The Newest Way to Tackle Stress

The Newest Way to Tackle Stress featured image

Stress isn’t exactly new, but the way we are dealing with it has changed—especially in the world of wellness. “Relaxation is having a frontier moment, meaning that there are many new opportunities to explore the different modalities out there,” says New York’s MNDFL meditation studio CEO Ellie Burrows. “People are more forthcoming in how they feel and owning the fact that they are not alone in their experience of stress—vulnerability is trending. The need to convince everyone that ‘I’ve got it together’ is seriously going out of style and it’s awesome.”

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Why Stress Is Different Now
Naturopathica founder and CEO Barbara Close says that for any conversation on stress, it’s important to look at not only what is stressing us out, but also how our ability to adapt to it has changed. “Over the past few years, we’ve seen a shift in our clients and our communities. As a society, we’re becoming more fragile and less adaptable to stressors in our lives, contributing to a range of stress-related symptoms that many of us experience, including aging skin, fatigue, migraines, musculoskeletal pain, and even autoimmune diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 11 percent of Americans now take anti-depressant medications, a 400 percent increase from the 1980s.”

So why the shift? Close coins it as being “caught in an epidemic of distraction.” As she explains, “Constant connectivity distracts from introspective thought. Plus, our human bonds have weakened through the filters of Instagram and Emoji-filled text conversations, making us less connected to ourselves and our emotional health. This disconnect makes us fragile and ill-equipped to handle stress or adversity.”

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Which Takes Us to the Tech Connection…
Every expert we spoke to for this story pinpoints one cause for elevated stress levels: technology. “These days, technology has brought us into closer connection across the globe, but many of us are slaves to it. We can’t pry our eyes off our phones or email accounts for more than a few minutes at a time, meaning that people are emailing each other until all hours of the night, perpetuating work stress,” MNDFL’s Lodro Rinzler says, adding that he recommends not even sleeping in the same room as your phone, laptop or computer. “Honestly, it’s stress from so many emails that has most of our clients come in the door for the first time. We’re seeing more people gravitating toward meditation as a way to disconnect from the habitual way they relate to stress and try something that allows their body and mind, for even 10 minutes a day, to begin to relax.”

It’s this pressure for constant immediacy and urgency that wellness expert and founder of the eponymous line, Indie Lee, says is what is really taking people to the edge—many of us only have ourselves to blame. “We are turned on nonstop, around the clock. We are expected to answer an email an hour after we receive it—are you kidding? We as individuals put a huge amount of stress, at times unneeded, on ourselves with all of this urgency. Unfortunately, technological advances that are supposed to be making our lives easier are also adding significant stress to our daily lives. I also think that social media has created a huge amount of pressure around taking the perfect shot or portraying a moment in time just the right way. We’re then comparatively posting images to portray an equally or more perfect image (literally and figuratively), which can be very stressful!”

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The Change in How We Tackle Stress
“In the 1950s, if you told someone you were going for a run, they would ask who was chasing you,” Rinzler says. “Physical fitness wasn’t as big a thing then as it is now, but we know now that we need to take care of our bodies in order to live happier, more functional lives.” What’s more, Close explains, is that coping with 21st-century stress requires 21st-century wellness—what she defines as a proactive and empowered approach to overall well-being. “It’s all about being focused on hitting the ‘pause’ button.”

Sure, massage, skin care and baths have been major players for stress reduction for some time, but Burrows says she’s seen a huge surge in entire facilities dedicated to meditation, infrared saunas, salt therapy, float tanks and LED light beds. “There are all sorts of interesting businesses popping up around New York to help counterbalance the stress of city life. It’s exciting that we’re living at time where input is becoming just as important as output.”

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One such place is Close’s Naturopathica Healing Arts Center & Spa in Chelsea NY. “Our goal is to empower individuals on their path to well-being with self-care rituals. We offer a variety of workshops to help seed ideas for self-care, from aromatherapy blending and how to make herbal tinctures, salves and immune-building elixirs to journaling and meditation techniques for anxiety. Our guests love these how-to classes so they can learn to be a proactive participant in their healing process.”

And even if you don’t live in a big city, Lee says, in her opinion, that there are plenty of places to find these “new” treatments that deliver old trends with a modern twist. “The industry is going back to its roots. Many of the new techniques coming into spas and onto the market are promoting wellness in a way we haven’t seen traditionally, and they go way beyond the standard massage or spa experience.”

A Big Moment for Meditation
Rinzler says we are now seeing the same wellness arc in terms of people trying out and seeing the radical benefits of a regular meditation practice, and the popularity has much to do with science. “So while us Buddhists have known for 2,600 years that meditation reduces stress, boosts productivity and allows us to live fuller, more joyful lives, it’s nice that all this science has come out in the last decade to prove it.”

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According to Anne Parker, wellness counselor at Miraval Resort & Spa, the mindfulness “trend” is certainly important and not accidental. “The fact that an ancient practice found in many traditions and cultures is becoming mainstream speaks to the need we all have to consciously disengage from what is distracting us and choose to focus on what nourishes us. We need to focus on what truly makes us more productive and helps us to thrive.”

In some sense, people who love spas tend to love meditation because they both support relaxation. “Now, you can even learn meditation techniques through spa partnerships, which allow you to take your meditation practice home with you after you’ve left the spa,” Burrows says. “The breath is the portable meditation device, and we can always access it.”

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Close, whose New York spa also has a Sensory & Meditation Lounge, says this is one trend she doesn’t see going away anytime soon, and she sees people who are almost treating going to the meditation center like going to the gym—you could do it at home, but there’s something more powerful about scheduling it into your day and doing it as part of a community. “It keeps growing in popularity and continues to boast scientific benefits because it’s focused on training the mind to be quiet and giving yourself time away from distraction to restore from within. The busiest people in the world are finding 30 minutes in their day to meditate because they see improvements in productivity.”

A Twist on the Standard
Parker does point out that not everyone is 100-percent comfortable with meditating, but there are other similar options that can help anyone quiet their mind. “Coloring books and other enjoyable activities will continue to be popular resources as we learn to value fun and creative endeavors as critical to our overall well-being. The investment of time, attention and energy we make into activities that nurture fun and creativity also support productivity, effective problem-solving and healthier relationships. Spa-related activities and treatments that nourish us, revive and realign energy, and take us out of our mental ‘auto-pilot,’ are the ones that will continue to be popular. None of it is just about relaxing. It’s also about re-nourishing and replenishing.”

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