive (SGD85 per session) and far. If it was cheaper, I would likely continue for more sessions. It usually takes about 4-6 sessions to see noticeable results, although 8-10 sessions are also not uncommon.



Hypnosis



Hypnosis is a trance state characterised by extreme suggestibility, relaxation, and heightened imagination. Hypnotic suggestions can alter perception, sensation, emotion, thought, or behaviour and, in this way, the mind can be focused on health issues.

Hypnotherapy is the use of hypnosis to treat sickness and has been shown to heal many conditions such as reducing pain and soothing anxiety, although the research is still inconclusive about its success in smoking cessation.

The success of the hypnosis is deeply influenced by the rapport between client and hypnotherapist so that the client can suspend reality and respond to suggestions. The effectiveness of healing suggestion is dependent on how mentally relaxed the client is.


A mind that is always overthinking and engaged in conscious thoughts of daily living is not receptive to suggestions. As such, hypnosis can be a way to relax the mind to allow suggestions to go through the mind easier.



Myth: Under hypnosis, you lose control of your mind and the hypnotist can make you do whatever he/she wants.

Fact: Unlike what is seen in shows or movies, a hypnotist cannot control your mind. You can choose to break free of the hypnotised state at any point in time. Ultimately, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis.

Myth: During hypnosis, you fall asleep and become unconscious. You wake up without knowing what happened.

Fact: During hypnosis, you are present in the moment and do not lose consciousness. Instead you are very aware of specific thoughts to the exclusion of others.

Myth: Hypnotists have special psychic powers.

Fact: Hypnotists have honed their power of observation and are skilful at giving good suggestions. Those who claim to have special powers are to be avoided for they may have hidden motives and should not be trusted.

Myth: Only people with low intelligence can be hypnotised.

Fact: Everyone can be hypnotised, though how easily is dependent on different person. People with above average intelligence generally enter a state of hypnosis quicker.



Relaxation Response


Many people live a fast-paced and hectic life that are full of pressures and stress. Trying to accommodate all of life’s demands produces near continuous physiologic arousal, leading to mind-body disorders.


Who doesn't want to look younger? Apart from reducing stress, did you know that relaxation response can reverse aging and improve health? This study shows relaxation response affected each of the body's 40,000 genes and found that, compared with a control group, those who regularly used the relaxation response induced anti-oxidation and anti-inflammatory changes that counteracted the effects of stress on the body.

The relaxation response is an automatic physiological pattern opposing nervous system arousal. Do it for 10-20 minutes to keep yourself grounded and calm.

Directions:

  1. Go to a comfortable and relaxing environment and turn off all electronic devices and distractions.

  2. Sit and breathe comfortably.

  3. Silently repeat the word “one”. As soon as you notice your mind wandering, refocus your attention on silently repeating the word “one” again. Do not become angry or frustrated if you are “not doing it right”.

  4. Do it for as long as possible, working your way up to 20 minutes.



Image Visualisation


You mind has the power to promote healing. What you think, you become. Dwelling on negative thoughts such as “I feel like shit” will really make you feel like shit. Instead, focus on positive thoughts, such as “Today is a great day” or “I feel great” will promote positive feelings and positive behavioural outcomes. You can even use it to heal a cut.

In the case of a cut, place a clean cloth over the wound to stop the bleeding first. Then close your eyes and in your mind, visualise the injured part and imagine your wound healing and closing up. See the skin coming back together.

Directions:

  1. Go to a comfortable and relaxing environment and turn off all electronic devices and distractions.

  2. Sit and breathe comfortably.

  3. Decide what you are going to visualise and be specific about it (e.g. being slimmer, giving up cigarettes, being successful in an interview)

  4. Close your eyes and relax the muscles in your eyelids.

  5. Let your mind transfer the same comfortable feeling top-down from head to feet.

  6. Imagine you are floating on clouds; everything is quiet and peaceful.

  7. Allow your mind to visualise and accept whatever it wants that is related to the things you want to improve or heal. They are helping you to change, to feel better.

  8. Remain in this state and enjoy how good it feels

  9. Open your eyes and be fully aware of your surroundings when your mind is ready to return to a fully-awaken state.

Guided imagery is when another’s verbal suggestion help guide you instead of you doing it by yourself.



Progressive Muscle Relaxation


Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) involves tightening individual muscles or muscle groups for 5 seconds, before slowly releasing to create a reflex relaxation. Studies have shown PMR to reduce test anxiety in nursing students, headaches, high blood pressure, and digestive disturbances.


Developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in 1938, PMR can be learned by anyone and only requires 10-20 minutes per day of practise. Over time, you can learn to accurately identify and diminish the signs and signals of stress and tension in your body.


Directions:

  1. While inhaling, contract one muscle group (for example your upper thighs) for 5 seconds to 10 seconds, then exhale and suddenly release the tension in that muscle group.

  2. Give yourself 10 seconds to 20 seconds to relax, and then move on to the next muscle group (for example your buttocks).

  3. While releasing the tension, try to focus on the changes you feel when the muscle group is relaxed. Imagery may be helpful in conjunction with the release of tension, such as imagining that stressful feelings are flowing out of your body as you relax each muscle group.

  4. Gradually work your way up the body contracting and relaxing different muscle groups.



Virtual Reality Therapies



Distraction is a very effective answer to pain. This is why meditation, hypnotherapy, prayer and other methods that focus the mind’s attention on something apart from pain works so well. This aspect of the human mind led to modern medical researchers creating Virtual Reality Therapies (VRT) to treat pain and phobias (e.g. heights or insects).


Research has shown virtual reality to emerge as a viable tool to help in a number of different disorders, with the most strength of evidence for use in exposure therapy for patients with anxiety disorders, cue exposure therapy for patients with substance use disorders, and distraction for patients with acute pain requiring painful procedures.

An example of VRT includes exposing burn victims to virtual realities of ice and cold world to distract them from their pain.

Another example is in the treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), experienced by many survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York.

VRT manipulates the virtual environments to lessen their fears and stress. At the same time, patients know they are safe in the therapist’s office as they can remove the headset at any time. Knowing that they are in a safe environment gives them the confidence to confront their fears through the virtual world and learn to overcome them.

The software development and equipment are costly. However, VRT has a great potential to help people overcome their fears.



Massage


Have been working or studying hard? I am sure you, as well as most people, have experienced tense muscles and soreness in parts of the body occasionally. Neck, shoulders, and back are the more common areas for accumulated tension. Mental and emotional distress can also cause muscle tension and physical discomfort.

Therefore, going for a massage is a good way to alleviate the physical discomfort and ache. You can go to a massage therapist or you can take turns with your family or loved ones to give each other a back or foot massage.



Meditation


Meditation is a long-standing religious and spiritual practice of focused awareness, trance induction, and relaxation that is increasingly used to promote health and healing. Our minds are generally constantly active and often worry or overthink about emotional upsets, financial concerns, or simple daily activities.

Therefore, meditation can be used as a way to quiet the mind. There are different types of meditation. Zen meditation involves sitting still with legs crossed while trying to empty the mind of its chatter. Transcendental meditation involves the mind to focus on a particular phrase (mantra) and repeats it internally while excluding other random thoughts. Mindfulness meditation (Vipassana) is the observation of the flow of thoughts that pass through the mind without focusing on any particular one.


Buddhists often meditate by focusing their mind on a religious image (e.g. mandala). Prayer is also a form of meditation that focuses awareness on God. Most people have experienced meditation in one form or another without purposely doing it.

Take Time Out to Quiet the Mind


Regardless of age, whether we are still in school or at work, most of us lead pretty hectic lives that are full of pressures and mental stress. Some of us even do both. On top of that, we still have extracurricular activities, sports, concerts, smartphone messages, video games, and Netflix shows – the list goes on forever. Doing all these things require a healthy mind and body.

There are many ways I have suggested that can quiet the mind. But the best ones are the ones where you discover and find yourself. Reflect on your life and the good things that happen to it. Appreciate the small things around you, like the fish swimming in the reservoir, or the ants carrying food that is twice its size. Look at the sky and stare at the stars. Appreciate life.


Which is your go-to method to use in stressful times? Comment below!

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