It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived, or how self-aware you’ve managed to become in the process. The fact is that life is just plain hard sometimes.
There’s really nothing you can do to eliminate the stress of life completely. What you can do is educate yourself about how to do more than just survive it. Click To Tweet
Short of living in a cave or burying your head in the sand, there’s really nothing you can do to eliminate the stress of life completely. What you can do is educate yourself about how to do more than just survive it.
Most of what we hear about stress management centers around efforts to control the amount of stress we’re under. But short of living in a cave or burying our heads in the sand, there’s really nothing we can do to eliminate stress in modern life.
If you’re overwhelmed by your circumstances and frustrated because you don’t seem to be making progress in your effort to manage stress, it may be time to try another way – four ways, actually.
Way #1: Cultivate Awareness of Your Body
When I was learning to become more aware of my body, I soon figured out that moving from a seated position to a standing one was one of the best ways to tune in.
Because standing is something we do repeatedly throughout our day, it gives us lots of opportunities for body-level awareness.
Here is how I do it:
- Before I stand up, I tune into my body.
- Then I slowly come to a standing position.
- Before I step forward, I consciously relax my posture to increase my sense of balance and physical ease.
If you are unable to stand, you can still use awareness to tune into your body. All you have to do is slow down before you make any routine movement so that you move consciously.
Way #2: Breathe to Release Tension
Muscular tension is our body’s signal that we’re under stress. So, another way to a more peaceful day is to release our tension several times a day.
I talk about this in depth on one of my podcasts, that the first step to mastering stress is taking the time to tune into your body, breathe and relax any tension you notice. I refer to this as “the Practice.”
Here is how the Practice works:
- Soften and relax your posture.
- Put your attention on your breathing.
- Maintain this focus as you continue to breathe to relax tension in your body.
Each time you do the Practice, you’re letting go of tension you may not even realize you are holding. Better still, awareness of your tension actually leads to emotional regulation.
In other words, the Practice is your way not only to a more relaxed body, but also calmer emotions and a quieter mind.
So tonight, when you get into bed, take a moment or two to do the Practice. Then, do the Practice again first thing in the morning before you even get out of bed.
Way #3: Use the Practice When Stress Hits
I have a friend who, whenever things go wrong in her life, her first impulse is to fight against it. She recently told me that she wishes she had more of her husband’s “Ghandi,” and less of her own “Ronda Rousey.”
“This initial impulse is like a drug,” she once told me. “Reacting to my frustration feels so good. . . for a hot minute. But when the smoke clears, I’m still left with the problem. Nothing has been solved, and most of the time, everything is worse because I let my emotional reaction run the show.”
So, the next time your impulses pressure you to react to a stressor, do the Practice instead. When you choose to calm down before taking action or saying something you’ll later regret, you’ll have a real chance of mastering the reactivity that makes stress so damaging to your well-being.
Way #4: Wait Out Your Reaction
In her book, My Stroke of Insight, Neuroanatomist, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor writes about the science behind reactivity. She points out that because stress hormones cycle out of the body within 90 seconds, you have real power to break the cycle by anchoring your attention to something besides the trigger.
Here is how you can use her 90-Second Rule to halt the brain’s stress response:
- Make sure you’re actually breathing. (We often hold our breath when stressed.)
- Do the Practice by anchoring your awareness to your breathing while you relax and release muscular tension.
- Continue doing the Practice for at least 90 seconds, or however long it takes to start feeling a calming effect.
We’re all familiar with the saying “Don’t just stand there—DO SOMETHING!”
But on the contrary, it is vitally important to recognize the impulse to take action is a reaction to stress that always makes matters worse.
Instead, employ this mantra:
There is nothing that won’t go better if I calm down first. And there is nothing that won’t go worse if I act out of my reaction.
Waiting out your reactivity is the best investment you can make in efficient problem solving. But be realistic in your expectations because it will take time to implement this successfully.
Know that every single time you use these simple awareness tools, you’re breaking the cycle of unchecked stress. And this is what will ensure you pave the way to a more peaceful day.
Take good care : )
Hölzel, Britta; Lazar, Sara; Gard, Tim; Schuman-Oliver, Zev; Vago, David; Ott, Ulrich. How Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective. Perspectives on Psychological Science. November 2011.