Reducing the Mental Stress of Diabetesby David Mendosa Patient Advocate
Having diabetes can be stressful both physically and mentally. We focus most of our attention on reducing our physical stress through medication, diet, and exercise.
We often ignore the tools at our disposal for reducing the mental stress that physical stress usually carries in its wake. The good news is that working with the tools at hand for dealing with mental stress are even easier to apply than those we have for dealing with physical stress. And some of these tools are free.
I have written before how one of these tools, meditation, has reduced the mental stress that came with my diabetes diagnosis. Many thousands of other people have also benefited from the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program that Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn started in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It is an eight-week course combining meditation and yoga to help us cope with stress, pain, and illness by using moment-to-moment awareness.
An excellent introduction to MBSR, as people often call this program, is one of Dr. Kabat-Zinn's books Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. It works so well for me that I not only bought and read a copy for myself but have also given copies to several of my friends.
More recently, however, I have added to the bag of tricks that I use to manage my mental stress. It is the best way I know to accentuate the positive.
I started this practice because of something I read by Thich Nhat Hanh. He is an 86-year-old Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet, and peace activist.
As I remembered, he wrote in one of his books that a good practice at the end of each day was to write down three good things that had happened to me. I started by reflecting on the day as I went to bed each night and only after a couple of weeks did I start to write down my good experiences.
Later I read the same basic thought, which he expressed in a somewhat different way in his most recent book, How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day (Parallax Press, 2012). "At the end of the day, keep a journal of all the good things that happened in your day. Water your seeds of joy and gratitude regularly so they can grow."
Now that I follow this advice by Thich Nhat Hanh, I am continually watering the seeds of joy and gratitude by focusing on all the great surprises that come my way. Some of them are kindnesses that others show me, but I also get great pleasure from the little things that I do for them. Sometimes it's just a positive email or letter. Sometimes it's beauty that I see. Sometimes it's the chance for solitude in nature, and at other times it's meeting old friends. Your experience may vary.
At the end of the day, if not sooner, I write down as many of the good things that I can think of. If something irritated me, I don't mention it, and consequently I don't know how many of those things I experience. But I do know that I usually make a note of more than three positive events each day in my life now. Doing this brings me peace of mind and with it much of my mental stress is gone.
What I write in my journal isn't polished because it's just for my eyes and memory. I call this my happiness diary.