It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived, or how self-aware you’ve managed to become in the process, the fact is life is just plain hard sometimes. No matter how you cut it, there’s really nothing you can do to completely eliminate the stresses of life. But 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. The trouble is, there’s really nothing we can do to reduce or eliminate many of the stressors endemic 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 deal effectively with stress, it may be time to try another way – four ways, in fact!
Way #1: Cultivate Awareness of Your Body
Attention regulation and body awareness are recognized key component of mindfulness. When I was learning to become more aware of my body, I figured out pretty quickly that my best shot at success was repetition and consistency. Moving from a seated position to a standing one was something I did so often it was a perfect place to practice tuning in for a more peaceful day.
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 take a moment to consciously relax my posture to increase my sense of grounding, 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 your body’s signal that you’re under stress. So, another way to a more peaceful day is to designate specific times in your day to release that tension.
Taking the time to tune into your body, breathe and relax any tension you notice is the first step in learning to master stress. I refer to this as “the Practice” (described in my podcast).
Here is how the Practice works:
- Soften and relax your posture.
- Focus on your breathing.
- Maintain this focus as you continue to breathe while you relax any tension you notice in your body.
Every time you remember to do the Practice, you’re letting go of tension you may not even realize you are holding. Consistently practicing awareness of your tension eventually leads to emotional regulation.
In other words, making the Practice a part of the way you live your life, not only leads to a more relaxed body, but calmer emotions and a quieter mind.
Tonight when you get into bed, take a moment to do the Practice. Do it again first thing in the morning before you get out of bed.
Way #3: Use the Practice When Stress Hits
I have a friend whose habit is to impulsively fights against whatever is going wrong in her life. She recently told me 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 says. “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.”
The next time your impulses pressure you to react to a stressor, try doing the Practice instead, and see if your day isn’t a lot more peaceful. When you choose to calm down before taking action or saying something you’ll later regret, you create an opportunity to get a handle on 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-slowly. (We often hold our breath when stressed or breathe shallowly and fast.)
- 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!”
It’s crucial to recognize that the impulse to take action NOW! is nothing more than a reaction to stress that will always makes matters worse and your day a lot less peaceful.
Try this mantra instead:
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 try to be patient. Building this skill is a step-by-step process that takes time to establish.
Know that every single time you use these simple awareness tools, you break the cycle of unchecked stress. And this is what paves the way to a more peaceful day.
Take good care : )