Stress Struggles

Learning to pay joyful attention

Monday, April 28, 2014

Lately, it seems as though everything sets your teeth on edge. The neighbors are way too noisy. Customer service sucks. Your in-laws are a bunch of ingrates. And your coworkers? Let’s not go there.

You’re over just about everything: overworked, overloaded and overwhelmed. But when you read The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living by Amit Sood, M.D., M.Sc, you might start to feel better.

In today’s world, it’s nearly impossible not to feel strain. At least that’s how it seems. It only gets worse. As we “get hijacked by impulses, infatuation and fear,” the brain wants to “escape the present moment,” and the mind thinks everything’s a danger. Sood says we “struggle with what is,” which is the very definition of stress.

Part of the reason for the struggle is that, when you’re awake, your brain operates in one of two ways: default or focused. You’ve undoubtedly experienced both.

In focused mode, you’re so immersed in the task at hand that you forget about almost everything surrounding you. In default mode, your brain wanders like an idle shopper, moseying from problem to worry to idea, spinning and projecting future scenarios. The key is to teach yourself to stay on “focused” mode and out of the “black hole” of meandering default.

Part of that can be done with “attention training,” which has many facets and “speaks to the child” in you; and by “refining interpretations,” which appeals to the adult within.

Sood writes about learning to pay “joyful attention,” which helps with calming and keeps your mind occupied so it doesn’t wander. Learn CRAVE, patience, and CALF when relating to others. Free your prejudices in order to “open to the world.” Accept that nothing is perfect and there are times when forgiveness isn’t required. Begin each day with thankfulness. Learn pride in work. And remember that compassion for others should extend to compassion for yourself.

When an institution like the Mayo Clinic attaches its name to a book, you kind of expect it’d be totally serious stuff, right?

Nope. Sood has quite a bit of fun in this book, which certainly supports its title and joyful cover.

But first, The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living opens in a classroom, then turns to the science of the brain, which serves as a nice reminder but—since bookstore shelves are packed with brain books—might be unnecessary for some readers.

That’s O.K., though, because what comes next is worth it: Sood teaches us to “train” our minds to stress when appropriate, live with acceptance and appreciate others. This, too, might be repetitious for readers who’ve filled up on motivational-type books like this one, though I took great delight in this particular handling of the subject.

I also liked that Sood didn’t pretend this is easy, but reducing stress and lessening worry sure sounds appealing—and that’s enough for me. If it is for you, too, then The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living is a book you can really sink your teeth into.

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