Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Turning Stress Into a Mindful Act
Category:
Mind

Elissa Epel, Ph.D. is such a passionate expert on stress, she’ll be the first to tell you to not immediately make a mad dash away from it, avoiding it. Rather, by taking a mindful look at our reactions during stressful situations, we can, in fact, “stress” in a good way. And if we have unwanted stressful circumstances, we can use these situations to live even more fully and deeply.

“Feeling threatened is a natural reflex, but not the only way to respond to stress,” says Elissa, who is a professor at UC San Francisco, president of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research and the co-author of the New York Times bestseller, The Telomere Effect: A revolutionary approach to living longer.  “It’s incredible how much more control we can have over our reactions to the small and even the huge things that happen to us based on our mindset and our view.”

Elissa joins Michael Sapiro for The Self-Care Vow: Embodying Resilience and Renewal Every Day, December 22-27 and teaches Cultivating Vitality in Body, Mind and Spirit; Boosting Mental Health with Natural Methods alongside Cassandra Vieten May 29-31, 2020.

Elissa’s stress research, and that of her colleagues, reveals many insights about the types of stress that are beneficial versus harmful. Work on stress management and contemplative practices reveals that when we respond to daily situations with more of a socially threatened response, we’re exposing our body to more of a wearing chemical reaction to stress than is needed, including increased prolonged levels of cortisol levels in the body and higher oxidative stress. Having this threat response is also linked to having shorter telomeres (an indicator that our cells are older).

“We don’t need all of those dramatic biological changes to linger in our blood, just to cope with the minor stresses we face daily,” Elissa says. “One thought we might use when we are about to face a challenge is: ‘Oh good, my body is ramping up to energize me.’ Saying to yourself, ‘I feel exicted,’ rather than, ‘Oh no, I feel stressed out!’ is a helpful nudge for moving our body state from threat to challenge. Positive stress mindsets of challenge may actually slow our cellular aging, an idea we are currently testing in our studies.”

Next time we are about to face a challenging situation, Elissa suggests trying one of the following options:

  • Become aware of our thoughts and bodily sensations and label our feelings: sad, frightened, angry, vulnerable, powerless, and so on. Naming feelings allows them to pass more quickly.
  • Learn to reduce the “ego threat” stress and remind ourselves that our identity is not based on any one thing. It runs wide and deep.
  • Write down the goals and values that matter most to us and commit to them.
  • Get perspective by asking yourself: Will this situation impact my life in five years? The answer is usually, “No!”

Elissa says she used to do mindfulness research from the neck up. For at least a decade, she was immersed in the intellectual activity of running clinical trials on meditation, testing how mindfulness might help improve mental and physical health, but she was not fully experiencing prolonged embodiment of these states herself.  

“It took longer retreats to experience the deeper insights that come with true embodiment,” Elissa explains. “That helped me understand what we should be measuring. Rather than beliefs about how stressed we are, now I focus more on daily experiences—mind wandering, rumination, how joyful or worried we are when wake up, and how we ramp down for sleep. We have now found that these are sensitive states that are tied to our mood and how fast our cells age. And contemplative practices can transform these states from habits that create stress in the body to habits that promote ease and resilience to stress.”

Elissa finds joy in bringing the science of well-being to the experience of well-being, and sharing this with others, especially in Esalen’s idyllic setting. “On retreats, we get to become intimate with the science, with our own habits of the mind, and experiment with new more restorative states,” she says. “I want to help people realize that even if you have unchangeable and unwanted life circumstances—such as caregiving, illness, loss—you can live a full and meaningful life.”  

While we may often have sadness about something, it can be balanced with contentment, love, and purpose.  

“We can infuse the luxury and vibrancy of contemplative mind-body practices into our days to help us with this balance,” Elissa says. “After all, how we live our day is how we live our life.”

Elissa joins Esalen faculty Michael Sapiro in The Self-Care Vow: Embodying Resilience and Renewal Every Day from December 22-27, 2019 and teaches with Cassandra Vieten in Cultivating Vitality in Body, Mind and Spirit; Boosting Mental Health with Natural Methods, May 29-31, 2020.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

Turning Stress Into a Mindful Act

About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Category:
Mind

Elissa Epel, Ph.D. is such a passionate expert on stress, she’ll be the first to tell you to not immediately make a mad dash away from it, avoiding it. Rather, by taking a mindful look at our reactions during stressful situations, we can, in fact, “stress” in a good way. And if we have unwanted stressful circumstances, we can use these situations to live even more fully and deeply.

“Feeling threatened is a natural reflex, but not the only way to respond to stress,” says Elissa, who is a professor at UC San Francisco, president of the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research and the co-author of the New York Times bestseller, The Telomere Effect: A revolutionary approach to living longer.  “It’s incredible how much more control we can have over our reactions to the small and even the huge things that happen to us based on our mindset and our view.”

Elissa joins Michael Sapiro for The Self-Care Vow: Embodying Resilience and Renewal Every Day, December 22-27 and teaches Cultivating Vitality in Body, Mind and Spirit; Boosting Mental Health with Natural Methods alongside Cassandra Vieten May 29-31, 2020.

Elissa’s stress research, and that of her colleagues, reveals many insights about the types of stress that are beneficial versus harmful. Work on stress management and contemplative practices reveals that when we respond to daily situations with more of a socially threatened response, we’re exposing our body to more of a wearing chemical reaction to stress than is needed, including increased prolonged levels of cortisol levels in the body and higher oxidative stress. Having this threat response is also linked to having shorter telomeres (an indicator that our cells are older).

“We don’t need all of those dramatic biological changes to linger in our blood, just to cope with the minor stresses we face daily,” Elissa says. “One thought we might use when we are about to face a challenge is: ‘Oh good, my body is ramping up to energize me.’ Saying to yourself, ‘I feel exicted,’ rather than, ‘Oh no, I feel stressed out!’ is a helpful nudge for moving our body state from threat to challenge. Positive stress mindsets of challenge may actually slow our cellular aging, an idea we are currently testing in our studies.”

Next time we are about to face a challenging situation, Elissa suggests trying one of the following options:

  • Become aware of our thoughts and bodily sensations and label our feelings: sad, frightened, angry, vulnerable, powerless, and so on. Naming feelings allows them to pass more quickly.
  • Learn to reduce the “ego threat” stress and remind ourselves that our identity is not based on any one thing. It runs wide and deep.
  • Write down the goals and values that matter most to us and commit to them.
  • Get perspective by asking yourself: Will this situation impact my life in five years? The answer is usually, “No!”

Elissa says she used to do mindfulness research from the neck up. For at least a decade, she was immersed in the intellectual activity of running clinical trials on meditation, testing how mindfulness might help improve mental and physical health, but she was not fully experiencing prolonged embodiment of these states herself.  

“It took longer retreats to experience the deeper insights that come with true embodiment,” Elissa explains. “That helped me understand what we should be measuring. Rather than beliefs about how stressed we are, now I focus more on daily experiences—mind wandering, rumination, how joyful or worried we are when wake up, and how we ramp down for sleep. We have now found that these are sensitive states that are tied to our mood and how fast our cells age. And contemplative practices can transform these states from habits that create stress in the body to habits that promote ease and resilience to stress.”

Elissa finds joy in bringing the science of well-being to the experience of well-being, and sharing this with others, especially in Esalen’s idyllic setting. “On retreats, we get to become intimate with the science, with our own habits of the mind, and experiment with new more restorative states,” she says. “I want to help people realize that even if you have unchangeable and unwanted life circumstances—such as caregiving, illness, loss—you can live a full and meaningful life.”  

While we may often have sadness about something, it can be balanced with contentment, love, and purpose.  

“We can infuse the luxury and vibrancy of contemplative mind-body practices into our days to help us with this balance,” Elissa says. “After all, how we live our day is how we live our life.”

Elissa joins Esalen faculty Michael Sapiro in The Self-Care Vow: Embodying Resilience and Renewal Every Day from December 22-27, 2019 and teaches with Cassandra Vieten in Cultivating Vitality in Body, Mind and Spirit; Boosting Mental Health with Natural Methods, May 29-31, 2020.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 
–Aaron

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
–Karen
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
–Charles
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
–Steve

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
–Rainer

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
–Suzanne

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
–Peter

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
–Lori

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
–Steven
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.


Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?



About

Esalen Team

Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Turning Stress Into a Mindful Act
Category:
Mind

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About

Esalen Team

Turning Stress Into a Mindful Act

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Esalen Team

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