Living on the shoreline for the past 10 years, I only occasionally saw the beauty of the beaches. I knew the sights were pretty, but was running too fast to appreciate the feeling of calmness they could bring to my life. Now, after a second cancer diagnosis, visiting the beach is one of my favorite pastimes. Just being around the shell-covered sand and glistening water brightens my day and teaches me to breathe, be in the present, and find peace in any situation.
The "old me" thought she knew peace. To her, peace of mind meant being successful in the workplace. Of course, for a working mother, that came with its own unique set of hurdles. But the old me didn't see those hurdles as negatives. Instead, she looked at them as opportunities to become even more successful.
As a mid-level executive rising the ranks in a corporate organization, I enjoyed my busy life. I prided myself on waking up at 4 a.m. and driving to work before the sun rose. Throughout each drive, thoughts bounced around my head like a pinball.
Did I answer every project email adequately?
Should I quit caffeine today?
Did I label all the formula in my son's daycare diaper bag?
Somehow I managed it all ... or so I thought. Looking back, I now realize that I was seldom present during everyday life. Instead, I was I often somewhere else in my head pondering what was next. Walnut Beach and my second cancer diagnosis helped me change all that.
Perhaps I was forced to be present in order to pay attention to the new business plan of my life. I spent so many days after the re-diagnosis sitting on the warm sand with my cell phone in one hand and a pen in the other. The calm surroundings helped relax me while I spent hours chatting about traditional and natural treatments with multiple doctors, friends, and former colleagues. I talked, listened, took notes, cried, laughed, and sketched out the various avenues to pursue a long and healthy life ... all with the sound of crashing waves as my backdrop.
Little did I know that the shoreline would eventually be so important to my well-being. Not only did it provide a calming environment during those crazy cancer conversations, now the visual of it eases me into a relaxed state anywhere. For instance, during follow up tests, surrounded by a large, scary PET scan machine, I think of the waves of the Long Island Sound. I close my eyes, breathe deeply and daydream about summer on the sand. I could be stressed, but I am not.
After realizing that the beach can bring so much peace and presence, I began to wonder what else around me could help bring out a calm and joyful stance. As it turns out, there's quite a bit. And if it wasn't for me finally appreciating something that was in front of me for years, I never would've found them.
Whether it's to overcome the angst of work pressures or scary doctor appointments these are my top-five favorite ways to manage stress for a better peace and presence.
1. Listening to podcasts during traffic or long commutes. This brought peace and alleviated anxieties over potentially wasting time in the car. I downloaded TV comedies, books, Days of Our Lives and listened to the audio. I also love Pandora and often play the Deepak Chopra channel when driving or walking.
2. I now always have a long music playlist at hand with current and old time favorites. Music has the ability to bring me to a different place. I daydream of being a pop singer or reminisce of old times that make me smile: summer camp in Wisconsin, boating on Lake Minnetonka or working behind the scenes at concerts.
3. In my wallet there is a quote book of silly things my child says. Reading things like "Speed Lemon" (speed limit), "there is a pineapple is in my ear" (at the site of sticky ear wax), "another commershinal" in on TV, wanting to go to "Chuck-E-Cheeze-its" reminds me to be present.
4. I will do something active - right now! Drop for 10 pushups. Dance my heart out for two minutes. Do 10 cheer jumps. These take no money and little time, yet raise the heart rate enough to make me stop thinking about the insanity of life.
5. Stop - now and be grateful! I received a little charm box with homemade notes of gratitude that I read from time-to-time and it relaxes me. Or, I look around and pick one item (or person) and think about why I'm grateful for it. The positive energy calms my nerves and often has refocused my day.