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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Stress Relief: A Simple Formula

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 5th 2009

balancDr. Gary Schwartz, a Psychologist who focuses on stress research, has a very simple formula for how we fall into stress and how to get out of it.

Unawareness > Disconnection > Out of Balance


Awareness > Connection > Balance

Those of you who have been following my blogs are keenly aware of my support in engaging mindfulness in daily life to support our health and well-being. Mindfulness is the ability to intentionally pay attention to the present moment, without our usual filters of judgments. It's the ability to cultivate awareness and connection with ourselves and others. Dr. Schwartz is saying that if we can cultivate awareness, we create connection, which in turn leads to balance.

One place I often suggest beginning to cultivate awareness is in the body. The reason for this is because we spend so much time up in our heads most of the day that we forget that the body is having experiences that we are often reacting to without our awareness. For example, if you have been leaning over your computer all day, there might be tension building in our back and neck. Because you are so focused up in your head this goes unnoticed and before you know it, you are reacting to this strain with a negative mood, but not really aware where this mood came from. Or maybe your heart begins racing because you have been walking faster, but you experienced a trauma earlier on with panic attacks so before you actually notice the heart racing the mind begins to spin with worry. Becoming more aware of bodily sensations can help us become more aware when we're gripping the steering wheel, tensing the shoulders and breathing rapidly while on the freeway. With this awareness we are connected more to ourselves and have the ability to loosen up knowing it is less skillful to drive tensed up, then centered and loose.

In doing a body scan practice, you lie down, connect to the breath just coming in and out of the body and then progressively move up the body from the toes to the head, just scanning it for sensations. In doing this practice, we're not labeling the sensations as good or bad, but instead coming to the practice with a "beginner's mind" noticing these sensations as if for the very first time. There is no need to move away or change any of the feelings; on the contrary, we are attempting to approach them with a friendly curiosity. In doing this, we become aware and connected to our bodies and also realize that the feelings are really just temporary. So when the heart begins racing during a panic attack we have a better understanding that the racing is temporary and become more flexible in that moment with our response rather than falling prey to the habituated response of catastrophizing and panic.

It is often helpful to be guided through these practices, so you can look up a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program in your area or even be lead by guided by CDs.

As always, please share your thoughts and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Vipasana - Rajesh Yedida - Jun 10th 2009

Dear Doc,

             This body scan technique is taught as part of a mediatation course. I learnt this at vipasana. It changed the way I look at things in my life. You can visit for more details.


Rajesh Yedida

good article - - Jun 9th 2009

that was a good article. thanks

great reminder - Martha Cravens, Ph.D. - Jun 8th 2009

Thanks for the body scan reminder - maybe I'll play with wearing a certain bracelet which can remind me to take a break throughout the day.

 The other major mindfulness practice I work is parenting; having a child(ren) brings me back into the moment regardless of where I think I want to be (of course, there are long term impacts from this practice.......!)

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