Ahh stress. In today’s fast-paced go go go society it seems we live in a constant state of fight or flight stress. Traffic. Long lines. That short comment from our boss or coworker. Even silly little things like say planning a vacation that should be bringing us joy! How easy it is to “wake up on the wrong side of the bed” so to speak. We know living in a stress state is not good for us. In addition to just not feeling good, the latest scientific research actually shows that stress speeds up our cellular aging! So what are some ways we can combat that and break out of stress cycles?
1) Take a self-compassion break. We think meditation has to be this grand formal hour-long affair, but that’s simply not true. Sure, an hour is great if you can make the time, but it is better to integrate it into your daily life to help reduce that ubiquitous stress factor. Try this exercise on for size the next time you’re feeling stressed.
First, simply take a deep breath and say to yourself “This is a moment of suffering.” Other options include “This hurts” or “This is stress”. What you are doing here is acknowledging what is happening in the present moment. This acknowledgment is mindfulness …. in contrast to feeling overwhelmed the whole day and not realizing you were stressed until the end of the day when you collapse, exhausted. Or maybe realizing you are stressed but are simply fighting it because you don’t want to be stressed.
Second, acknowledge that suffering is a part of life. That’s common humanity. You could say to yourself “I’m not alone. Others are just like me.” Or “We all struggle in our lives.” When we are suffering, we can feel alone; an exercise like this self-compassion break helps remind us that we’re never alone.
Finally, offer yourself some compassion. This could be putting your hands over your heart, or wherever feels soothing, and just feeling the warmth and gentle touch of your hands. And then perhaps offering yourself some words of loving kindness, such as “May I be kind to myself” or “May I give myself what I need.” If you’re having difficulty finding the right words, imagine what you would say to a friend or loved one in need and perhaps gently try offering yourself that same message from the heart.
2) Put it in perspective. See my post on “How to Travel Injured and Keep Your Sanity”. Remember the 5 year rule? If whatever is stressing you now is something you probably won’t remember in 5 years, why even give it the time of day now? Is it really worth it?
3) Reacting vs responding. When stress rains on us, we have a choice to simply react with that fight or flight cortisol spiking instinct or we can instead choose to respond mindfully and decide if that stress factor is worth our frustration and anxiety? In other words we may not be able to control the ocean waves of stress but we can learn how to swim or surf instead of sink. And the more we practice mindfulness and the better we get at living in the moment, the better we will be able to recognize when we are about to react to a stressor vs. realizing it only much later after the fact when we’re already deep into the cycle.
I really love the acronym S.C.O.R.E to help develop that ability to respond vs. react. S.C.O.R.E. stands for stop (pause that automatic reaction), connect (connect to the breath or other anchor in the present moment i.e. your feet on the ground, the feeling of the sun on your face, etc.), observe (notice your reaction tendency – is there tension in your body? Is your heart rate elevated?), and finally respond (how do you want to handle the situation?). Interestingly enough you might find once you go through this process, often your “response” may simply be to breathe and do nothing.
Try it the next time you’re feeling stressed and it should help you respond vs. react.
4) Gratitude. I have always loved Billie Jean King’s famous quote “pressure is a privilege.” So, if (like me) you’ve ever found yourself stressed planning a vacation or contemplating a big project at work, think of the privilege you have to be in the position in the first place. Consider that the stresses and pressures might really be privileges to be grateful for…
What are some ways you deal with stress? Share in the comments below 🙂