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Reducing stress through mindfulness

Mental wellness has long been a priority for Moda's Alethea Sabia. As someone who understands the connection between the mind and body, she's studied yoga and other forms of mindful living that help align the mind, body and spirit.

Once the pandemic hit, Alethea took it upon herself to be proactive with her mental health. So, she and her husband, Anthony, enrolled in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training program to better understand how to manage stress. For Alethea, the timing couldn't have been better.

"First, there was dealing with the pandemic from your house. Then came Black Lives Matter and violence against Asian Americans; there was just so much sadness and anger that I didn't know how to process it," she said. "With everybody coming out of our homes, I was thinking about my own stress and how to relate with others. I thought what better time to deal with how to navigate what I am feeling?"

The eight-week MBSR course focused on ways to help people with stress, anxiety, depression and pain. One of Alethea's biggest takeaways was listening to what her feelings are trying to tell her. She said that starts with understanding the triggers of stress, how stress impacts our physical health, and learning how to let it go.

"We're often taught to think about our feelings, not feel them," she said. "Whatever you're feeling isn't actually the feeling; it's something deeper than that. When we allow ourselves to feel those feelings, scientifically, they should be gone in 90 seconds. The class has taught me that when those feelings come, recognize them. When I feel sadness, I validate it by thanking it."

A self-motivated and naturally positive person, Alethea will be the first to admit that she tends to block out negative emotions. But she's learned that it's easier to release those feelings by letting yourself feel them.

"I ask myself, what's the story I'm trying to tell myself? Is it true? Where am I feeling it in my body?" she said. "I've found that allowing myself to feel things, learn from them and let them go is healthier than trying to block them out. Since our mind and body don't know the difference, if you don't validate your feelings, they stay with you. Now, I find places in my day where I can take even 30 seconds to tell myself to just breathe because it's important to release the stress we are feeling."

Mind-body connection

Because many of us hold in our feelings, we're constantly living with different levels of stress. Alethea said learning how to release stress is important for our physical health, too.

"We're affected at a cellular level," she said. "So, even if you block your feelings mentally, it's still going into your body. When you listen to what your feelings are telling you and you let them go, you're not just letting it go in your mind, you're also letting it go at a cellular level out of your body."

When you understand how the mind and body are connected, you can see how your mental health directly affects your physical health.

"We need to undo the stuff we've done all of our lives," she said. "Letting it out so it doesn't turn into what the program calls, 'dis-ease'. This is why it's really important to let it go. When you calm down your breathing and are in a state of consciousness, you bring your mind, and your nervous system, to rest. It's sort of like resetting yourself. Pausing between moments is the portal to healing. When you do this, you look at everything as a new moment. I've taken in all this stuff my whole life, now I'm learning to release it."

Be kind to yourself

Along with sharing what's she's learned, Alethea provided some tips to those who want to improve their mental health and overall well-being. They include:

  • Start in areas you are most comfortable with: Alethea started with yoga, but her journey didn't stop there. One of her yoga instructors told her about meditation. So, she tried that. That led to other things like functional medicine, which looks at food as medicine. If you start in certain spaces you are comfortable with, she said people will teach you the next steps. While it may be an area you don't know, each layer can unfold another that might also appeal to you.
  • Share your journey with others: Alethea has found that when you tell others what you are doing and how it has helped you, you're passing on valuable information that others can respond to. She's grateful for what she's learned from others around her.
  • Be kind to yourself: We're all going through a lot. It's not easy for anyone, even for those who make it look easy. Alethea said be the closest friend to yourself. Think of your feelings as friends that are trying to tell you something. If we realize that these parts of ourselves are friendly, it's easier to navigate through them.
  • Find resources: Along with courses such as the MBSR program that help people with stress, anxiety and depression, Alethea said there are virtual resources available online and through work. Apps such as Headspace and Calm are designed to improve your health as you focus more on your well-being.

Proactive mental health

Alethea added that it's times like these that we should be more proactive with our mental health.

"People are going through so many things right now. I can't imagine reliving all those triggers that people are re-feeling," she said. "The crazier this world is, the more mindful we should be. When we are in tune to that wisdom, we are better equipped to manage and reduce stress and anxiety. Being mindful helps reinforce how strong the mind-body connection really is."

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