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Slow down. On purpose.

We live in a busy world. There is near-instantaneous availability of information. Let’s face it – not all of that information is good news. Our social media accounts tend to make us a bit upset, be it from trying to keep up with likes or follows, or from the barrage of what seems to be only bad news that agencies report. Even if we get a minute to unplug, it feels  like all we can think about is family events, the frustrations of work, our plans for next week - you get the idea. Even our vacations can feel stressful when we fail to actually get away!

So maybe you're thinking, "Hey, it's stress. I can deal with it." Well, maybe you can, but it's affecting you regardless. Stress reduction using mindfulness actually lowers blood pressure. This probably makes sense to you. Blood pressure is often considered to be in part due to stress. Another study, however, may seem a bit more impressive, then. A group of people who were undergoing mental health therapy were placed into drum circles, led by someone who instructed on rhythmic drumming with some improvisation allowed. They improved their anxiety, depression, and social resilience. Going further, they actually had increases in anti-inflammatory markers in their saliva, to go along with some decreases in pro-inflammatory markers.

Does this mean that everyone should take part in drum circles? Not necessarily, but there is a link between mental well-being and physical well-being and most people inherently recognize this. It is difficult to explain and it's not well-understood, but the link is clear, and there are data to prove it. For each person and condition, though, the focus may be different. Even when considering different components of mindfulness, certain conditions may be benefitted by focusing on specific aspects of it, or other introspections entirely. For example, people with anxiety and depression are better served looking at self-compassion as a marker of their symptoms than specifically mindfulness. For me, when my job causes stress or I feel like I'm being emotionally or mentally stretched thin, I like to reset with exercise, or spend time laughing with my wife, or pick up my camera and take pictures and then edit them. These are the things that help me unwind and balance. It's different for each person.

Being mindful, compassionate with yourself, and engaging in stress-relieving behaviors do not happen by accident. They are intentional activities that require your attention. They are skills that are acquired through practice. We can't ignore our mental well-being and the effect it has on our physical well-being.

-Zak Hourmouzis

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