How to reduce stress naturally

Monarch Therapists Jude Johnson, MA, LMFT, and Karen Holst, EdD, LCSW share how mindfulness can help reduce stress and help us be more present in our daily lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 90 percent of visits to the doctor are stress related. Stress can come from all areas of our lives; whether it’s at home, work, school, or in our community, we are always contemplating the next task on our endless to-do lists, and anticipating scenarios in our mind that have yet to occur. This can result in a cycle that is difficult to manage and may feel overwhelming.  

According to the American Psychological Association, from 2001 to 2010, the use of psychotropic medications by adult Americans increased by 22 percent, with one in five adults taking at least one psychotropic medication for stress and anxiety related symptoms.

As the scientific community understands more about the impact of stress on our health, stress management has increasingly become an important focus of studies and research. In recent years we have seen an explosion of advice on lifestyle, diet recommendations, prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. Much of this advice is contradictory, or worse, causes more problems than it solves.

However, research findings have been consistent on at least one thing: the simple practice of “mindfulness” can reduce stress, manage negative emotional states, and improve physical ailments like fibromyalgia, eczema, diabetes and high blood pressure.

The simplest way to understand mindfulness is to think of it as a mental exercise—a form of meditation. According to Psychology Today the definition of mindfulness is “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad.”

A growing body of research quietly continues to validate the practice of mindfulness, citing benefits ranging from structural brain changes associated with positive moods, to reductions in chronic pain. The influence of mindfulness has grown and expanded to the U.S. military, universities, hospitals, pain clinics, public schools and nationwide organizations like Apple, Google, General Mills and Nike, who recognize it as a wellness intervention that is cost-effective for reducing stress while increasing productivity and creativity in the workplace.  

Google is just one example of many companies that have helped employees learn how to apply the practice of mindfulness, and they continue to offer regular meditation courses as a way to promote personal growth.  

People who practice mindfulness often see they are not their thoughts, and while their thoughts are real, they are not always true.  This kind of awareness can be liberating for those suffering with anxiety and depression and provide an increase in positive emotions and creativity for the otherwise healthy person.

Practicing mindfulness helps us recognize we have a choice in how we pay attention, what we’re paying attention to, and brings awareness to an expanded field of choices, thus empowering us to see reality more clearly.

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