Health and Well-being Reducing stress
Peace of mind
Arantxa Valverde recalls a particularly stressful day at work: “I was crawling on the ground, sniffing around like a dog,” she said. Valverde, an advisor for the Loyola Limited Program that operates six student-run businesses on campus, works with over 80 students and must be able to switch gears at any moment, responding to even the most unusual circumstances. In this case, it was an odd smell that she was trying to identify the source of, and time was of the essence.
“Most days I feel stressed because, while I am juggling several tasks at once, the thing that goes wrong is usually something that is out of my control,” she said.
Valverde is not alone. The American Psychology Association finds that 64 percent of adults say work causes unwanted stress in their lives, and 44 percent of Americans report that their stress has increased over the past five years. Without healthy methods to combat this stress, people may end up suffering from fatigue, headaches, and other undesirable physical manifestations of their worries, according to the American Heart Association. Outside of physical health, stress is a well-known agent behind anxiety and depression.
“We often use stress and anxiety interchangeably,” said Dianna Stencel, a licensed clinical social worker at Loyola’s Wellness Center. “People are experiencing more intense anxiety than ever before.” According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in America suffer from an anxiety disorder. “Anxiety can impact our mood and we can end up becoming depressed and even suicidal. Not dealing with it properly effects our relationships with loved ones as well,” Stencel said.
The mindful approach
All hope is not lost. Stencel recommends using the practice of mindfulness as an everyday method to keep stress at bay. “Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in a particular way to our experiences,” said Stencel, who is a trained mindfulness stress-reduction teacher through the Center for Mindfulness. The practice, she said, can help to “develop and nurture our ability to have a non-judging attitude toward our experiences and we are able to allow the experiences to be as they are.”
The idea is to experience life with a “beginner’s mind.” That is, to take each moment fresh and approach situations with an open mind. With more mindful practice, Stencel said, it becomes easier to tackle stress and focus on the matter at hand. Practicing mindfulness can feel like a daunting task, however. Stencel recommends seeking out a mindfulness teacher or group to jump-start the process.
“It’s easy to push away self-care practices, and going to a group or getting an app that has a teacher or community aspect to it can be tremendously helpful.”—Dianna Stencel, licensed clinical social worker at Loyola's Wellness Center
But she also cautions that mindfulness is not about a quick-fix and requires practice. Over time, you can begin to identify patterns that happen in your mind and recognize that stress is a normal human reaction. Mindfulness is, above all, about understanding our reactions to our experiences and learning to be less critical of ourselves. “If you develop a practice and you are working with a teacher,” Stencel said, “it really can be transformative.”
If a mindfulness community is not within reach, meditation can be practiced alone as well. In fact, meditation has proven to be a key element in rewiring the mind to be more apt at mindfulness. “The more people meditate, the bigger the impact it has on the brain,” said Stencel. “Studies show that we need 11 minutes a day of meditation—at a minimum—to see real changes.” If 11 minutes seems low to you, Stencel suggests pushing that to 20 minutes. “In a recent study it was found that students that did three 20-minute meditation sessions a week had lower cortisol levels—one of the hormones that causes stress—and less cognitive degeneration over the course of a semester” Stencel said.