Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Reduce Stress and Anxiety with Moderation

What does it mean to "avoid excessive extremes"?  That's what moderation is.  But how can we know if we've lost our balance with concepts, behavior or activity in a way that has tosses us off balance and moved us into "excess" in one direction or the other?

Learning to practice the Buddhist philosophy of moderation is one way to actively work to maintain balance in life and find peace, which will in turn lead to reduced stress and anxiety.  This concept is folded into something called The Eightfold Path in Buddhism.

The Eightfold Path (also called the Middle Way) has many parts to it, but its main message is to live in moderation so as to not lean toward an extreme in any direction.  Just after Buddha had his awakening or "enlightenment", he immediately began to teach this concept of moderation.  He had experienced firsthand what it was like to live in extremes of self-neglect and starvation, as well as in excessive wealth and sensual indulgence.  He realized that happiness rests somewhere in the middle.

Just after marijuana became legal here in Colorado I began to see an upswing in clients coming to see me who weren't sure anymore how much pot was too much pot.  Once it had become okay to buy and use all they wanted, many folk began to use in excess and had to figure out where their own sense of balance was going to be with it.  But this example holds true for many other things, including alcohol use, eating, gambling, spending, sleeping, sex, working, running, dieting, or really just about anything human beings can and will think, do or believe.  Excess can show up in religious beliefs, in marketing, in war, in meditation, in politics, in working out, and even in intellectualized discourse.  Buddha called the excesses "addictions".  So, it's very important that we stay aware of our need to practice moderation no matter what it is we are doing from moment to moment, and this is done by staying mindful of each of those moments.

There is, of course, much more to the Eightfold Path (which can be studied separately from this article) than just the topic of moderation, but this writing is focusing on the concept of moderation itself.  Try to stay mindful of your own behaviors and desires to repeat what feels good until it becomes excessive.  That's what "chasing a high" is all about.  But also notice how we humans can run from what doesn't feel good, as well.  We move in extremes to avoid discomforts that sometimes would be best for us to learn to endure a little bit, such as cravings, sitting for meditation, patience with rude drivers, tolerating that someone disagrees with us, or the discomfort that comes when we know we need to assert ourselves.

Moderation means we don't isolate or socialize in excess, we don't drink or do drugs to excess, and yet we can still recognize statistics that say a glass of red wine a day can be good for you.  With moderation we are realistic about anxiety and depression, knowing they won't stick around forever and they probably aren't the kinds of human events you will get to the end of your life never having experienced.  But to think they should never come, or that you should never experience them, or that they will always stay, is also excessive.  Our thinking can be excessive as well, as we can see in our unrealistic expectations of partners and friends, or of ourselves.  Just as excessive sleep doesn't help you get to work on time, but lack of sleep can cause you to make dangerous errors if you do get there.

Try to focus more on finding a place of balance in your daily life.  Moderation is a wonderful insight and practice.  It's not easy, and you won't do it perfectly, and trying to do it perfectly is just excessive anyway.  All you can do is try to stay as mindful of moderation in your life as you can.  That's good enough.

Thanks to Ryan Adams for the great photo