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Interview with Dr. Laura Maciuika—Author of Conscious Calm

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Hello, Dr. Maciuika. Please introduce yourself to the readers here.

Hello, it’s nice to be here. I appreciate the chance to chat with you about stress relief, especially during April, which among other things is National Stress Awareness month. I’m a psychologist by training, and an integrative healer by vocation. I’m interested in what helps people heal and transform, and I study and use approaches and science from both West and East. Come to think of it, I’ve also done a bit of east-west in my own life within the U.S.—I’m an east coast transplant, living and working in northern California now.

You’re currently on an online book tour with your book Conscious Calm. Would you please tell us about the book?

Conscious Calm is a practical guide to help people get free from hidden inner stress traps. It’s a book that addresses the often ignored, inside story of stress —how we either stress ourselves out more by what we do internally, or set ourselves free. The book brings together information from psychology, neuroscience and wisdom from both East and West in non-jargony language. It describes nine stress secrets that people need to know to stop falling into internal stress traps, and nine keys to conscious calm. The book shows people step by step how to avoid stress traps and experience more inner peace and happiness in their lives.

What initially gave you the idea to write Conscious Calm?

There is so much information out there about stress, it can be overwhelming. And we know that stress is at epidemic proportions right now, especially in the West, so good information is important. I have worked with and heard from hundreds of people who have been stressed and have felt like failures trying different techniques and ideas. Their greatest successes and biggest transformations came when they learned some basics about their internal stress patterns and how to get free from them. I started hearing from people “You should really write a book,” and began to take that seriously. I decided to gather in one place the most common internal stress patterns, describe what underlies them in simple terms, and give people steps to get free and find more lasting calm. It’s what most people want, when you get down to it – “A little calm,” or “Peace of mind” are such common desires in our stressed-out society.

What is your history with stress? Were you a ‘stressed’ person growing up?

I’d say the time I experienced the most “stressed out” period was during graduate school. Back then I was writing a dissertation, teaching, working in community mental health and often seeing too many clients in a day; I just had way too much on my plate. And as I hear from so many people now, at the time I was in systems both at work and in school that just didn’t take very good care of the people in them – even though in my case, both the schooling and the work were about helping others grow and heal. I didn’t have much of the practical information I describe in Conscious Calm, even though I was studying psychology. I also wasn’t putting what I did know into very good practice, either, at that point. So yes, as often is the case, I did write the book I most needed, and wished I had back then!

We often hear vague ‘stress can make you sick’ comments, but what are some real health problems you’ve come across that are directly related to stress?

People do tend to comment like that, and with good reason. If you look up the health effects of stress, you can find lists of fifty or more symptoms that are stress-related. Those can include grinding the teeth at night, headaches, muscle aches, hives, eczema, fatigue, and issues like heart disease and anxiety attacks. What I’ve seen over and over is that when people choose to learn more about what’s going on inside – especially the emotional connections to the stress – there often is an easing of physical symptoms. I want to be careful here, because I can’t make general claims about these changes or results being true for everybody. That said, in my experience when people address feelings that are pushed down or ignored, the body often stops screaming so loudly through symptoms. Most of us aren’t taught the skillful use of emotion when we’re growing up, and we’re certainly not very good at it as a society. But I continue to see and hear from people who learn more about how emotions and thoughts work in the body, apply that knowledge, and then often see positive shifts in their well being, including a lessening of all kinds of stress symptoms.

What are your favorite stress-reduction techniques?

There are so many techniques out there. One useful approach I talk about in the book is the use of the breath. Just ten slower, deeper breaths can relax us, because ten breaths are enough to activate the relaxation response through the vagus nerve, one of the largest nerves in the body. Breathing ten times more slowly also has the wonderful effect of bringing our attention back to the body, so we can notice any tension building up, or the beginnings of a headache before pain flares up. Using the breath also naturally turns our attention back inward from the often hectic outward doing. Taking ten slower, deeper breaths several times a day also can help you have more energy at the end of the day.

Do you have any tips for people who want to avoid stress rather than simply try to deal with it when it is there?

Yes, that’s actually the main point of Conscious Calm. Instead of just dealing with stress when it comes up over and over, I suggest a different approach: dialing up both your attention and your awareness. Decide to notice just a little more often where your attention is during the day. Is it going outward, or inward? How much tension is in your thinking; in your breath? What’s the quality of your self-talk all day long? Paying more attention to these areas will help you notice your own inner stress traps, and you’ll have more choice and power in avoiding stress.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Just that stress relief does not need to be another weighty project on the to-do list. There are small shifts and changes that can make a big and lasting difference in busy, stressed people’s lives.

Thank you so much for your time. I wish you the best of success.

Thank you, it’s been good to be with you.


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