Stress Doesn’t Have to Be Your New Normal
Looking back on the pressure cooker of stress that used to be my life, it’s easy to see I was in complete denial about the unsustainable path I was on. I was over-scheduled, overworked, and overwhelmed, but I just couldn’t see another way except to keep plowing ahead. I believed if I just kept going, somehow it would all work out.
When the dam finally broke, I found my marriage in shambles and my health on the brink of irreversible decline.
If you’re living your life like I was, you might be convinced this is just the way it is. After all, you’re just doing what you have to do, right? Even if that means doing more and more with less and less time, energy, support, and stamina. But here’s the catch…
Stress should be a warning signal, not a way of life.
In some ways, stress can be positive. It’s an internal alarm intended to alert you to a threat, like the car that isn’t slowing down as you step out onto the crosswalk.
The temporary stress you feel when something like this happens is useful, helpful even, because it warns you of a clear and present danger.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that chronic stress is different. It grinds on you every minute of every day. Anything unexpected, however big or small, can trigger a disproportionate reaction, putting you needlessly on high alert.
In my three decades as a coach and mentor to women suffering from chronic stress, I’ve developed a whole host of tools to respond to stressors in a constructive, life affirming way. All of these tools are based on what for me was a life-changing epiphany:
You already possess within you an ability to restore emotional calm and mental clarity, no matter how intense the stressor.
With dependable tools, you can access this ability to…
Calm your reactions to stress.
Let me introduce you to a foundational mindfulness exercise I call the Practice.
Let’s do the Practice right now, as you read this, so you can experience its calming effects in real time:
First, bring your attention to your posture, softening and relaxing any tension you notice, especially in your shoulders.
Next, focus your attention on your breathing.
On the inhale, let your shoulders be heavy and relaxed.
On the exhale, let your shoulders slide down your back.
Maintain your focus on breathing and relaxing muscular tension for as long as you wish.
How does that feel? Did you notice how doing the Practice quieted your mind and calmed your emotions, even just a little bit?
The beauty of this posture-and-breath approach is that it’s always available, anytime, anywhere, no matter what you’re doing or how intense the pressure becomes.
Go ahead and do the Practice again. Do it every time you think of it. Anchor it to your daily routines, like when you sit down for meals, brush your teeth, leave the house or buckle your seatbelt.
Once you make the Practice a habit…
You’ll become calmer and more composed, even in the face of your greatest stressors. Use the Practice to intervene when stress hits, and over time, you’ll notice you are less anxious, more relaxed, and have a better attitude.
While the Practice isn’t a cure-all for the tensions and stressors you face, it will help you quiet mental chatter, settle your emotions, and maintain your cool so you can make better decisions and avoid the consequences of overreacting.
Integrating the Practice into your life will ensure stress and anxiety loosen their grip on prime real estate in your mind, opening the door for change. Please take care of yourself.
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- by Meg Coyle