What would happen if tomorrow morning you woke up to find yourself having zero judgments — none whatsoever — about you, the universe, or anything in it (including other living beings)?
What modern or ancient dangers lurk for someone who has no awareness of the need to avoid them? What if you had no reason to be mindful with things as benign-looking as crossing the street or getting too close to a rattlesnake, diving into a deep and expansive body of water, or drinking a toxic substance like Drano from a bottle? Which judgments bring us more safety or benefit from heeding them rather than being ignorant to them? Which judgments, if absent, would result in almost certain pain, suffering, or death?
In that same vein, which judgments, if shed, would reveal entirely wonderful or stunning realizations or experiences? Which judgments keep us back from really potent opportunities to connect with ourselves and others, or imprison us, keeping us from gaining life experiences which almost universally benefit those who embrace them? What new beauties would we find, which experiences might we finally enjoy, what people or groups would brighten our lives?
We are all looking for those things which provide safety from pain or, alternatively, opportunities for pleasure. Keeping track of this data takes up a healthy portion of our memory. But have you ever wondered what happens if we re-examine the objects in that virtual rolodex of “dos” and “don’ts”? Daryl Davis did just that, and may be able to shed some light on what is possible when we deeply challenge existing cultural and personal belief or certainty.
You see, Daryl decided to question the long-held judgments made by people inside or outside of his community. He even challenged the answers conjured up by his own mind about his place in the world around him, and why it often feels like a place of unwelcomeness for him. Rather than accept the answers, or even to imagine up personal answers for himself, he decided to revisit the question humans have long claimed certainty around: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”
Many ask this question, and most often, the answers seem to be rooted in ethnocentric thinking: I hate you because you’re inferior; I mistreat you because you’re ignorant; I attack you because you’re evil; I avoid you because you’re dangerous; I criticize you because you’re wrong. But really, these answers can all trace their root back to one, simple expression: I am afraid of you because you’re not familiar — because you’re not enough like me. Few humans, it seems, stop to question the answers they’re given. His question was unique, perhaps only because it was asked more out of sincerity rather than sarcasm. I get the strong sense that Daryl wasn’t merely searching for a rhetorical question to accompany a pre-determined answer, as is so often the case.
I admire Daryl’s courage and humility in refusing to assume that he knew what motivated someone he knew little or nothing about. Rather than returning the favor of judgment and ignorance, he entered into a potentially treacherous relationship with humility and grace. Above all, he allowed himself to trust and nurture his deeper curiosity and wonder, and out of that came this incredible result of two willing men discovering their own humanity where they least expected it.
What would happen if we all laid down our judgment — shed outside opinion — long enough to at least understand, and know “the truth” about something foreign for ourselves? If Daryl’s experience is any indication, then the answer is more vibrant and enlightening than most of us might believe.
Thank you Daryl. I have something better to aim for in my own character because of you.
Anyone familiar with conversations about meditation (at least in a western society like the United States) will know how common it is for the topic of “a quiet mind” or “a still mind” to come up. This is so prevalent in the discussion about meditation, in fact, that it has emerged as one of the primary objections to or criticisms of meditation by those who have reached for and failed to grasp such prized benefits which are often touted as a surefire reward of the practices.
And this is unfortunate, because for all the benefits that meditation or mindfulness might provide, a growing group of people are deeply inclined to dismiss or even refuse to engage in meditative practice because they have been sold strong or even outlandish misrepresentations of the practice. These claims are often made for no other reason than simply to win this potential meditator as an adherent to regular practice.
This is a primary shortcoming of ethnocentricity, wherein a tribe attempts to convert non-practitioners to the tribe’s traditions, usually by attempting to oversell the group’s benefits and refute diverse (alternate) practices or perspectives at almost any cost. Having someone pick up meditation if it doesn’t serve them is bad for them, but it’s bad for those who derive genuine objective value from the practice. This fact doesn’t go away if the reason for their initially negative experience is due to judgment, misconception, resistance, or some other personal influence. This choice to present hyperbolic claims as though they are easy pickings for newcomers imposes too high of a “minimum expectation” for achievement in the group’s practices or values, and essentially cuts too many people off from the more subtle (but perhaps more attainable) benefits of the practice. With high distress levels worldwide, overlooking the simple, accessible benefits of novice practice is a foolish act of “jumping ahead”.
All this is to say, I think the idea of a quiet mind might be a misdirect, overstatement, or even outlandish promise of meditation’s benefits in the first place. I imagine this promise is driven as much from a desperate attempt to validate meditation in some big way as it is to get someone to “just try it out” so they can experience the very real, very beneficial, very needed (albeit less lavish) benefits. I’m not claiming a mind can’t be quieted, or that a soul can’t be stilled in a peaceful and healthy way. But these are the byproduct, not the goal. They’re the fruit, not the work. And many seasoned practitioners would argue that some nirvanic sense of bliss isn’t even the most abundant or valuable benefit meditation has to offer.
The truth is, most humans today are stressed, anxious, or depressed (if not a combination of all three). A subset of humans are at their breaking point. If the threshold for crossing that dangerous threshold is, let’s imagine, 50.1% presence of some combo of anxiety/depression/stress in their regular daily experience, then there are enough people at 48%, 49%, or even 50% who are moments away from having a potentially tragic experience. If anyone needs a miracle, it’s these people. But offering an empty promise doesn’t help — it risks immense damage. Feeding them “white lie false hopes just so they’ll try something that could help them out eventually is not only irresponsible, it’s unkind. I recognize the impulse for making the invitation or promise in the first place likely comes from an entirely loving, kind, or concerned place. This is what makes it an especially unfortunate engagement. If our aim is to help, it is our responsibility to inform ourselves about what helps, rather than help in ways that feel intuitive or rewarding even while they harm.
But more importantly, someone at or near their breaking point doesn’t need grand promises or lofty goals. They, in fact, likely stand to benefit much more from a regular, recurring conversation about ways they can make small and steady improvements to their situation rather than one big “whammy” solution. Put another way, if we stick with the facts, let them know what meditation is, how to get started, and draw their attention to the smaller, more immediately available, but more evidence-based benefits proven to come out of consistent practice, we stand a chance of giving them a rope they can grab onto rather than a pole they can’t even get their arms around, so to speak.
We all want to climb out of our own proverbial holes, and we all want to know there’s help there, if and when we get in a pickle — in that order. Leading someone desperate, who is feeling debilitating anxiety, to believe that they can eliminate their anxiety almost completely with a few simple meditations (or a lifetime of it) is not backed by evidence, nor is it kind.
Alternatively, letting someone who is struggling with anxiety know that meditation has been shown to reduce stress hormones, positively effect blood pressure, improve outlook, and potentially help sleep patterns — being careful to communicate that these improvements usually begin small and compound over time — gives them a reasonable expectation that if they invest in healthier patterns, they may find a small amount of relief from the practice immediately, with further relief increasing over time. It may only move them from a 49% stress load to a 47% stress load in the short term, but that small walk back from the edge of catastrophe could make all the difference for their long-term pathway to wellness.
Do you expect to be “cured” by meditation? That, my friend, does not seem to be the point of meditation. The major primary benefit I’ve found from meditation is the opportunity to ask if I’m broken in the first place.
“A quiet mind” is an idea rooted in the claim that the mind is broken. Perhaps it simply has never felt heard. Will you accept the invitation to change that dynamic with yourself, for yourself?
Sit with yourself in meditation today, and see if your mind doesn’t become easier to sit with, or quieter from a deeper sense of satisfaction from finally being listened to and heard.
Humans are organizers. There’s evidence that our species has been doing it for as long as we have a recorded history. We may have begun this process by keeping nuts and berries in nooks and crannies, eventually engineering totes and pots for our tools and trinkets — but over hundreds of thousands of years it has evolved into a full-fledged never-ending process of sorting, labeling, judging, and acting on these judgments about everything. We’re so adept at this process that we often do it without being aware of it. It’s as disconnected from our daily consciousness as breathing. And just as we can gain significant benefits by paying attention to our breath (even for a few moments daily), there are profound opportunities for those who develop a more deliberate awareness of their own personal practice of judging.
You know that strange sensation that can sometimes arise when we start thinking about our own breathing (strange, because we rarely pay any attention to it)? That same infrequency of attention accompanies most of the judgments we make. We judge almost non-stop, but rarely do we pay attention when it’s happened or consider it’s impact. We judge the thing occupying our attention in this moment, and promptly forget about it when another thing pushes it aside. But the judgment remains, as does the praise or condemnation that will likely accompany any future interaction with that thing. In a phrase,
Labels are hard to shake.
It would be difficult to argue that the act of judgment and categorization are purposeless or lacking any benefit to our species. Critical thinking has empowered us to better explore and subsequently make sense of ourselves and the universe around us. While the vast majority of daily judgments are woefully misinformed and lead to potentially problematic ends, judgment isn’t the problem, per se. And in the same way that it feels strange noticing our own breath, becoming mindful of the process may feel awkward at first, especially if this is a new idea to you.
That’s why I like this video. It reveals, with surgical precision, the tsunami of nuance that can easily arise when we stop to examine the labels we apply — labels which we rarely have any logical reason for gratuitously applying to almost everything in our lives.
This video has been a helpful catalyst for raising crucial questions in my own day-to-day experience. Here are a few examples of those questions:
- What/who do I judge?
- What process do I employ when I judge?
- What influences (or who’s perceived authority) do I allow to persuade my judgment?
- Is this pattern of judgment something I’ve chosen, or did I simply inherit it from the culture/society around me?
- Is the thing I am judging good, or do I just choose to label it as good?
- Is this thing bad, or am I choosing to ignore/undervalue the benefit that surely exists if I simply judge it differently?
- Am I operating in “black and white” thinking, or have I made space to consider more diverse perspectives than my own?
- Does anyone get the opposite effect from this idea/place/person/thing than I do? If so, is it due more to personal subjectivity or objective reality?
Check out the video above, and see if practicing mindfulness while re-assessing the judgments you’ve made might provide value to you. Will developing a new process to mindfully judging future experiences in your life simplify and improve your daily life?
What do you think? Can you think back on any time in your own life when you’ve re-assessed old judgments and come up with more informed or diverse perspectives? Can you identify any challenges you feel this process might pose?
It’s April here in America, and we’re jumping aboard Indie Support Week, the brain child of John Sundell (original tweet found here). Great idea, John! These apps are created by indie developers like us, and by downloading, sharing, rating, or paying for additional features in their apps, you are helping to support development of great apps, games, and tools. Join us as we celebrate a few from the list. Be sure to catch our special bonus at the end of this post for the first few readers who act fast.
To kick it off, I’d like to talk about my favorite pick so far:
Secret signs is a fun little gem that is both simple and beautiful. It was picked as Apple’s Game of the Day, and I’m not surprised. If you’re looking for a chance to practice mindful attentiveness with a soothing game experience, look no further.
Brain puzzlers are some of my very favorites (Limbo, Lifeline, Blackbar, Letterpress are some of my favorites. Hey, look! I love apps that start with “L” apparently!). This game easily belongs among those others, and has provided a welcome repose from endless coronavirus news updates. Best of all, each puzzle provides a little factoid once solved, a decadent butter-cream frosting on an already delightful cake.
Joan Cardona, from Barcelona (say that out loud, it’s really fun!) created this nifty little app that fills your emotional cup with teaspoon-sized servings of positivity.
Before you decide this sounds too woo-woo or frou-frou for you, listen up. I, too, was dubious about the app while installing and signing up. After walking through the short setup process, I decided to give Steps Towards Daily Happiness a shot (in the Everyday Joy section). Despite my initial skepticism, I was feeling a marked shift in my internal weather patterns by the 4th affirmation. In this one there were a total of 19 short one-sentence affirmations which loop, and I can only see these helping most folks’ psychological state. The female voice sported a likable (and mild) European accent. The background music added a nice touch, tying the short individual affirmations together.
This app takes a simple idea and does it right. Download it and give it a try. If you decide you want the full library, you can do so for a small monthly or annual subscription rate. Mindful Affirmations is available for free from the iOS App Store.
Simple Recipes is a Mac, iOS, and tvOS app which is currently in beta. It allows you to add recipes, organize ingredient and shopping lists, find meal ideas, and create meal plans right on your devices.
The app looks clean and well-designed, and easy to use — but don’t let the ease and good design fool you. For those who want to geek out a bit, you can use Markup to spruce up your recipes with links, images, and formatting to keep it all clean and readable. If that all sounds too complex for you, stick with simple formatting and let the app organize things for you. I’m a big believer in nutritious home-cooked meals. With the way things have been the last few months, this has become a higher priority than ever. Having a way to organize meals as well as shopping lists for reduced trips outside the house has become a key piece of our “hunker down” plan.
This app looks like a tool that will help that process run even more smoothly. Simple Recipes is currently in beta, and you can request beta access on their website: simplerecipes.com.
CONGRATS, YOU MADE IT! HAVE A PRIZE!
While we think all three apps listed here are worth your attention, there’s one that delighted us with its simple, fun (affordable!) gameplay. You guessed it, Secret Signs is our top pick today. To help support Wouter Walmink (the creator of Secret Signs), we’ve decided to give away 50 in-app purchases of the Secret Signs app. Since Apple hasn’t yet enabled gifting of In-App purchases, here’s how it will work:
1. Download Secret Signs from the iOS App Store or from the Google Play Store.
2. Launch the game. Once you’re on the riddle screen, mash the blue “Unlock all riddles” button.
3. When the charge hits your account, follow the instructions to find the purchases in your Apple App Store or Google Play Store purchase history.
4. Take a screenshot of both the app download and in-app purchase made after April 2, 2020 (feel free to hide/erase any non-related info or purchases).
5. Forward the screenshot(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will issue a digital Cash payment in the US, or a Paypal payment for international readers. (Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you can receive Cash or Paypal payments).
6. That’s it. We will send reimbursement to the first 50 requests we get. Be sure to support Wouter by giving Secret Signs a positive rating/review in the App Store once you download it.
Good luck and stay safe out there! Remember your social distancing and stay home as much as possible!
With the recent disruptions in almost all aspects of our daily lives, it’s becoming increasingly important to take conscious steps toward keeping our minds, bodies, and emotions in check. We have compiled a short list of apps and services which can help you keep your world running smoothly during this chaotic time. As we previously announced, full access to the Sky Tripping app is free while the pandemic is underway. Check out the links below, and let us know in the comments if you find any other tips on great sites, apps, or services that everyone should know about.
Sanvello for Stress and Anxiety — A simple, beautifully designed experience to help users manage stress and anxiety, Sanvello has opted to make their app and services free for all while Covid-19 crisis is active. It includes tools to help users actively engage in practices which help improve their mood and wellness, as well as community interaction so you’re not alone (even if you do happen to find yourself physically isolated).
Headspace — A household name in meditation, Headspace has committed to being there for us to help calm the chaos while Covid-19 is underway. The content called Weathering the Storm is available to all. Jump in and give it a try if you’re finding your emotions straying or your mind running all over the place. A few minutes of self-care can’t hurt.
The Holistic Psychologist — Not an app, per se, but this instagram account is a tremendous resource for those wanting to engage in “the work”. If you are ready to take ownership of your emotions, thought processes, and life direction, this is a great resource featuring bite-sized tips encouraging healthier patterns of thought and response. A definite must for those of us wanting to maintain productive relationships with self and others.
STAYING CONNECTED AT A DISTANCE
Spokt Private Family Sharing — Keeping up-to-date on family health and status is a high priority for many while uncertainty looms. Spokt is similar to Facebook Groups, but private and secure. Spokt gives you a Hub (your own private space) to share videos, photos, and text updates for the whole family to see and discuss. In order to get a free hub set up to stay connected during the Covid-19 disruption, contact the Spokt team here.
Down Dog Yoga — Speaking of social distancing, are you missing the physical grind at your local gym or studio? Are you into Yoga? This might just be the app for you. Down Dog is available for free right until at least May 1st. Download. Stand up. Get moving. With data showing that moving can improve both physical and mental health, this is a simple way we can all stack the odds in our favor while things are in flux.
7 Minute Workout — Just because you have more time every day doesn’t mean you have to spend your whole life getting fit. And with studies showing that short, focused workouts can rival longer traditional workouts, this app gives you a chance to get active without getting overwhelmed.
Virtual Museum Tours — I’ll admit, this sounded dumb to me. I shouldn’t print that, but there it is. However, with the gentle insistence of my wife over a few day’s time, I finally succumbed — in no small part because I noticed the screenshot featuring the Uffizi Gallery in Firenze, Italy, a place I wandered for hours on my recent trip to Italy. I’m glad I gave in. After downloading the Google Arts and Culture app, the family went on a virtual adventure soaking in the art found inside the 36,000 year French Chauvet Caves. We were mesmerized by simple, informative, and beautiful works of ancient creation. 5/5 recommended!
Duolingo — This app is highly recommended and one we’ve personally used to supercharge our own language learning (I personally used the Italian Course prior to my recent trip to the land of romance). Simple to use and gamified for fun, now might just be the perfect time to dig into that second language you’ve always wanted to learn but never had time for (until now).
Khan Academy — Khan Academy is one of the most well-known names on the web for expert education at just the right price: free. Jump in and exercise your brain. It may not sound like much, but engaging your brain in developing new skills or knowledge is an important element in mental and emotional health.
Making time to check in, practice a little self care, and maintain good emotional, psychological, physical, and social health will pay huge dividends right now. This won’t last forever. Things will look up. Keep yourself in a healthy place. Take a few moments for yourself throughout the day so you can be ready for opportunities as things begin to look up. You’ve got this!
CABO GREENS > CORONA BLUES
And that’s not all. Since our last announcement, we’ve added two more volumes: Sierra Nevada and Monument Valley. For a limited time, anyone can preview these films once you create a free Sky Tripping account either in the Settings tab inside the iOS or Android App — or in a web browser at https://skytripping.com/join.
When you use Sky Tripping every day – even for a minute or two – you can significantly lower your stress levels and increase the amount of time you stay focused throughout your day. It may not sound like much, but the compound effects of our novel, nature-based meditation app can add up quickly resulting in noticeable, lasting benefits.
These newest films are available to watch today, and are also available as meditation scenes within our Micro Meditation feature (side note: with our latest app update, you can choose an expanded meditation time range between 1 and 60 minutes).
Alternatively, you can enhance the energy of your next get-together, yoga session, or moment of relaxation by streaming our cinematic films on your Apple TV.
As always, we are hard at work on our next volume, but we couldn’t keep these latest films to ourselves any longer
Stay safe (and sane)!
Our lives are chock-full of things that can stress us out. Demanding jobs. Performance reviews. Deadlines. Bills. Social media shaming. Polarizing hashtags, news, and political punditry — the list goes on. These daily pressures are about as common as tap water.
We wrote a previous blog post revealing the hidden secret of stress. We show how leveraging stress (rather than fearing it) can have considerable health benefits.
But what if we could do one simple thing every day to tame the stress in our lives? Science reveals that upping our dose of nature can radically reduce mental and physical stress.
Our team has experienced plenty of stress in our own careers despite the fact that we love what we do. The science behind natural stress relief surprised us. But even before we truly understood these studies, we observed that nature played a role in regulating our own stress levels. That, in turn, led us to develop the Sky Tripping app which harnesses the power of nature in reducing stress.
Nature exposure is a powerful weapon against overwhelm. People living near green space report less mental distress than those in urban areas.1 Hospital patients with window views where grass and trees are visible experience faster recoveries.2 Students attending schools with green space perform better than those without.3 Short doses of nature—even images of it—can calm people down and sharpen their performance.4 In studies from Norway to South Korea, findings are the same: nature is the natural stress-buster.
Nature isn’t just pretty. MRI scans show that nature is good for the brain. When volunteers looked at scenes of nature, their anterior cingulate and insula are activated.5 These areas of the brain deal with empathy and altruism. Study after study shows that even pictures of natural environments can work wonders.
Unfortunately the opposite is also true: exposure to urban settings creates stress. The same study showed that urban scenes caused more blood flow in the amygdala.5 The amygdala processes the common “fight or flight” responses such as fear and anxiety.
Humans need exposure to forests, beaches, rivers, trees, and things that grow. We often find ourselves nature-starved without even knowing it.
In 2008 a major shift occurred. For the first time in human history, more humans live in cities than the countryside.6 In the US, over 80% of the population lives in urban areas, and in many other countries the percentage is greater.7 More people than ever find themselves living without easy access to a natural environment.
But as these studies show, the benefits of nature exist even when you’re not physically there. Remember that hospital patients only needed a view of trees and grass. The MRI volunteers were only shown pictures.
Experiencing the outdoors virtually will improve your emotional well-being. It can also reduce your chances of depression, anxiety, heart disease, migraines, and more.8 It has even been found to increase attentional capacity, positive emotions, and ability to reflect on a life problem.9
AND GAIN AN
EDGE WITH THE
SKY TRIPPING APP.
Download Sky Tripping today and experience the peace and tranquility of immersive aerial videos in nature. DOWNLOAD TODAY»
Sky Tripping offers stunning aerial views of some of the most beautiful places on Earth. The films include natural audio tracks which further maximize the stress-reducing benefits. Our users report a powerful relaxation effect and a decline in stress levels as they use our app. Sky Tripping is available in the App Store for iOS and the new Apple TV. Set daily reminders to take a short break while you reap the healing and restorative powers of nature.
Reducing stress is a worthwhile pursuit, but eliminating stressors isn’t enough. Preparing yourself for unforeseen challenges is the key to maintaining mental and physical wellness. Meditation, deep breathing, and walks in nature are all great options for managing stress. Tools like Sky Tripping give you the help you need to develop habits of calmness and focus — no matter what life throws at you.
3. PNAS 2015
Plenty of people put an emphasis on being “smart”. The ability to learn and retain useful information is an important lifelong skill. It’s easy to envy someone else for their wealth, beauty, or proportional physique. But do you ever find yourself feeling jealous of someone’s seemingly effortless ability to learn new things? Similarly, have you ever wished you had the same strong memory you had in your youth?
Your mind — both the conscious and the subconscious — is the workhorse that is responsible for governing every action you take, so the desire to keep it strong and active is natural. The good news is that we can do a few incredibly easy things every day to ensure that our minds are working at peak performance.
FOOD AFFECTS MENTAL SHARPNESS
Your diet may not be the first thing you think of when looking for major players in your cognitive function, but your gut is often referred to as your “second brain”. In fact, the majority of your body’s serotonin — the chemical which plays a vital role in brain functions such as emotional wellness, sleep, and even sex-drive — is concentrated in the gut, with over 90% being produced and used there.
Given that your gut and brain are interconnected and dependant on each other in this and many other surprising ways, that old saying “you are what you eat” may have more science behind it than we realize. If we want optimal results, we need to make sure we are feeding our bodies things that will help, rather than hurt, our cognitive function.
Other than eating a balanced diet there are some vitamins that have been found to be helpful in keeping your mind sharp. Numerous foods have proven benefits on mind and body alike. Omega 3s and Vitamin D have been shown to aid in memory and learning, probiotics assist with gut health and improved immunity, and Vitamin B12 protects against brain atrophy in old age.
MOVEMENT IMPROVES MEMORY
A good workout, a brisk walk, or a short jog has the ability to increase blood flow to your brain – more specifically the hippocampus – which is responsible for memory. There are studies showing that people who did more aerobic exercise had less tissue density loss than those who did not exercise regularly. And yet other studies show that exercise helps you to better handle stress, make clear decisions, and improves your ability to learn.
If exercise is the yin of body/brain wellness, meditation is the yang. Mental focus and clear thinking can wane when you are stressed out. There’s no question that meditation is a great tool to de-stress and improve your overall mood, but studies show that meditation actually activates parts of your brain important for memory and learning. It even raises IQ scores over time. Getting physical doesn’t just mean exercising your brains out (no pun intended). Spending your time on the go is good for your health, but also make sure to reserve time for the physical relief that only meditation brings.
It is easy to get into a less-than-optimal routine. Maybe you’re feeling overdue for a veg session, or perhaps you legitimately don’t have time to take on something new. Even though your brain is an organ, treating it like a muscle brings similar benefits as physical exercise provides your body.
VIEWS OF EARTH
FROM THE COMFORT
OF YOUR COUCH.
Download Sky Tripping today and experience the peace and tranquility of immersive aerial videos in nature. DOWNLOAD TODAY»
Your brain needs to be challenged and stimulated every day to keep it sharp. There are many recommended things that we can do like listening to music, reading, or even spending a few minutes on fun (but mentally challenging) activities such as crossword puzzles.
You can make other changes like watching a documentary instead of scrolling social media or watching the latest episode of whichever reality tv show is popular at the moment. Even going for a walk in a new area or driving a different way to work will light up new pathways in your brain. Take the time to notice the things around you and then try to remember them later in the day, memorize a poem, or commit a new phone number you need to memory instead of just letting your smartphone do it for you.
MY PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS
Your brain function isn’t set in stone. No matter what stage of life you’re in, you can do some simple things to boost your brain function. Keeping your stress levels down, eating right, and exercising your mind and body are important tools to help you achieve greater cognitive function.
It’s common knowledge that stress kills. As WebMD states, “Studies have found many health problems related to stress. Stress seems to worsen or increase the risk [from] conditions like obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, and asthma.” That’s a pretty diverse list. And it’s far from exhaustive.
We have all felt the negative effects of stress, and know that we should be actively working to reduce the amount of stress in our daily lives. After all, stress is a killer. That’s a scientifically known fact.
But there’s only one problem: it isn’t true.
I’ll show you why stress isn’t the problem, why stress is valuable, and how rethinking your views on stress will actually help you live longer.
“For years I’ve been telling people, stress makes you sick. It increases the risk of everything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease. Basically, I’ve turned stress into the enemy. But I have changed my mind about stress, and today, I want to change yours.” – Kelly McGonigal
WHY STRESS ISN’T THE PROBLEM
What if I told you the most dangerous part about stress is not the stress itself, but rather the fear that stress is dangerous.
But how can that be when it’s widely accepted – even in medical and scientific circles – that stress is a killer?
In the insightful TED Talk “How to make stress your friend”, esteemed health psychologist and author Kelly McGonigal reveals a flaw in the way we think about stress. According to her, stress itself has little (if any) ill effect on our health. Instead, she points out that it is actually the belief that stress is bad which is responsible for the negative impacts commonly associated with stress. Let that sink in for a minute: stressing over stress is what harms you, not the actual stress itself.
In her video, Kelly refers to a study which tracked 30,000 adults in the United States over the course of eight years in which the researchers asked participants, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?”, followed by , “Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?” Then they waited. Relying on death records over the next eight years, these researchers discovered something disturbing: those who had experienced high levels of stress in the previous year saw a 43% increase in their risk of death. But that only held true for those who believed that their stress was unhealthy.
In contrast, it did not seem to have any negative effect on those who didn’t believe stress was harmful for their health. Even more surprising, those participants had the lowest risk of death compared to anyone in the study, including those who felt they had little or no significant sources of stress in their lives.
“Now the researchers estimated that over the eight years they were tracking deaths, 182,000 Americans died prematurely, not from stress, but from the belief that stress is bad for you. That is over 20,000 deaths a year. Now, if that estimate is correct, that would make believing stress is bad for you the 15th largest cause of death in the United States last year, killing more people than skin cancer, HIV/AIDS and homicide.”
We’ve all heard of folks who are willing to die for their beliefs, and that’s exactly what’s happening here. We believe we’re going to suffer crippling, even deadly effects because we’re overwhelmed. And in a classic case of mind over matter, we will that reality into existence with nothing more than our faulty beliefs.
Clearly there’s more to the story here than psychologists, doctors, and scientists have been saying for decades. We each have experiences which challenge us, but this new research shows that the way we choose to react to these experiences can have as big of an impact (if not bigger) than the actual stress that accompanies them.
STRESS IS YOUR BODY’S WAY OF PREPARING FOR A CHALLENGE
“Their heart was still pounding, but this is a much healthier cardiovascular profile. It actually looks a lot like what happens in moments of joy—and courage.”
In a study at Harvard University, researchers put a group of people through a ‘stress test’. But before the test they were given different information about what stress was. They were actually taught to rethink the feelings associated with stress; “That pounding heart is preparing you for action. If you’re breathing faster, it’s no problem. It’s getting more oxygen to your brain.”
Not surprisingly these people were less stressed and anxious during the test. But what was fascinating is that these people did have a notable response, one that closely mimicked how we respond to joy and courage.
I find that appealing. Life can get hard and stress has a way of adding rocks to your already full backpack and weighing you down. The idea that I could exchange that sense of burden with feelings of courage and joy is liberating.
UNDERSTANDING YOURSELF & EMPATHY FOR OTHERS WILL HELP YOU LIVE LONGER
Kelly rounds off her message by addressing a little-known but significant positive effect stress has on us: stress makes us social. Citing another study where respondent’s stressful life experiences were measured, the authors found that for each difficulty such as financial troubles or a family crisis, their risk of death was increased by 30 percent. Of course, in her classic style, Kelly goes on to point out the crucial caveat. As she puts it, “People who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. Zero. Caring created resilience.”
When your realization that empathic action protects you from the potential harms of stress is coupled with the knowledge that the way we feel about stress is more dangerous than the stress itself, you have a pretty powerful one-two punch against all sorts of nasty health-related issues.
Your informed outlook is your best protection against the dangers that have long been mis-attributed to stress. Not pills. Not psychotherapy. Not lamenting the human condition.
Tell me that isn’t empowering.
AND ENJOY LIFE
TO THE SIGHTS &
SOUNDS OF NATURE.
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In short, my best response to stress is simply acknowledging that it is there, taking a moment to understand why I’m feeling it, and embracing the courage my mind and body are enabling me to take with me into the challenge I’m facing.
Recognizing that stress is ok – even helpful – as it prepares my body and mind to face whatever challenges crop up will bring more than a sense of relief – it will bring me a longer, healthier life.
And finally, embracing the impulse to reach out to others when I need help will benefit both them and myself. Furthermore, it will expand my own capacity to deal with my problems by helping me develop skills I don’t currently have. In short, stress is my friend.
WHO IS THIS ARTICLE FOR?
If you are a Buddhist monk living atop a quiet peak in Tibet, you may not need this news. But if you (or others like you and I) are powering through the daily grind while yearning for a little reprieve from the burden of it all, then this no doubt will help them reshape their outlook on those moments when things get chaotic. Share this post with them, and be sure to watch the full talk from Kelly (below)!