Meditation could be the answer to holiday stress, anxiety and depression – Florida Today

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For the first time, the American Heart Association (AHA) is issuing a statement on the effects of meditation on the heart.
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The world needed saving, but Alicia Somma-Hodgskin could feel herself losing her grip.

So she would head to the pond behind her parents’ home, glide her thumb over a river rock or listen to the birds sing and simply breathe.

“You can’t live your life like a Buddhist monk,” Somma-Hodgskin said. “But I could look at the people who practice meditation, I could see more calm people, and I said, ‘That looks appealing.’ “

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Somma-Hodgskin teaches a meditation class each Tuesday afternoon at Elevate Yoga in Hazlet, guiding students through a practice that help them block out the noise and find inner peace.

It’s a skill that can come in handy during the holiday season, when the stress from working, caring for children, shopping and shuttling among parties to see family and friends can mount.

But researchers are increasingly touting meditation as an antidote to stress, anxiety, depression and even physical pain.

“They’re happier,” Hedy Kober, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at Yale University said in a TED talk of people who meditate.

Some New Jersey employers have taken note. When Ocean Medical Center in Brick built an $18.5 million expansion that it unveiled in September, it included near the nurses’ station a zen room, where employees can relax.

Victoria Berner, a nurse there, said she has used the room as a hideout, sitting among the coloring books and Japanese zen garden and giving herself a break just for a few minutes from a job that can be intense.

“It allows me to just realize what’s really important,” Berner, 28, of Toms River, said. “If I am feeling overwhelmed, or I just don’t know how to deal with a certain patient or family member, knowing what to say next, it allows me to find my words for a moment.”

Meditation dates back thousands of years, and it can be practiced in many forms. 

People can meditate when they cook, walk their dog or shower. They can sit, breathe and repeat a mantra. They can listen to peaceful music. They can offer love and kind thoughts to people they know and don’t know, people they like and dislike.

The common thread: “It’s very simply, paying attention,” Somma-Hodgskin said.

It’s an idea that seems to be getting more difficult in the digital age, where people are provided technology that allows them to multi-task — answer emails, text, tend to social media, shop.

The world is at their fingertips, a concept that can be both beneficial and anxiety inducing. Catch up on the news? Here it comes, nonstop. What are your relatives up to? Welcome to Facebook. Turn it all off and the mind continues to wander, searching, searching.

Somma-Hodgskin’s advice on how to start?

1. Start small

Set your timer for one minute and focus on your breath. If it feels like no time at all, try five minutes, then longer.

2. Cater it to your life

Too busy in the morning? Try lunch time. Running around all day? Try when you get home. No matter the time, find a comfortable place, place your hands on your belly, focus on your breathing and ask yourself: What are you seeing? What are you feeling? What are you hearing?

3. Use guided meditations

Technology has made our life frazzled, but it also offers YouTube videos and apps that can guide you through meditations.

4. Have compassion for yourself

There is no quick fix. Meditation requires discipline and can be frustrating from the moment you close your eyes. But don’t judge yourself.

Tough as it is, the practice could provide long-lasting benefits, helping reduce suffering and increase wellness.

Kober, the Yale professor, told a TED Talks audience, that she measured the brain activity of smokers who tried to quit with the help of eight sessions of mindful meditation a month.

She found parts of their brains that were responsible for stress and pain changed their structure. 

Meditation, she said, does for the mind what going to the gym does for the body: makes it stronger and more flexible.

“This kind of training can help you feel less stress, less pain and change the way your brain works,” she said.

Somma-Hodgskin, 32, of Holmdel, said she started meditating when she was 20 and would react with passion about the issues that were dear to her.

The practice helped center her. Now the mother of a toddler, she can approach the stress of daily life — traffic jams and supermarket lines and parenting demands — with clarity, recognizing which thoughts don’t serve her well.

“I think that’s part of where the calmness comes from,” she said.

Michael L. Diamond; @mdiamondapp; 732-643-4038; mdiamond@gannettnj.com

 

 

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