Mallika Chopra’s latest book, Just Breathe, is set to tackle a national stress epidemic
It’s no secret that stress is epidemic in the U.S., and it’s getting worse. Stress is the leading cause of illness and disability, responsible for up to 90 percent of all medical visits in this country, according to the American Institute of Stress. Recent estimates indicate that unmanaged chronic stress costs the U.S. business economy $600 billion annually.
What we are going through now, as a nation, gives new meaning to the old adage “sick with worry.” It’s gotten so bad that we are even stressed about stress. In its annual survey, “Stress in America: The State of Our Nation,” the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 75 percent of Americans experienced at least one symptom of acute stress in the month before the survey.
And it’s happening to us at a younger age. The APA survey found 30 percent of teens reported feeling sad or depressed due to stress, and 31 percent felt overwhelmed. Another 35 percent of teens reported that stress caused them to lie awake at night and 26 percent said that they have been stress eating—overeating or eating unhealthy foods—in the past month. On average, teens reported their stress level was 5.8 on 10-point scale, compared with 5.1 for adults.
That’s where Mallika Chopra comes in. Her new book, Just Breathe, with a foreword by her father, Deepak Chopra, MD, is the first book on mindfulness and meditation that speaks directly to kids, ages 8 to 12, intended to give them tools, at an early age, to cope with stress. The book—written in simple language, with beautiful illustrations intended to embrace a multicultural audience—includes easy meditation, mindfulness and movement exercises, many one to two minutes long, to help kids learn to sleep better, calm themselves and feel less overwhelmed.
“My father always stressed to us finding joy and cherishing joy, and meditation makes you joyful,” says Chopra, “because when you do find that peace and calm inside, you become more confident. For kids, it becomes ‘my safe and happy place.’” Chopra’s parents taught her and her brother to meditate when she was nine years old. “After school, we meditated with our mom for 10 minutes or so,” she says. “It was a great way for us to be together. They never forced us,” she continues, “but they were meditating and it made us and our family happier.”
Santa Monica-based Chopra is the author of three books—Living with Intent, 100 Promises to My Baby, and 100 Questions from My Child; the mother of two teenage daughters (who learned to meditate when they were five and six years old); and a sought-after speaker and founder of intent.com, which she recently sold. She meditates now once a day for 20 to 30 minutes. “You find the tools that work at different stages in your life,” she says. “Right now my life is really busy. My meditation is that treasured time that I seek out.”
Chopra is encouraged to see more schools incorporating quiet time, breathing exercises and yoga. “Time in, rather than time out,” she says. “Kids are overstimulated and overscheduled,” she continues. “We don’t allow them to get bored anymore. There’s so much stimulation all the time; it’s a gift to be able to share with kids, ‘Just be quiet.’ Creativity really comes from silence.”
“Meditation was a gift my parents gave me,” says Chopra. “It’s transformative. If I can share that with other families and kids, that’s how I feel I can serve right now.”
Meditation Tips for Everyone
Meditation may be a challenge, especially for those type A personalities who have trouble simply sitting still. Here are Chopra’s tips for those who think they can’t meditate for whatever reason.
- Take out the guilt from meditation. If you get stressed, it takes away the point.
- Experiment. Try different things to see what works for you. Two or three or 10 minutes can be effective.
- Just breathe. You can always just breathe, in through the nose and out through the mouth.4.
- Try guided apps. Be flexible and open.5.
- Switch gears. For some people, it may be more effective to take a run. It may not work for you to sit quietly, and that’s okay.