A monk’s lifestyle exemplifies a lifestyle of calm, introspection and general good health. Most people, however, cannot afford to live a monk’s lifestyle, and have to find a way to maintain their sanity and health. The need to maintain a healthy outlook on life and prevent stress-related health and psychological issues remains unfulfilled in many people living in modern cities. I undertook an experimental technique of attempting to maintain serenity and journaling for at least twenty minutes in one week. My aim was to find out just how much of my health and psychological outlook on life can be positively affected by twenty minutes of serenity and introspection. The results of my experimental lifestyle could then be used to advance a general hypothesis that could then be validated and extended by further research.
I have always been fascinated by a monk’s lifestyle, and have wondered to myself how much healthier monks are compared to the average person. I have wondered whether any such statistics has been collected, and what could be learned from this very esoteric lifestyle. Science has known for a while that certain folk practices do work. The folk practice of taking hot soup when one has a common cold, for example, is medically viable because hot liquids inhibit the multiplication of the viruses in the throat. Could a monk’s lifestyle contain such practical advice on how to improve human health and general psychological outlook? It could almost immediately be deduced that the biggest health benefit of a monastic lifestyle is the reduction of stress, and perhaps healthier dietary habits.
The results of the two weeks of listening to serene, melodic music and keeping a journal were pleasing. In one week I felt generally more relaxed, less hurried and confused, and had discovered some music I really liked. I grew more thoughtful, and marveled the panicked and chaotic lifestyle which I had been leading. It seems that just twenty minutes of introspection and serenity a day goes a long way into reducing one’s stress levels and by extension one’s health.
My “quiet time” consisted of a walk to the park, where I remained for twenty minutes observing anything of interest around. My selected time was around five in the evening, as this was when I had some comfortable free time, and would be usually too tired to do anything else but to relax for a while. Previously I just watched TV, chatted online or played video games. The problem with TV, the internet and video games are that they continue to bombard one’s senses with stimulation and activity. So one never relaxes, only they think they have because it makes them feel better. Feeling better, however, is far from relaxing. Besides, TV and video games do not lead one to introspection, one only thinks mostly of external events and things. Such a lifestyle could easily lead to the accumulation of stress.
Long after I had left the park, I found the thoughts and feelings I had experienced at the park still occupied my mind, although not always. I began looking forward to the park in earnestly. It had become a symbol of serenity and peace, and just thinking about it had a calming effect. The park had become my personal get-away. The main challenge to the experiment was that sometimes I was too busy to go there, and even if I went, I continued to worry about time and whatever was pre-occupying me. Sometimes the weather is forbidding, and I could not go to the park. Sometimes the allure to just play video games rather than go to the park led prevented me from going. Friends would want to hang out at around the same time sometimes, and it was hard to turn them down in order to go to the park. I concluded that my increased health and reduced stress levels were a result of this “quiet time” practice. It is, therefore, an effective stress-management technique, at least worthy of further study.
The effects of stress and stress-management on health cannot be demonstrated and justified in such non-empirical terms. Besides, the experiment relied in subjective data that could be subject to bias and other kinds of subjectivity folly. However, numerous studies have shown appositive co-relation between a person’s stress levels and their overall health. Stress has been shown to contribute to or aggravate some chronic illnesses and conditions, such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, obesity, headaches, depression and anxiety, insomnia, gastro-intestinal problems and Alzheimer’s disease.
The modern increasingly competitive academic and career environments are responsible for perceived threats, dangers, competition and other daily challenges that keep us on high alert. This is a natural way for our brains to react, but in the absence of stress management our stress levels spike and is kept up. Stress becomes chronic if it interferes with our ability to conduct our every-day activities and duties, or leads to physical illness. Short-lived stress is normal and is experienced by most people every day, but extended episodes and periods of stress are dangerous and extremely detrimental to one’s health. Depression is a form of chronic stress. Stress makes it harder to recover from some illnesses and conditions, such as in cardiac patients. Stress leads to some form of sleeplessness in 40% of American adults (American Psychological Association).Positive emotions have been shown to be inverse to the rate of heart disease (American Psychological Association). Feelings such as joy, contentment, romantic feelings and happiness decrease one’s probability of developing heart disease. If twenty minutes of quiet time in the day bring about a positive emotion, then this mean “quiet time” reduces one’s probability of developing a heart disease.
Expressive writing such as journaling, especially if done to express emotion, has shown to reduce stress levels and distress and improve physical well-being (Baikie and Wilhelm). This happens because journaling has a tendency of clarifying one’s thoughts. It reduces the intensity of negative feelings such as anger, despair or sadness. Journaling also has powerful problem-solving capabilities, in part due to the clarity of mind it causes. It is especially effective if done by hand, with pen and paper, rather than electronic means.
Although writing causes a shot-term increase in distress and negative mood, this resolves itself and does not last while the positive effects are more long-lasting. Outcomes of writing include improved mood, improved memory, feeling of psychological well-being and fewer illnesses and medical conditions per year (Baikie and Wilhelm). It also leads to improved sleep and reduced pain in pain-inducing conditions such as arthritis and chronic pelvic pain. Expressive writing also promotes faster recovery from traumatic events and psychological disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (Baikie and Wilhelm). The benefits of expressive writing seem to be more beneficial when the traumas are more severe (Baikie and Wilhelm).
Stress management refers to practices that are aimed at reducing a person’s stress levels. “Quiet time” could then be thought of as a stress management technique, if it results in reduced stress. Stress management should, therefore, be incorporated into one’s life, especially if one lives in a modern metropolis.
American Psychological Association. How stress affects your health. 12 May 2014. Online. 27 October 2014.
Baikie, Karen A. and Kay Wilhelm. Emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing. 20 May 2011. Online. 27 October 2014.