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Stress Reduction Techniques


In this lesson, we're gonna talk about the very important topic of stress reduction techniques. So first of all let's just say a few things about stress. Of course life in the world seems to make stress unavoidable. Probably you and all your classmates feel stressed, probably your teachers, your parents, all the adults you know feel stress.

There's a way that the modern world sends this message that everyone lives under stress and that's the normal way to live. Well of course stress is unhealthy and it's unenjoyable, it's not fun to be under stress. And in fact it's well documented there are many, many health risks of living most of one's life under stress.

But it's very important to keep in mind stress is one way to live, but it's not the only way to live. And that's a really important thing to understand. So in order to understand this a little better, we'll talk about the brain. Now the brain, of course there are parts of our brain, we can think, and parts of us that we can control.

I can choose to move my arm, that kind of thing, but then there's a lot that runs on automatic pilot. And there are two complimentary systems that govern all this stuff that runs on automatic pilot. One of them is called the sympathetic nervous system. So this governs what happens to our body when we go into fight or flight, when we exercise, when we're in a moment of tremendous excitement, or when we're under stress.

And in general what happens is that muscles become tense, lot of blood goes to the muscles, lot of blood goes away from internal organs. We have shallow breathing, our heart speeds up, there's a lot of adrenaline and in fact, among other things what happens our digestion slows down, our immune system is lowered. All this happens during sympathetic arousal.

The opposite system, parasympathetic nervous system this called sometimes the relaxation response, the rest and digest system, the soothing system. So imagine this is when your whole body relaxes, your heart slows down, your breathing become deep, your muscles relax. This actually enhances digestion, enhances immune function, it's much healthier to live in the parasympathetic nervous system.

So reducing stress has a lot to do with turning off the sympathetic nervous system and turning on the parasympathetic nervous system. And the big component of this is the breath. See, I have no way to consciously control my heart rate. I have no way to consciously control how much adrenaline I'm producing. But the one thing I can consciously control is my breath, and in fact the quickest way to turn off the sympathetic nervous system and to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system is with the breath.

Slow, deep, full-body breathing initiates body-wide relaxation. So practices right now, start taking some nice deep breaths. These would be breaths that fill up the belly, fill up the chest. You can feel the ribs on your sides pushing outward and even can move the shoulders apart a little bit. Just a gigantic, nice, big, slow, breath, slow inhale, slow exhale.

And in fact, if you can keep on doing this during the rest of this video. If you can just breathe like this for five minutes, you will feel an enormous difference in your body. And in fact, we'll talk a little bit about the body. A lot of stress involves being too much in one's head. All kinds of thoughts, and imaginings running around is half of what stresses.

This is the things that our brain cooks up that aren't even real. What if he says this? What if that happens? What if that happens? What if I have to deal with this? And so, a lot of stress is in the head, and a lot of fighting stress has to do with becoming more aware of the body.

And of course as you're breathing deeply that's an excellent time to just notice the whole body. What does your body feel like? If your body could say something, what would it say to you? If you feel any areas of tightness or discomfort you can always breath into those as you're doing slow breathing and you'll find that they'll relax slowly.

And one thing I'll say, just take it from an old person, you have a teenage body. You have a young, healthy body, full of life, full of energy, appreciate that, appreciate the fact that you have a teenaged body. Appreciate what a gift it is, what a blessing it is, to walk around in this world with a teenage body. Once you turn 20, you'll never have a teenage body again.

So, just keep that in mind. Appreciate the body, pay attention to it, pay attention to how it feels. And I'll say relax, but really relax. And what do I mean by this? Think about what most people do when they say they're relaxing. They often watch an electronic screen so a TV, movie, video games, that sort of thing.

And in fact a lot of times the things that they're watching, say if it's an action movie or a fast paced video game, it's actually something that is producing a lot of adrenaline. In general changing electronic screens do a lot to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system. And so it may feel like relaxation because, of course, we're not focusing on our schoolwork or something like that.

Our mind gets to focus on something else, which is a little bit relaxing. But it's not actually relaxing the body. And that's an important point. In fact, in many ways, by entertaining ourselves with things that pump adrenaline into our system, we're really practicing stress. We're working the same systems that will affect us with stress later, the same circuitry.

Real relaxation involves the full breath and whole-body presence. And so I will say experiment with this a little bit. Spend at least a little time unplugged in this kind of deep relaxation each day, even if it's only five minutes. Not plugged into anything, just low sensory stimulation and just breathing deeply and feeling yourself.

And just develop this as a kind of touchstone, so you have a visceral sense of what it feels like to relax at a deep level. Because most people don't have any idea what that feels like. Most people don't have any idea how good it feels to relax deeply, and the more you can establish an awareness of that the more you'll be able to access that. And that will be a tremendous aid in fighting stress.

The final practice that I'll recommend is something called mindfulness. Now this might be a word that you've heard. Mindfulness is the practice of observing carefully and noticing details. Now think about this, think about the way we move through the world. We look at a lot of familiar objects and we say right away, okay I know what that is.

Okay, fork, I know what a fork is, done. Pencil sharpener, I know what a pencil sharpener is. In other words, it doesn't even register. We just see the familiar object and it's as if some part of our mind says been there, done that and we don't even look at it. Mindfulness is about stopping and looking.

Have you ever really looked at a fork, really looked carefully, noticed the difference between different kinds of forks. Have you ever really looked at a stapler, or pencil sharpener? Have you ever really looked at individual parts of say, a car, or something like this? Mindfulness is about making very careful observations.

Again being breathing, being aware of the body and making these observations. And a lot of this involves just looking very carefully at super familiar objects that we take for granted. Now of course the rational mind says well what's the value of that? Well, of course, as we're doing this we're turning on another part of our mind, we're turning on a kind of open-ended curiosity and wonder.

Open-ended curiosity and wonder, which is also something that fights stress. It's also something that helps us relax deeply. So as we're doing mindfulness, we can be doing the deep breathing, we can be aware of our body. And we're actually learning a different way to be in the world. It's actually when you slow down, you find that a great deal of stress drops away.

So a good introduction to mindfulness, every time you're in a familiar place, think about the places where you are all the time, your own house, your classrooms, maybe your friend's house, maybe stores where you go. Places where you're several times a week. Every time you're there, make yourself notice just one detail that you've never seen before.

And at first it may seem like well you're gonna run out after a few, but as you practice this more and more, you realize my God the world is full of details that we all miss. There's just tons and tons of details everywhere and the more you look the more rich and interesting the world becomes. And, of course, as you focus on that more, you're focusing less on your own problems and your own stress and it's helping your entire body to relax.

In summary, practice deep, slow, full-body breathing as much as possible, practice that throughout your day. Sit in class and breathe like that, breathe like that when you're in a car, or on a subway train, or something like this. Just breathe that way as much as possible, and make it a habit and your whole life will feel different if you can simply breathe that way.

Occupy your entire body, be grateful for the gift of having a body and be aware of how it feels and what it's saying to you. Relax, but really relax. Spend at least a little time each day totally unplugged and just totally relaxing and feeling into what it feels like to be you. And practice mindfulness, and of course if you're really curious about this there are extraordinary books about mindfulness that you can explore further.

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