Do you remember the last time you got caught up in a situation that pissed you off or made you so fearful that it completely dismantled your ability to respond in a constructive way? Sometimes it can feel like you didn’t really have a choice in how you responded, it “just happened”. If you’d like to have a more conscious choice in how you respond to stressful events in your life, keep reading…
Imagine this common scenario: You’ve had a late start to your already overbooked day and are already feeling somewhat stressed when you get into your car and remember you needed to get gas as your tank is on “E”, so now you have to make another stop, which will delay you further! Depending on your typical thought process, you may immediately begin to feel anxious and worried: “Oh no! I’m going to be late for my appointment”, causing tension to build as you speed down the street, gripping the steering wheel tightly and swearing at the slow poke driving leisurely in front of you. Or, you may find yourself getting angry, berating yourself with thoughts like: “Why am I late again?… I should be more organized… I should have gotten gas last night… But I was just too tired! … I need a break! …They better not give me any crap about being late! … Do they have any idea what my life is like?… I’m not putting up with any crap today. After all, they kept me waiting last time!”. You head into your day feeling belligerent and defensive..
The Mind Body Link
Whether you react in fear or in anger, the thoughts in your mind create stress in your body. Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises, your breath becomes shallow, your adrenalin surges, and you produce higher levels of a hormone called cortisol. The primitive “fight-or-flight” response is activated but there are no lions or tigers coming at you – “just” thoughts convincing you that your survival is at stake.
Your thoughts have immense power. When something happens that violates your sense of how things should be, and you perceive danger ― whether real or imagined. Are you aware that numerous studies have shown that chronic stress accelerates aging and makes you more prone to diseases like heart disease, stomach ulcers, cancer, insomnia, migraine headaches, panic attacks, and depression?
Fortunately, there are many valuable practices that can help you go beyond the primal fight-or-flight response. You can train yourself to respond from a more evolved part of your brain creating a different response – one that is as natural as the stress response – but infinitely more peaceful, healing and aligned with what I call your ‘Million Dollar Zone’ (that state of being where you are grounded, relaxed, flowing and abundant).
Choices that Relieve Stress
1. Connect With Your Body. While the mind is constantly flitting to thoughts of the future and memories of the past, the body lives in the only moment that truly exists: the present. One of the best ways to relieve stress is to tune in to your body. Allow yourself to feel all your bodily sensations, including ones that your mind might label as “unpleasant”, such as tightness in your jaw, churning in your stomach, or stiffness in your neck. Most people want to avoid feeling these sensations but if you allow yourself to observe them without judging them as “good” or “bad”, or needing to understand, interpret or rationalize them, they will often resolve spontaneously. Tuning into your breath is also a great way to connect with your body and create a shift in your state of being.
2. Meditate. Meditation gives you access to the inner silence and calm that lies beneath the mind’s noisy internal dialogue. You can experience profound relaxation that dissolves fatigue and long-standing stresses. Studies have found that a daily meditation practice can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, decrease anxiety and depression, and reverse the biological markers of aging. There are many different ways to meditate, so it’s about finding the ways that work for you. This is one of the tools I teach in my retreats and programs.
3. Understand Your Unique Stress Response. Your conditioning and life experiences play a great role in how you respond to stress. Here are three common patterns of responses to stress:
Type 1- You respond with anxiety and worry. Normally creative and enthusiastic, in the face of stress, you tend to blame yourself for your problems and become extremely nervous and scattered.
Type 2 – You are usually warm and loving, but if you’re out of balance, you typically react to stress by finding fault with other people and becoming angry.
Type 3 – Normally, you are even-tempered, easygoing and gentle, but when faced with overwhelming conflict or stress, you withdraw and refuse to deal with the situation. You tend to avoid confrontation at all cost because it’s just too stressful.
Do any of these describe you? Maybe more than one? No judgement here. Just awareness.
When you become aware of your response, you can interrupt the cycle and choose a different response. Awareness is the first step of my 5 step S.H.I.F.T. process because you cannot change what you cannot see.
4. Learn the Skills of Conscious Communication. When we aren’t able to clearly communicate our needs, we experience a lot of stress and frustration in our lives. Fortunately, conscious communication is a learnable skill. With practice, you can learn to express your needs, ask for what you want, and create more fulfilling relationships. The skill of conscious communication are a vital component of all my programs.
5. Exercise. Doing some form of exercise will help to shift your focus, get your blood and energy flowing, calm the nervous system, increase the production of stress-relieving hormones, and release stored toxins. The key is to do something that will cause you to stop dwelling on stressful thoughts and help you feel more lighthearted and joyful. You don’t have to go to the gym to do this, many people (myself included) find certain housecleaning activities extremely cathartic. So is taking a walk in nature or practicing yoga. Not only is yoga an excellent physical exercise that increases your flexibility and strength, it also balances the mind and body. With a regular practice, you begin to experience a sense of calm and wellbeing that extends beyond the yoga mat into your daily life.
In life there will always be challenges, they are actually here to serve us, to help us grow but sometimes it hard to see that when they come one after another and we are overwhelmed!
The goal isn’t to try to control the flow of life so that we’ll never experience stress or frustration again; the secret lies instead in having compassion and patience as we learn to befriend our mind. No matter how long you have been stuck in habitual thought patterns, you can learn to remain peaceful and joyful even when life is stressful.
Author: Helen Macmillan. I was born in Jamaica and my life journey has taken me to the United States, China and Europe, learning different healing methods, resulting in a physical therapy and massage practice that blended eastern and western techniques. http://helenmacmillan.com