Moving along the treadmill of life, many of us succumb to the ever-present pressures to be faster, stronger, more efficient, and smarter. Perspective on what is happening in our lives is lost. We focus on failure and lacking within ourselves, rather than the abundance and opportunities for growth that surround us.
We stop taking the time to appreciate the simple pleasures of our lives as we spiral our way into a depleted existence — physically, emotionally, and mentally. Now more than ever, there is a global need to circumvent this pattern of being. We need to learn to unconditionally love and appreciate ourselves just as we are, how we are.
Traditionally, it was believed the cause of stress, anxiety, and depression was attributable to genetic disposition, personality traits, the existence of stressful events, physical health problems, and substance abuse, as well as serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine imbalances within the brain. Whilst this is largely still the case, this perception has altered over the last decade or so.
In our fast-paced world, we judge ourselves as harshly as we judge others. We are encouraged and manipulated to compete with others with whom we continually compare ourselves. We try so hard to emulate or exceed expectations placed upon us that we forget our personal needs in the process (no time for that!). Stress and anxiety often manifest as a result as we try and prove our worth to the world, and depression looms when we judge ourselves as falling short of the benchmark that is set for us to achieve.
Prolonged periods of stress wreak havoc on the human mind and body. Chronic muscle tension leads to tension headaches and migraines. The cardiovascular, respiratory, and endocrine systems become over-taxed and the risk increases for the development of diseases like asthma, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (just to name a few).
In recent times the media has reported stress, anxiety, and depression as reaching epidemic proportions, reportedly attributable to numerous causes including an increase in hours in front of computer screens, national and cultural competitiveness, the exposure to a broadening range of choices due to advances in technology, and the belief that worthiness is related to monetary success. Additionally, there is a sense of “collective stress” in regards to issues such as climate change and terrorism.
Mindfulness & Self-Reflection
Whilst living a faster pace, society has forgotten the art of living in the present moment, and yet there is much evidence to support that engaging in mindfulness and self-reflection enables sufferers to break the cycle of anxiety, stress, and depression as it promotes a greater sense of well-being and perspective.
Those who engage in the art of mindfulness and self-reflection can improve their ability relate to the world around them in a more compassionate and empathetic manner. A feeling of gratitude, joy, and abundance is also often a pleasant side effect.
The Value of Meditation & Journaling
Studies have shown that journaling can positively impact a person’s mental health as it allows one to “capture” a thought for long enough to acquire a 360-degree perspective on what that thought is about, where it came from, and how acting on that thought might impact those around us.
Many forms of meditation, like mindfulness meditation, work particularly well with journaling as it takes the mind out of a conscious, judgmental state and into a reflective, sub-conscious state. Such meditative practices smooth the path for writing down thoughts and feelings by prompting less judgment of the thoughts being written down.
Meditative practice can be merely taking five minutes to go for a walk in the park or to focus on breathing patterns—anything that promotes being in the present moment. Likewise, there are many effective journaling techniques that may help people with self-reflection and mindfulness that work well with meditation, and they are not restricted just to writing.
For many, mindfulness can be achieved through writing, art, photography – any means that allows a person to step into a reflective zone. It is for an individual to explore what takes them to that special place where they can set down their emotional and mental baggage to touch base with their soul, and nurturing a sense of gratitude and appreciation for all the simple attainable pleasures within day to day life.
University of Michigan Depression Center, Depression toolkit.org. Journaling http://www.depressiontoolkit.org/takecare/journaling.asp
Tams, L, Journalling To Reduce Stress (1 May, 2013) Michigan State University Extensiona, http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/journaling_to_reduce_stress
Hidaka BH, Depression as a disease of modernity: explanations for increasing prevalence, 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330161/
McCormack, A, “Lovitude: Trying To Calm The Monkey Mind”, 2016, Peacock Dreaming Publications, Nelson (NZ)
This guest article originally appeared on the award-winning health and science blog and brain-themed community, BrainBlogger: Re-Learning the Joy of Living with Journaling and Meditation.