You love your busy life, but every now and then, you get a little stressed. Time runs out, things don’t go to plan, you are running late, and you have five different appointments in one day! On days like this, you may get the distinct feeling that you are not living your life: but that your life is living you! ‘My stress levels are getting out of control,’ my clients often say to me, and stress-management is one of the top lessons that I teach to my clients. New research comes to light almost daily about how damaging stress can be to our health. Living a stressed-out life can be damaging to your immune system, your metabolism, your concentration, your digestive system, your hormones and your neurological system- amongst other things. Besides stopping smoking and eating well, reducing your stress levels is one of the best ways to improve the quality of your life, and your health. You deserve a calm and happy life, and you can achieve it, even if your life is sometimes challenging, by being in control of your reactions. When you swap your stressed-out reactions for conscious and deliberate calm, you promote your health, wellness and a sense of self-empowerment. Here’s how…
1. Think yourself calm by meditating regularly.
Many of you who are reading this article will already be regular mediators. You are also the ones who regularly experience less stress than the non-mediators. The power of meditation is phenomenal in improving your health, and meditating is a direct antidote to many instances of stress. Your meditations need not be very long to be very beneficial. Here’s a short and effective meditation that, if practised regularly, will remind your mind to choose a non-stressed reaction to the ups and downs of life.Sit some place quiet and comfortable, where you can be undisturbed. Close your eyes and open your posture, uncrossing your arms. Take a few deep breaths in through your nose, and out through your mouth, at a deep yet natural pace. Guide your attention to your shoulders and neck and feel the tension leaving those muscles. Take a moment to enjoy the feeling of being nice and relaxed, especially around your neck and shoulders. Now remember something joyful and funny that happened to you. Remember how good you felt, how much you laughed and how calm and happy you are. Visualize yourself right back there in that moment and enjoy it.
Take a few moments to go over it again and remember the details. Let the joyfulness and calmness of that memory wash over you and take root within you. When you feel absorbed in this beautiful memory, visualize each part of your body smiling…from your head to your toes.
Feel calmness return. Take a few more slow and deep breaths, and when you feel ready, open your eyes.
Feel better right? You are entitled to remember periods of calm and happiness whenever you like. You do not have to remain in a place of mental stress.
Let your bank of calm and happy thoughts work for you here. Meditating on calm and remembering calm, are wonderful ways to bring calm into the present.
2. Think yourself calm by coming back to the present moment.
Stress lives in the past and the future. Think about it. Think about anything that makes you stressed. You are either thinking about a time where this stressful thing happened in the past and you’re dreading it happening again. Or you are worried that you are going to find yourself in this stressful situation in the future and so the real stress is coming from the anticipation of that thing happening.
‘I am so stressed out about work, I feel like all the pressure is on me.’
PAST: You have taken on a lot of responsibilities at work in the past and it didn’t feel good.
FUTURE: You’re dreading what is going to be asked of you in the future because you don’t think it will feel good.
But what is happening right now; right in this present moment? Everything is ok, isn’t it? You are reading this article, maybe in your pyjamas with a cup of tea (lucky you!), perhaps on your computer at work, or maybe you’re reading this from a beautiful beach…but wherever you are, everything is ok in this present moment. What have you got to be stressed about that’s happening right now, in this very moment? Nothing. So we have discovered a place where you can be calm and it’s right here, right now. Stress cannot exist in the present moment where there is nothing to fear, and nothing to dread.
3. Think yourself calm by focusing on your breathing.
When you feel stressed, fearful or anxious, your mind and body operate very differently to when you are calm. By focusing on your breathing, you regulate your internal functions which would otherwise be disrupted by stress. A good breathing exercise for whenever you feel stressed is to breathe in through your nose for the count of 4, hold it for 4, and breathe out through your mouth for 4. When you do this, really use your tummy and diaphragm to allow the breath to oxygenate you deeply. Do this 4 times, whenever you are stressed, and feel a sense of calmness return.
4. Think yourself calm by allowing yourself a pause before speaking.
Sometimes our sense of calm can be disrupted by our communications with other people. You get into an argument with the kids; you nag your partner about something they didn’t do because you’ve already asked them 400 times. Your boss calls you into the office to give you ‘feedback’, or your conversation with your mother has left you feeling frustrated and useless. Experience any of these scenarios, and ‘calm’ very quickly disappears out the window! We cannot control another person if they speak to us in a way that makes us feel stressed, intimidated, angry or annoyed, but we can control our reaction to them. Doing so prevents one comment (which probably wasn’t meant to offend) from escalating into a full-scale argument (which would definitely not be calm!). So whether or not you think it is your responsibility to keep the peace, just decide to keep the peace anyway. Take a pause before you speak and really think about how you want to respond to the comments of others. Take as long as you like to develop a peaceful reply. The more you practice this, the easier it gets and the more you will feel peaceful and calm in your daily interactions with other people.
5. Think yourself calm by realising that the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are your friends.
Calm is the result of a fair exchange of energy in your life. If you are giving too much or too little, you won’t feel calm and also, if you are taking too much or too little you won’t feel at peace either. The trick is to get super conscious of when is the right time to say ‘yes’ and when is the right time to say ‘no’. So many people are on autopilot and say ‘no’ to the support and kindnesses of others without thinking it through. We are taught by society not to burden other people or lean upon them, so when assistance is offered we say ‘no’ so as not to burden the person who offers, even if we would benefit from the help! If you need assistance, you are allowed to accept help. If someone else requires assistance, it is ok for you to offer it. If you are tired, it’s ok to say no to going out. And if you feel energetic, it’s ok to say yes to an adventure. Use ‘yes’ and ‘no’ consciously and you will feel peace and calm return because you are living your life in a balanced way: not all taking, but not all giving either.
6. Think yourself calm by allowing yourself focus on your priorities.
Do you sometimes feel guilty when you focus on your own needs? Do you sometimes feel that no matter how much you get done in a day, there is still more to do? Hmmm, you seem to have a case of reluctant prioritization. The main symptom (surprise, surprise!) is a feeling of stress instead of calm. Your life is completely individual and unique and you have worked hard to get where you are. You could not have come to this point in your wonderful life without choosing some priorities. Allow yourself to accept that on a deep level. Give yourself permission to have your own priorities (for they need not harm anyone) and you will feel much more as if you are working with the grain of your own life instead of against it. Write down four priorities that are happening, or that you want to happen this year. They can be anything at all, as long as you are prepared to make those things a priority. Many of us feel a sense of stress because we are not doing what we know we should be doing, and what we should be doing is our true priority. We deny this to ourselves because we do not want to seem selfish, or because it is easier to distract ourselves with the lives of others than to focus on the task at hand. Either way, a feeling of restlessness and stress emerges as a result. Accept that being able to make a priority that is important to you is a gift, and when you do, the pressure to do other things for less significant reasons, fades away. If you feel stressed when doing a particular task and you’re not sure why, as yourself, ‘is there something else I should be doing right now?’ If an answer comes to you, then that is your priority.
7. Think yourself calm by consciously reducing the number of stimulants in your diet.
I apologize, as I am cheating a bit with this seventh entry as it’s more to do with acting and choosing, rather than just thinking. But the reason I included this seventh step about reducing stimulants is because all the previous steps will be much more effective if your system is not full of stimulants which trigger stress hormones. Meditation, for example, will be much more effective when you have not drunk 3 cups of coffee before you sit down to do it! Limit your intake of caffeine, sugar, taurine, MSG and salt. If you must have these things (I know I must have my coffee in the morning!) then do have them earlier in the day, aiming to reduce the amount that you have as you move through the day. If you are having sugar and/or caffeine, have something light and nutritious to eat along with it, so as to prevent a sugar/caffeine crash which triggers the production of stress hormones which may make you feel headache-y, irritable and eventually tired. Eating foods that sustain your energy levels, blood sugar levels and hormone levels creates a calm physical base for the other techniques in this article to work in sync with. Reducing the amount of stimulants in your diet creates a calmness and stability in your body that will support a calmness and peacefulness in your mind.
© Lauren Robertson 2013