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Mental Vacation, By Lorie Sheffer

Memorial Day Weekend. The official start of summer. Most people think of outdoor activities, vacations and summer foods. One of my favorite foods to serve with the usual summer fare is those big dill pickles that you can fish out of a barrel. I like them cold, crunchy and garlicky. The smell of the dill and the snap of the pickle as you bite into it, and the juicy, sour taste makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

If thinking about a cold sour pickle can make my mouth water, then what other physical reactions can be caused by thoughts? Can thinking about stressful things cause a physical reaction? Of course! Chronic stress can cause digestive issues, high blood pressure and headaches, and those examples are just part of a long list.

On the flip side, thinking about positive, peaceful things can have a soothing affect. There’s a very real, biological reaction that Buddhist Monks have when they practice mindful meditation. Recent developments in functional MRI technologies and advances in neuroscience have proven that there really IS such a thing as mind over matter. Thoughts alone can rewire the brain to some degree. Yoga classes, prayer, meditation or just taking time to think about something positive can have health benefits.

The next time you are thinking about something that is stressful or something that makes you angry, pay attention to how it makes you feel physically. Is your heart pounding? Are your muscles tense? Do you have butterflies in your stomach?  Now, also pay attention to how you physically feel when you’re in a good mood. Relaxed? Energetic? Ready to take on the world? Why not see if you can teach yourself to swap out some of that negative thinking for something more enjoyable? Think of a favorite place, maybe. For me, it’s a secluded spot on Assateague Island, surrounded by wild ponies, the sound of the ocean over the dunes. It’s very hard to feel stressed when I’m there; even it’s only in my mind.