“We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
My life has recently been in a whirlwind. Some of the changes occurring might be classified as “bad,” some “good,” and much of it neutral. But all change requires some sort of adjustment and a bombardment of changes will often lead to feeling stressed-out. On top of my personal changes, the events in the news seem to have been moving faster and faster. In fact, it appears that everything on earth is moving at an increasingly rapid pace. The uncertainty of what will happen next has become much more obvious, although such lack of certainty about the future has always been there, even when we may have believed we had security. As the author and Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron writes, in her book, Comfortable With Uncertainty, “The truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not-knowing is part of the adventure. It’s also what makes us afraid.” Therefore, this increasingly obvious lack of clarity has had most of us a bit on edge.
I’ve been focusing, most recently, on regaining my connection to the peace within myself, once again, in the midst of the chaos. Without connection to the peace at our center, we become untethered, anxious, and end up adding further to the lack of peace in our lives and to the chaos in the world around us. I had, apparently, been coping on autopilot, so to speak. This way of utilizing my coping skills appears to break down when stress becomes too great. On autopilot, we tend to become sloppy, and the more stress-producing habits, such as negative self-talk, begin to slip in and to work in insidious ways to wreak havoc within our psyche. And, so, I have begun a more conscious journey to connect to my center, once again, and to create a sense of peace that pervades my life, builds resilience to the many stressors that appear to be bombarding all of us, and that will help me to continue to spread peace to those around me.
Here are some steps, I’ve found to be helpful so far:
With all of the stressful and upsetting events going on in the news, I have begun to rely on comedians, especially the late-night crew, to help me to digest and process the events of each day. While I think it’s important to stay awake and abreast of what’s happening in the country and in the world, it’s damaging to our own health when we are in a constant state of anger or anxiety, continuously producing the stress hormones of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, or, even worse, feeling depressed and drained of all energy. Humor is extremely powerful at interfering with the downward spiral of energy-zapping thoughts, as well as the frenetic pace of panicky thoughts, by helping us to notice the absurdity of the situations that may make us feel angry or threatened. This gives us a clearer perspective about the circumstances and helps us to take a more creative stance toward problem-solving. In addition, humor and laughter create positive emotions, such as joy, amusement, hope, and confidence. Although it may seem out of the realm of possibility to laugh when you might be feeling the most stressed out, it’s really at times like those when humor is most needed and most beneficial. Humor has the unique power of brightening even the darkest of times. It’s no accident that the funniest comedians are the ones who make us laugh about universally stressful situations.
2. Actually practice those relaxation techniques you keep reading about.
I realized that, although I talk a lot about relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga, I had fallen out of consistency with my own practice. Life was just too busy, so that I felt that I had no time. I would often tell myself that I will get to it later, but then “later” would come and go without me taking that relaxing pause I had promised myself. I have not berated myself for this, nor should you. It’s natural and normal to get caught up in life and to get side-tracked from this necessary step in connecting with our center. But, now that I am more aware, I’m back on track. Spend some time, even one minute a couple of times a day, to focus on your breathing or to do a relaxing imagery exercise. Get back to your yoga practice and, as yoga teacher, Steve Kane, told me when I interviewed him for my radio show, “be a B student.” There’s no need to be perfect in your yoga or meditation practice. You don’t need to win the yoga or meditation Olympics. There is no medal for peak performance. A “perfect yoga routine” or a “perfect meditation practice” are oxy-morons. Practice with the intention of connecting to your peaceful center, period.
3. Stay present.
Feel what you feel, even if it’s not a pleasant feeling. Emotions are temporary. They don’t stick around forever, if you let yourself experience them, rather than pushing them away. Whatever we resist, often comes back to haunt us. Furthermore, focusing on the present moment helps us to quickly move through the difficult emotions and to connect to the peace within ourselves, even in the midst of sadness. Distress occurs when we’re living in the past or worrying about the future. A simple way to bring our selves back to the present moment is to take a slow deep breath, hold it for a moment, and then let it out even more slowly on the exhalation. There’s nothing more connected to the present than our breath. There is no other breath like this one that occurred in the past, as each breath is fresh and new, and there will be no other breath like it in the future.
4. Take a break from the news.
Taking a break from the news is necessary for health and wellbeing. Listening to the same bad news over and over, does nothing to solve the problems of the world. Instead, it makes us feel helpless and hopeless. Take a break to relax and laugh. You will come back to the news with renewed energy, hope, and creativity about how to be part of the solution, even if this just means finding out who is running in your local elections and making it a point to be an educated voter. Perhaps, it will mean deciding to throw your own hat into the ring for a local office…because that is how change is made.
5. Eat healthy.
Eating healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, while decreasing sugary, salty, high fat, and processed foods, keeps us physically healthy and will promote emotional wellbeing and resilience (see my previous blog, Food for the Soul).
6. Find your North Star.
Begin to take action, or resume action, toward achieving your dreams…or finding out what your dreams are, if you don’t already know. For me, following my dreams has kept me feeling motivated and strong, even during the most stressful of times.
7. Surround yourself with positivity, rather than drama.
If you’re spending time with people who don’t treat you well, assert yourself and set limits about how you are to be treated. Just like you eliminate the toxins you ingest from food, limit the amount of time you spend with toxic people. Surrounding our selves with positive people, spending time talking, laughing, or even crying together, are among the most powerful ways to build our own resilience to stress.
8. Find inspiration.
Doing things throughout the day that you know will inspire you, such as listening to music you enjoy, reading something inspirational, walking in nature, exercising, or meditating, will help to create immunity to the stress in your life and surrounding you. What activity do you find inspiring? It can be something as simple as a walk in the park.
9. Finally, to avoid reaching the tipping point of stress, it’s important to spend some time throughout the week doing nothing….and doing this nothingness without feeling guilty. Although we may believe that we’re not being productive unless we’re busy, by just allowing ourselves to “be,” we’re actually producing more space to be creative and productive. Turn off all devices, including the television, computer, smart phone, and tablet. Spend an hour in nature or just listening to relaxing music. Take a break from working on a project you’ve been immersed in, even if it’s something you’re excited about. Taking a break will lead to more excitement, energy, and fresh ideas when you return. But, if you don’t take such a time-out, that excitement can easily shift to exhaustion.
This is my recipe for reconnecting to the inner peace that exists within each and every one of us. Following it has started to have some peaceful effects in my own life. It often takes frequent reminders throughout my day to make peace a priority, but the payback is so worthwhile. Let me know if this or something else works for you!
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Originally published at medium.com