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Stress Reduction Techniques

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In this lesson, we are going to 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 of your classmates feel stress, probably your teachers, your parents, all the adults you know feel stress.

The modern world sends its 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 nt 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 there are 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 complementary system 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 thing what happens, our digestion slows down, our immune system is lowered. All this happens during sympathetic arousal.

The opposite system, parasympathetic nervous system, this is called sometimes the relaxation response, the reset and digest system, the soothing system. So imagine this is when your whole body relaxes. Your heart slows down, your breathing becomes 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 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 practice this 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, you 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 about the body. A lot of stress involves being too much in one's head. All kinds of thoughts and imaginings running around. Half of what stress is, is things that our brain cooks up that aren't even real. What if he says this? What if that happens?

What if this happens? What if I 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. 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 teenage 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 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 school work or something like that, our mind gets to focus on something else, which is a little bit relaxing. But it's not action relaxing the body.

And that's an important point. In fact, in many ways by entertaining ourselves with things that pump adrenaline through 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 missing 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 a pencil sharpener? Have you ever really looked at individual parts of, say, a car? Something like this. Mindfulness is about making very careful observations. Again, deep 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 portion 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 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 breath 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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