Stress appears to be one of the epidemics of our age. Okay, I know it is not Ebola or AIDS but it does cause a huge amount of suffering, ill-health and loss of ability to function and be productive. It has appeared on the cover of Time magazine and is prominent in national reports on economic health of countries around the world.
Many people with anxiety disorders and depression describe themselves as stressed, so it includes these medical conditions. Then there are all those people whose stress does not quite attract a medical diagnosis, but who talk about being overwhelmed, constantly tense, anxious or frazzled, and unable to cope.
The list of medical conditions that are partially or strongly linked to psychological stress grows by the year. It is reasonable to think that most medical conditions may be on the list because we know that certain levels of stress impair our immune system function and other bodily repair and maintenance functions. If stress overload stops us effectively fighting or preventing disease then it is certainly related to most kinds of ill-health.
Some decades ago stress management programs in large businesses and organisations began to be quite widespread. Not necessarily continuing, effective programs, but at least an occasional seminar here or there.
The problem with most stress management educational programs I have seen is that they try to cover too much in one seminar or short series of presentations. They are not practical enough. They try to cram into the seminar all of the following: types and causes of stress, effects of stress, work overload, role ambiguity, conflict resolution, communication and assertiveness, time management, goal setting, decision making and problem solving, exercise, balanced diet, healthy lifestyle and MORE.
And how much space is devoted to meditation or relaxation? Usually it is just a few lines of mention somewhere under the lifestyle heading. Sorry, that is simply not enough, given the strong body of research evidence that various kinds of meditation / mindfulness practice can have a great impact on stress and stress related illness.
From time to time, since about 1986, I have given invited presentations at businesses and educational institutions on meditation for stress. That’s right, I pluck just the one stress-fighting tool out of the huge list above, and deliver coaching purely on that.
There is nothing wrong with giving an overall presentation on stress and the many possible solutions to different kinds of stress. But to be useful to employees or students the overview needs to be followed up with personal assistance to identify what will actually be effective and doable for each person. And then we need training, counseling or whatever will help them put the remedies into practice.
In my case, as an educator or counselor, what I offer is coaching to learn and practice mindfulness meditation in ways that will fit people’s personalities and what is practical in their lifestyle. This can be done in small to mid-size classes with one-to-one meetings available for those who need it. When going into an organisation with people of all backgrounds, I observe that the training needs to be free of any narrow cultural or religious trappings. It needs to be entirely practical, and capable of adapting to any client’s unique makeup or background. That happens to be my specialty.
Above all, to reach its potential in helping with our epidemic of stress, meditation practice needs to be lifted from being buried in long, bulleted lists in PowerPoint presentations. It needs to be highlighted as a stand-alone practice of enormous potential. People who haven’t looked at it before need to be given opportunities to taste it, to learn, practise and make it their own.
To be expanded upon in upcoming blog posts, including looking at:
a) Does any kind of relaxing activity someone does count as effective meditation?
b) Can anyone meditate, and will it help all people dealing with stress?
c) How much is enough?