Phil 4: 4-8

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Prescription for Stress Reduction

Recently, I attended a webinar in which the presenter discussed the effects of stress in our lives, citing various statistics about heart muscle regeneration, chemicals our body releases, neurotransmitters, etc.   As it happens, I’d been reading a book recommended during a homily by Fr. Miguel on EWTN recently, Be Healed, written by Dr. Bob Schuchts from the John Paul II Healing Center.  In it Schuchts tells us that many experts believe 90% to 95% of all physical illnesses are caused by stress.   In fact, he cites resources that link unresolved anger and bitterness to an increased probability of many forms of cancer, arthritis, digestive problems, and heart and immune system issues, just to name a few.   The general message here (stress is bad for us) probably isn’t news to anyone, but the approach suggested by the webinar presenter for dealing with stress is something that you may find interesting—I know I did.

Based on psychological and physiological research, the webinar presenter suggested in a nutshell that we would all benefit by cultivating a stronger awareness of the positive elements of our lives and taking occasional breaks throughout the day to recharge mentally.  More specifically, her formula for success includes:
  1. Start the day quietly reflecting on what you are thankful for (10 to 20 minutes)
  2. Take a break—disengage and unplug—mid-morning to quietly meditate for a couple of minutes
  3. At noon, do the same—disengage and unplug—for about five minutes
  4. Midafternoon—same drill as in the morning—disengage and unplug—to quietly meditate for a couple of minutes
  5. End the day with a reflection on all that you have to be thankful for

Does this process of starting and ending the day in thanksgiving, together with some pauses to reflect during the day, look suspiciously familiar to you?  It’s not unlike the Divine Office, which has been prayed in one form or another in the Catholic Church since about the 12th century by the clergy and religious, as well as some laity, who stop throughout the day to recite the prayers.  Now admittedly, it might be difficult for many of us in the laity to be able to take the time required during our work days to pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours, but we all can find some time at the start and end of the day, and perhaps during the day, for short periods of prayer.

For example, at a less intense level than praying the Divine Office, in Consoling the Heart of Jesus, Fr. Michael Gaitley suggests getting into a prayer routine that includes at a minimum, a morning offering prayer, which includes offering thanks to our Eternal Father for all that He’s done for us, (including His gift of our small share of suffering), pausing at the 3:00 o’clock hour for reflection on our Lord’s passion and Divine Mercy, and closing out the evening with an examen process that includes a prayer of thanksgiving as well. 

Consider also the current advice from many Christians, including Catholic Christians, to develop an “attitude of gratitude” if one wants to improve their life.  In fact, besides recommending that we take some time out each day to read the Gospel, inserting ourselves into the scenes as we meditate on them, St. JosemarĂ­a Escrivá continually exhorts us through his writings to be grateful to God for all things.   

More recently, in an interview posted at EWTN, therapist Eric Gudan states that,

 “Gratitude is a positive moral affect. In other words, it is a pleasant feeling arising from the good action another has done to you, from judging that it has been good for you…A growing number of studies have linked gratitude with higher general feelings of happiness and have found that more grateful persons are more satisfied with life. This includes people who may not necessarily feel grateful, but attempt to arrive at the virtue by mental exercises such as thinking about the gifts that they received…

…one way of confronting depression is seeing the power that negative attitudes have upon our experience of the world and our relationships, affecting our behaviors and ultimately even our brain chemistry…Depressed persons generally have a negative attitude…This negative attitude becomes a filter that focuses and amplifies all the bad things that happen...Gratitude, on the other hand, is the uplifting feeling resulting from the recognition that another person has done something good for us. Instead of a negative self-focus, gratitude has a positive other-focus.

We have been created to love and be loved. There is a way to consider every person you come into contact with as a gift, an opportunity to love in order to become the person you were made to be.  In addition, any love that you have experienced through another person is a gift. Thus, with this attitude, there is always something to be grateful for.”

So, the bottom line in all of this would seem to be that developing a healthy prayer life, asking for the grace daily to maintain an attitude of thanks and praise, and consciously being thankful to God for all things will lead to a better life—and it really does work!

As a sidebar to this post, at the end of the webinar referred to above, the host asked me specifically if I had any questions.  I told him, “No—no questions really, but rather a comment:  It occurs to me that what you’re suggesting in a secular context is something that we believers have been doing through daily prayer for a very long time.”  At this, there was some commotion and background noise, throat clearing, etc., followed by a short pause, ending with the host’s non sequitur, “Well…I go for walks,” together with silence from the presenter… J

Blog post re: the Divine Office from Ian at Aquinas and More store, Ft. Collins, CO

More in-depth discussion of Divine Office from EWTN

Laudate App for iPhones/iPads – access to Divine Office

Magnificat website – morning and evening readings and daily Mass readings

Article from ETWN about gratitude’s salutary effects on depression

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