I’m writing this on December 23, 2020, just two short days before Christmas. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t consider writing a DYI How To Lower Your Stress blog right before one of the most celebrated days of the year. Unless, of course, my focus was coping with holiday stress. But this year is different. 2020 has been a bone crusher in the stress department. Covid-19 has thus far taken the lives of 1.71 million people worldwide. Healthcare workers are exhausted and scared. People are financially stressed. Many are losing their homes. Businesses are closing. People feel lonely and isolated. The world seems more politically divided and aggressive than ever and many people are stuck at home, alone, with themselves and their stress for the first time in their lives without the comfort of their usual distractions.
Although I can’t hand you the keys to living stress free in one blog, I will share three simple easy techniques to help you calm down whenever you are feeling stressed. You can use these three techniques anywhere, under any circumstances. I have been teaching people these techniques since we founded Living Stress Free, Inc in 2011, and people who try them almost always say one version or the other of something that goes like this: “I can’t believe it worked!”
The 3 Steps
- Shift Your Power of Attention from Mind to Body: Stressful situations may trigger our stress but it’s our minds that keep the ball rolling. Bad things do happen but worrying about the future, regretting the past, and personalizing situations that aren’t really personal, magnify stress like a funhouse mirror until everything looks warped and out of control. What can we do? We can use our awesome power of attention. We can’t stop our minds from narrating disaster stories but we can place our attention on our bodies. Scanning our bodies from feet to head and feeling the sensations running through our bodies can be very helpful. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, physical sensations bring our attention into the present moment and out of the future and past where worry and regret live.
- Breathe at Attention: Breath is a perfect companion of the mind. When our minds are stressed, darting from subject to subject, our breaths are short, rapid, and shallow. When our minds are calm and we feel contentment our breaths are long, slow, and deep. How can we use this dance between mind and breath when we feel stressed? We can pay attention to how each breath feels — its sensation, length, speed, and its cessation. When we inhale, our breath fills us — first through our noses, then through our throats, into our chests where it finally stops for a momentary pause before releasing. Every exhalation follows the same path in reverse and ends in its own momentary pause. Our minds fall into silence with each pause. If we shift our attention from mind to breath and notice the pauses, stress will naturally lower.
- Widen Your Awareness: We can think of awareness as a camera aperture. When we close our camera’s aperture we focus on one object like a flower. When we open our camera’s aperture we expand our lenses’ view and capture an expansive area. When we are stressed we focus our awareness on the stressful event and our thoughts and emotions about the event. Unfortunately, this only leads to feeling more stressed because the mind’s reaction to the stressful event perpetuates it. We have created an infinite feedback loop of stress/reaction, stress/reaction, etc. How do we escape? We can open our mental apertures! We can place our attention on our immediate environment. Notice the size of the room you are in. Notice how much space exists around you. If you are outdoors notice the horizon and the space around you. A camera’s aperture cannot be both open and closed at the same time and neither can your awareness be both open and closed at the same time. Open up your awareness to everything coming into your senses and your mind’s aperture will expand beyond worry and stress.
These three techniques can really help promote more calmness and ease in your day, and who couldn’t use that right now? We are days away from a brand new year. Let’s make 2021 as stress-free as possible! Marilyn and I send our warmest wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season.