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1433441497How do I live a balanced life? How do I guide my teen to a balanced lifestyle? What is the impact of stress on the teen brain? What are the coping tools? These were the questions that were answered by our speaker Dr. Heidi Schreiber-Pan as we gathered in Macdonald Hall on Tuesday night. Dr. Schreiber-Pan explained the human brain (both adult and teen) and how they differ in responding to stress. Some of the highlights of her talk included learning about the consequences of prolonged stress on our ability to manage our emotions and human interactions, our “negativity bias” and its connection to our “evolutionary story” and how we can work with our minds to achieve inner calm with focus on the present. She reminded us that living in the past leads to depression and worrying about the future results in anxiety, but only the present moment can bring calm and feel manageable.

Dr. Schreiber-Pan offered various tools including the acronym “STOP.” S–stop what you are doing, T–take a few deep breaths, O– observe your experience, and P–proceed with something that will support in the moment.  She concluded the evening with a brief summary of mindful parenting and instilling boundaries in our children. We all left that evening feeling intrigued, challenged and curious to try out the offered suggestions and coping skills.

Excerpt from “Best Self Rising: A practical guide to psychological and spiritual well-being,” by Dr. Heidi Schreiber-Pan (anticipated publication date January 1st, 2017).

A psychologist walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”

Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”

It’s important to remember to let go of your stresses. As early in the evening as you can, put all your burdens down. Don’t carry them through the evening and into the night. Remember to put the glass down!

Think, for a minute, about what causes stress in your life. Perhaps you juggle a lot of roles and responsibilities. We all carry our share of burdens with us and that in itself isn’t harmful as long as we can remember “to put it down” as instructed by the psychologist and that glass of water. One way to “put it down” is to remain anchored in the present moment. Why is it so difficult to remain in the here and now? Our mind is bound to contemplate past events or anticipate future happenings. Anxiety thrives when we exert our mental energy on future oriented thought processes such as the never ending “what if’s”, to-do lists and ought-to’s. It’s been said that Mark Twain as well as Winston Churchill once remarked that their lives were filled with many terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened. Our mind has the most powerful capacity to create elaborate fictions in which we play out every aspect of the “worst case scenario”. Understandably, such fictions will incite intense anxiety. Our mind is quite content ruminating and chewing on past situations particularly the ones that were upsetting in some way. Often people who suffer from depression spend an enormous amount of mental resources rehashing past events. An intentional practice of anchoring oneself in the present moment has the power to create freedom from the entrapping influence of the past and future.

One helpful way to observe present-moment-living is through practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness can be understood as the practice of anchoring or tuning into what is going on at this very moment. It’s the instant we recognize that we are locked into autopilot and deliberately disengage from the mind machine.