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The challenges of being a school leaver …or living with one!- Page 2

Added on June 5, 2011

Incorporate a stress-reduction activity, such as Meditation, into your daily routine.

Constant stress plays havoc with our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), that part of us that regulates our internal environment based on feedback from the external. The ANS has two arms: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is the body’s accelerator and responds to danger by engaging functions that would be required to fight or flee from a situation, such as increased respiration, pulse rate and blood pressure, reduced digestive and reproductive hormones.

It prepares the body for physical action. The counterbalance is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), the body’s braking system. The PNS prepares the body for rest by reducing respiration, pulse rate and blood pressure and engaging production of digestive and reproductive hormones. The important thing to realise is that both the SNS and the PNS respond to imagination in the same way as to reality. This means that a perceived danger or threat, such as the looming deadline for an assignment or exam, may turn on the SNS as effectively as a real spider on the bedroom wall. When such stress is sustained for long periods of time, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol may play havoc with the immune system, thereby increasing one’s susceptibility to illness.

The good news is that the PNS can also be activated by thoughts. Thinking about pleasant events, even when they’re long gone, can make us feel physically better and more relaxed, so what we put in our head is as important as what we feed our body. Most stress reduction programs focus on teaching people how to be selective in what they feed their mind, replacing the diet of junk thoughts with constructive, positive ones.

Meditation is a particularly effective way of training the mind how to manage strong thoughts and feelings. In spite of its resurgence in popularity in recent years, there are still many misconceptions about Meditation, with some non-meditators incorrectly describing it as “sitting and doing nothing”, “same as sleeping” or “concentrating very hard”. In fact Meditation is a tool to enhance self-awareness, develop compassion for self and others, and gain insight and wisdom.

It’s also an excellent PNS stimulator. Many studies have shown that regular meditation not only lowers blood pressure, heart and respiration rate but it also helps to organise the brain, improve focus and memory and increase creativity. Numerous scientific studies have now been conducted on the physiological and psychological benefits of Meditation revealing that the bundle of nerves connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain (the corpus callosum) was thicker in regular meditators than in non-meditators. This leads to improved communication between the brain hemispheres in these individuals, resulting in enhanced brain coherence and improved concentration.

For the student, regular Meditation will improve focus and concentration, and enhance sleep. For those living with a student, regular Meditation helps develop patience, build compassion and facilitates the creation of a calm environment.

Develop your Positivity. Sure, positive emotions feel good.

But current research shows that they do much more than that! Barbara Frederickson proposes that the ability to experience complex positive emotions beyond physical pleasures or comfort has provided humans with a vital evolutionary advantage. Her research suggests that in the same way as negative emotions focus our attention on the problem at hand, positive emotions broaden our perspective. This means that we are better able to think outside the square to solve problems rather than confront the issue head-on.

Negative emotions increase our feelings of stress and stress reduces creativity by putting blinkers on our ability to see past the problem (or perceived problem). Positive emotions, on the other hand, remove our blinkers, give us that “warm and fuzzy” feeling, and encourage us to consider “possibilities”. This enhances lateral thinking, problem-solving and creativity, which has obvious benefits for any student.

There are many ways to enhance Positivity, including developing optimism, focusing on your strengths, keeping a gratitude journal, being mindful of your self-talk (that voice in your head) and meditating regularly. Learning compassion and kindness towards yourself and others has also been shown to increase Positivity.

Practiced regularly, whether you’re a student or not, the activities in this article will enhance your sense of well-being. Inevitably, life has its ups and downs and some circumstances may be out of your control. But your reaction to life’s challenges is fully within your control. And by developing your emotional resilience you can learn to respond rather than react to challenging situations. As Kabot-Zinn says, “you can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”!

About Judith Lissing

Judith Lissing is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Wellness Coach, with 15 years experience in teaching stress management and meditation. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree with Honours in Immunology and a Masters degree in Public Health, both from the University of NSW. She is also an Associate Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of NSW since 1999. Judith is trained in Wellness Coaching with Wellcoaches U.S. and holds a Diploma in Hypnotherapy. Prior to coaching professionally, Judith held a statewide management role with NSW Health working with all levels of staff across the health sector.

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