Book Review: The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living

Stress-free living: is it even possible? Humans are hardwired to feel stress, according to Dr. Amit Sood, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic. He says the brain is wired to take people out of the present moment and into a default pattern of wandering to stay on alert for potential threats. While this alertness was essential for human survival in the past, it keeps people in an unnecessarily stressed out condition today.

A Stress-Busting Plan

In his book, The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, Dr. Sood proposes that people can use their brains to a much greater potential, thus reducing their stress and increasing their happiness, resilience, and overall quality of life. He sums up the Mayo Clinic’s stress management program in a way that prepares readers to implement it in their own lives. Not everyone has the resources to consult with the famed clinic’s doctors, but the book is packed with strategies you can easily use on your own.

Dr. Sood is an internist on the Mayo Clinic staff, but he also has a background in alternative approaches. He has training in acupressure, Reiki, and yoga. While his main interest is in cancer prevention and symptom control, he’s also a proponent of complementary and alternative medicine, and stress management is one of his areas of expertise, so this book is a natural fit. He based it  on the same concepts he’s taught in person to literally thousands of patients at the Mayo Clinic.

An Inspired Program

Dr. Sood says that two important realizations inspired him to create his stress management program: first, that most people have little information about how their minds and brains work, and second, that most do not use their minds or brains as well as they could.

This book gives Dr. Sood a chance to share his knowledge on a wider scale. It is well organized, starting out with “The Brain and Mind,” a section that explains how your brain works and how thoughts cause stress to take over. Don’t let the title scare you. This section is written in a way that’s easy for anyone to understand. It lays a good foundation for the action plan ahead. You’ll like how Dr. Sood illustrates the principles with a wealth of relatable examples.

Next up, Dr. Sood talks about “attention training,” a concept that allows you to control your stress with two types of attention: joyful attention and kind attention. According to Dr. Sood, being able to pay deep and sustained attention is literally the single most important skill for success and happiness. Although that might sound challenging, he compares it to building up muscles through physical exercise.

The next sections focus on positive concepts like gratitude, acceptance, higher meaning, and forgiveness. Dr. Sood explains, “Using a structured approach, you’ll enhance your focus on gratitude, cultivate compassion, creatively accept what is, discover life’s meaning, and strengthen your forgiveness muscles.”

Concepts Anyone Can Use

By the time you’re done with the book, you’ll have actual tools that you can immediately apply in your life. Dr. Sood says its purpose is to “offer simple solutions for complex problems and share principles-based skills that are applicable to most life situations.” While it’s not quite as easy as he makes it sound, it’s a doable program for those who are willing to put in the time and effort.

One good thing about this book, unlike many others in the self-help genre, is that many of its concepts are backed up by scientific studies. It’s one thing for an author to give advice that sounds good on the surface, but this book takes the next step to show that those concepts actually work when applied to real people.

One turn-off for some readers is the book’s pervasive New Age feel, but if you’re among the audience that’s open to new approaches, you’ll find plenty of worthwhile information. Every now and then it takes on a bit of a “textbook” air, but not enough to make most readers toss it aside.

According to Dr. Sood, “The program grew from my quest to understand and alleviate the suffering and stress I observed not only in my hometown of Bhopal, India, where I experienced the tragedy of the 1984 chemical spill, but also in the United States, where I have been practicing medicine since 1995.” He’s done that in person for many years, and The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living lets him expand that mission to anyone willing to explore a book.