“To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of a hectic life.” ~ Jill Bolte Taylor
“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” ~ Steve Maraboli
“Pain is a relatively objective, physical phenomenon; suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens. Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering. Stress happens when your mind resists what is… The only problem in your life is your mind’s resistance to life as it unfolds.” ~ Dan Millman
“For fast-acting relief try slowing down.” ~ Lily Tomlin
“I promise you nothing is as chaotic as it seems. Nothing is worth your health. Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” ~ Steve Maraboli
I’ve come to believe that most Americans love stress; in fact, I think many of us are addicted to it. We judge the success of our days on how much stress we experienced, how we “managed” it, and the rewards (usually other addictions) we give ourselves because we deserve to unwind after battling the demands of life. There is certainly legitimate stress. All living beings experience it. But the great irony is that most of our stress is self-imposed. It becomes a vicious cycle of punishment and reward that feeds our ego-self.
Stress is a normal physiological response to feeling threatened or out of balance. Legitimate stress, like being chased by a tiger, can keep us alive. It floods our bodies with hormones that heighten senses, increase physical strength and stamina and makes us more alert. The problem is that our bodies can’t discern between legitimate (or real) stress brought on by potentially dangerous circumstances and the fabricated stress initiated by our ego-self. The body reacts the same way to a tiger as it does to a threat to our reputation or our sense of control. Both trigger the same “fight-or-flight” reaction in the body.
When the ego goes unchecked, it can perceive almost anything (and everything) as a threat to itself – and therefore us. The body reacts with chronic stress as if we are constantly surrounded by hungry tigers. We all know the dangers of chronic stress – the list is long. It negatively affects every part of us; mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Long-term stress can also lead to serious health problems. It can raise blood pressure, suppress your immune system, increase risk of heart attack and stroke, magnify weight issues, speed up aging and increase anxiety and depression.
We may attribute our stress to external factors: work, finances, relationships, illness, and major life changes. But in truth, almost all stress originates internally: lack of assertiveness, perfectionism, unrealistic expectations, negative self-talk, pessimism, and inability to accept uncertainty. All of these factors are born in the ego.
That is bad news and good news. The bad news is that for many of us, the ego has a stranglehold on how we perceive life. The good news is that if we decide to focus on the root of the problem, rather than just the symptoms, many of the things that used to stress us won’t any more. The circumstances may not change, but our reaction to them will. A stress-less life is one built on the solid foundation of spirit rather than the sandy soil of ego.
When we feel stressed, we tend to try and isolate the circumstance we think is causing it and seek to change it. But the circumstance is really not the problem, just a symptom of it. Stress, like all of life’s discomforts, is simply a reminder that we can’t do it alone – it’s an invitation to take a break and reconnect to the power that is greater than ourselves.
Quick Tips to Reduce Stress
Every one of us experiences acute stress, probably on a daily basis. When left unchecked, acute stress can become chronic and negatively impact every aspect of your life. While I’ve outlined the only lasting solution, the work of returning to Spirit is deliberate and takes time to master. With the daily demands of kids, spouses, jobs, household chores and activities, it’s hard enough to find 30 minutes to exercise, take a nap or enjoy a bubble bath.
With that in mind, I’m offering some quick and simple actions that you can immediately use to begin dissolving acute stress. Even with five minutes or less, you can use these techniques to nurture yourself and keep your stress in check. You’ll be happier, healthier and better able to meet life’s demands if you do. It’s no surprise that when expanded into a daily practice, these techniques are also some of the most effective ways to re-connect with Spirit.
- Deep breathing
- Sit quietly and take slow deep breaths in and out through your nose. Focus on your breath and feel it as it enters and leaves your body. Let all distracting thoughts pass by. As you inhale visualize the healing breath filling you with calmness and peace. As you exhale visualize the breath taking with it your stress.
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Focus your attention on each muscle group in your body. Tense, or squeeze, that muscle group as tightly as you can and hold for a few seconds; then release. Begin with your feet and work up through each body part. This technique is very effective for releasing negative energy stored in the body.
- Reconnect with nature
- Get outside. Notice the trees, flowers, or grass. Listen to the birds sing or the wind in the tree branches. If you can’t get outside, listen to nature sounds. You can easily download nature sounds (or apps) on your smartphone or computer. Communing with nature reminds us that we are a small part of a whole that is much greater than our worries.
- Nothing helps release negative stressful emotions like gratitude. Pause and review all of the things you have to be grateful for. Acknowledge that these blessings are not the result of earning them, but have been given freely. The benefits are greatest if you write them down or stay them out loud, but thinking them will also help. Start each one with, “I’m grateful for…” It won’t be long until the stressors and irritants in your life are put into perspective.
- Aroma Therapy
- Scents can be particularly powerful for reducing unpleasant emotions and calming the mind. You can use candles or sachets, but essential oils are particularly effective. Try keeping ylang ylang, peppermint, or lavender essential oils handy and apply a small amount to the skin when you start feeling stressed. Take a moment to breathe deeply and enjoy the aroma.
- Stretching relieves tension and feels good much like progressive muscle relaxation. It helps break up the stored negative energy in your body and release it. Take a few minutes and stretch each major muscle group in succession. Remember to breathe deeply while you’re stretching – it maximizes the benefits.
- Put on your favorite song and dance with reckless abandon. Don’t worry about looking silly – that’s the point. A few minutes of dancing will stretch your muscles, increase your heart rate, and get you smiling – if not laughing out loud. Life doesn’t have to be so serious. Embracing the silliness and humor of life keeps things in perspective.
- Prayer is willingly choosing to communicate to the source of all things. Simply put, it’s talking to the Source. And it’s not just religious “hocus pocus”. There have been thousands of scientific studies that suggest that sincere prayer delivers real mental, emotional and physical benefits.
- If prayer is best described as talking to the Source, meditation is being still to allow the Source to communicate with/through you. There are countless versions and methodologies, but they all have two simple steps in common: be still and calm the mind. It is a state of being more than an activity. It’s a powerful practice because it helps you learn to give the ego a break and listen to the spirit that is within you. The result includes an increased since of calm and peace and a more active intuition.
Modern life is overrun with demands, deadlines, frustrations and hassles. For many of us, stress has become a chronic part of life. But constantly living in “crisis mode” carries a high price that negatively impacts your mind, body and spirit. You can limit the damage by learning to recognize the true origins of stress (ego) and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects. The answer to stress is reconnecting to Spirit; releasing the burden of trying to carry it all on your own – or even believing that you can. Perhaps the real benefit of stress is that it reminds us to return to the Source.