Measuring Stress & Managing Triggers

The crux of managing stress is to first be able to recognize the exact moments that we’re triggered. We may experience a fight-or-flight response emotionally. Or maybe we feel victimized and search for a place to lay blame or judgment. Perhaps we lose focus. But, without a great deal of practice and self-awareness, these symptoms of stress are often difficult to identify.

The physical reactions of stress—a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing or even feeling queasy—is sometimes more obvious. But still, most of us have been reacting to our triggers for years. The symptoms are like background noise in the chaos and feel perfectly natural. So what is there to notice?

Man with smart device
For people who struggle to identify the onset of stress, especially when it’s subtle as is sometimes the case, modern technology can actually help. Although wearable activity trackers were originally designed to help motivate consumers to improve their exercise, diet and sleep habits, a byproduct of the industry is the wearable technologies that can help people understand patterns of stress.

Tracking a heart rate is usually enough to indicate stress (because stress releases adrenaline, which makes breathing shallow and the heart […]

Procrastination & Meditation Myths

We’re human. For most of us, this means we’ve perfected the art of procrastination. Why do we avoid things? And why do we make up excuses to justify our procrastination? Usually it’s because the thing we’re putting off, such as finishing a project or broaching a difficult conversation with someone, seems hard. The task will require effort. It might be somewhat unpleasant and may, ultimately, drag us out of our comfort zone.

But how do we feel after we finally get around to finishing a dreaded and postponed task? Well, it usually feels great. Right? Often we’ve learned something along the way or, at the least, achieved a sense of accomplishment. Procrastination delays that feel-good reward. What a paradox.

procrastination excuses

People create many excuses to not meditate. If you Google “meditation myths,” you can read pages of myth-busting articles that explain how meditation doesn’t actually require much time, isn’t only for adults, doesn’t take years to learn, isn’t only for people who are stressed out, doesn’t require lotus yogini skills, is simpler than you realize and so on. But these aren’t really “myths.” These are rationalizations, part of our mighty procrastination defense system.

If […]

Adding Another Layer to Mindful Listening

Filmmaker and actor Charlie Chaplin once said, “You’ll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile.” As a man who produced smiles from audiences professionally, Chaplin’s advice is worth noting. But there’s more to a smile, or any facial expression, than meets the eye.

Magnifier
In Search Inside Yourself, SIYLI founder Chade-Meng Tan explains the concept of mindful listening, both formally and informally:

A beautiful way to practice mindfulness, which is almost guaranteed to improve your social life, is to apply mindfulness toward others for the benefit of others. The idea is very simple—give your full moment-to-moment attention to another person with a nonjudgmental mind, and every time your attention wanders away, just gently bring it back. It is just like the meditation we have been practicing, except the object of meditation is the other person.

You can practice mindful listening either formally or informally. The formal practice involves creating an artificial environment for one person to speak while another listens mindfully. The informal practice is to listen mindfully to another person and generously give him or her the space to speak during any ordinary conversation.

Deepening your […]

Should I Meditate?

What do Madonna, Steve Jobs, Joe Namath, Oprah Winfrey, Phil Jackson, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfeld, Kobe Bryant and Clint Eastwood have in common? Yes. They’re all leaders in their industries, but they share something else: meditation.

These illustrious people, who come from a range of disparate backgrounds, attribute part of their success to meditation. So could meditation also help make you more successful? The following questions offer a guide:

1.    Do you often worry about things you can’t control?
2.    Do you have chronic pain?
3.    Would you characterize yourself as stressed?
4.    Does your day sometimes feel like it passes in a fast-moving blur that’s beyond your control?
5.    Do you often feel impatient?
6.    Do you have trouble sleeping?
7.    Do you find yourself not listening to others because you’re distracted by other thoughts?
8.    Do you find it difficult to concentrate throughout the completion of one task?
9.    Do you worry about the past or future frequently?
10.    Do you find that you sometimes react to situations and later regret what you said?

Should I meditate?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of the above questions, meditation could be beneficial for you. Research shows that mindfulness practices can help […]

3 Ways to Cope with Unnecessary Stress

Intermittent stress primes the brain for performance. A 2013 study at the University of California, Berkeley, uncovered benefits of stress, such as pushing the brain to an optimal level of alertness with improved behavioral and cognitive performance. This short-lived stress is like a cup of coffee: It jolts the brain into critical action.

Chaos
But chronic stress—anxious, never-ending worry—increases the risk of heart disease, obesity and depression. It also, ultimately, has the opposite effect of brief moments of stress by decreasing cognitive performance.

Fortunately, unless the house is on fire, most stress is self-inflicted and exists only in our minds, which means we can control it. Try these three simple techniques to let go of stress:

1. Focus on the present: Any thought that begins with the words “what if…” sends your mind directly into the past or the future, both of which can create anxiety. Speculating about what could have happened differently in the past or what could happen in the future is rarely productive. If you don’t need to go there, don’t. You’ll feel much calmer.

2. Practice gratitude: By appreciating what you have, you can swap stress for increased happiness.

Want Innovation in the Workplace? Cultivate Compassion

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ―Aesop

Innovation and company culture. The words are common parlance in business today, and the two are often found together. Google, for example is an organization motivated by innovation, and its commitment to innovation is cultural, not process driven. But how can an enterprise and its leaders nurture innovation?

In the 15th century, the word “culture” pertained to agriculture, as in “cultivating” the land. Over time, the definition morphed to involve the anthropological study of people, and eventually, in the 1980s, “company culture” came into usage to describe the personality of a workplace. Google didn’t stumble upon its innovative company culture by accident. Remember that “culture” stems from “cultivate”: Successful companies cultivate their culture carefully. (Yes, it’s a tongue twister.)

Idea Creativity Inspiration Thought Planning Concept
Innovation, the process of introducing something new or different, requires a special environment: Think back to some (hopefully) long-ago childhood moment where you or were ridiculed for blurting out a silly idea. That’s the wrong environment for innovation. Companies with successful innovative cultures have leaders who demonstrate compassion. Compassion, a cousin to empathy, is “a sympathetic consciousness of […]

Just Think: A Shocking Study

When choosing between being left alone with their own thoughts or administering electric shocks to themselves, people prefer electric shocks. In a study titled “Just Think: The Challenges of the Disengaged Mind,” researchers published the following abstract in Science in July of 2014:

In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

Business man holding electricity light bolt in his hands

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats used to say, “It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.” But how far into those dark corners can a person get in 6 to 15 minutes? Is the battlefield of the mind worse than electric shocks?

Apparently. Even among participants who (after […]

Shifting Priorities: The Art of the Mindful Email

Not so long ago, the ability to multitask was viewed as an asset, but the glamour of doing many things at once is fading. The term “multitasking” originated from the computer industry in 1965 (first appearing on paper to describe the capabilities of the IBM System/360), but long before it was part of our lexicon, people were scrambling about trying to accomplish more than one thing at once. Back then, multitasking was simply part of daily life, especially for women who tended to children while doing chores around the house. Whether these undertakings are truly multitasking—performing two or more tasks simultaneously—or simply jumping from one task to the next as priorities shift is debated. But what’s not up for debate is that the actual tasks have changed: Today, people text and drive while listening to music and following GPS directions, respond to emails while talking with friends during dinner, or scroll through their Instagram account while listening in on a conference call and taking notes.

busy woman at her desk
The reason multitasking is now under fire is because it doesn’t actually make us more efficient. A recent article in The Guardian, titled […]

Acceptance Versus Avoidance

For those who tend to obsess about the future or who can’t let go of the past, quieting the mind can be a welcome reprieve that, as science has shown, is good for both mental and physical health. Meditation provides an immediate grounding in the present moment, but for some it can be a surprisingly fine line between using it as a tool for avoidance instead of a path to acceptance.

ACCEPTANCE

Instead of using critical thinking to address a situation, some seek a retreat in mindfulness, a place to disconnect and avoid real-life challenges and emotions. A recent SIYLI blog, “Work Stress: Retrain the Brain,” explores ways to recognize the symptoms of stress and then practice pausing, actually stopping to breathe for a moment before reacting. In these circumstances, mindfulness is a tool to slow down long enough to dissipate the fight or flight response and then, hopefully, move forward with more awareness.

But time spent meditating, whether for that one breath while stressed or for prolonged periods, isn’t an escape from reality. It’s not a magic trick, a panacea or special sauce that obliterates problems. The stress caused by these […]

Work Stress: Retrain the Brain

Deadlines. Commuting. Colleagues. Technology. Wages. According to Everest College’s 2014 Work Stress Survey, 80 percent of Americans are frazzled by something at work. Think about it: That means only two out of 10 people in the workplace aren’t stressed.

Working in a state of frenzy can be a heady addiction for some, but it’s not a healthy one. Stress is linked to depression, heart disease, insomnia, weight gain, memory and concentration problems, as well as a host of other unsavory disorders. Not to mention that it’s unpleasant to work with anxious people. How can more of us join the happy and healthy minority?

confusion

The first step begins by noticing the symptoms of stress. Sometimes they’re subtle: a racing heart, hot ears, tensing muscles, talking fast or a clenched jaw. Sometimes they’re more obvious, such as the urge to yell or kick something. Self-awareness begins with emotional awareness. And recognizing these symptoms, before reacting, is where it all starts.

Once we can recognize a symptom or two arising, we just need to pause. Take a breath. Let the feeling subside. Let whatever triggered it wait for a few seconds, or even a minute, before responding. […]