· Features

Stress management: Ancient wisdom, modern world

Manage your mind and you manage your life; and you'll be able to manage others around you too

Most people know that to have a healthy body we must exercise and eat well. But how many of us know how to maintain a healthy mind? Maybe this is why the European Health and Safety at Work report found that 42% of sick days taken between 2014 and 2015 in the UK were stress-related.

So why are so many people experiencing stress and what can we do to address it?

The main reason most people are experiencing stress is because they do not understand how their minds work. This knowledge allows us to understand human nature, what makes us happy, what makes us fulfilled, where our thoughts come from, and what we can do to turn negative and destructive thought patterns into positive constructive ones. Learning this knowledge and putting it into practice allows us to work with our minds rather than fight against them.

So how do we learn to manage our minds?

There are three main areas that need attention, all of which are interconnected; the physical, psychological and the external.

In Chinese medicine there is no separation of the physical body and the mind. Every single thought we have creates a physical reaction in the body and poor maintenance of the body has a negative effect on the mind. When the body is weak through lack of maintenance, exercise or nutrition, the mind becomes dull, anxious and worrisome. However, when we properly maintain the body the mind becomes bright, alert and energised, which not only strengthens the immune system but also makes us calmer, more relaxed, creative and personable.

It is also important to take some time to observe your thoughts. If you ever stop to notice what you are thinking about you will realise that we are constantly talking to ourselves in our heads. These conversations are created by either memories of the past or worries and anxieties about the future.

If we allow our thoughts to run on autopilot we will continue to make the same presumptions about life in the future that we experienced in the past, which will not help us to change old negative habits. But if we stop and question their validity we can start to take control of our thoughts, change them when necessary, and take back control of our lives.

Finally, it is important that we start to take responsibility for our external world by being clear about all of our goals in life: work, finances, family, health, personal development etc. Without clear goals our minds will become agitated and unsettled. When we have a clear path in life all of our thoughts are channelled into the direction of achieving them, allowing us to make sacrifices in the present to reap greater rewards in the future. By helping the mind to feel secure about the future it will start to feel secure in the present.

Toby Maguire is a stress management trainer. He has studied meditation, Asian philosophy and Chinese medicine for more than 20 years