I write often about stress -- deadline stress, secondhand stress, workplace stress, holiday stress, and even why we are stressed. I bring up this topic often not only because of the negative health effects of stress, but because stress keeps us from truly living our lives.
How aware are you of the negative effects of stress in your life?
Are you aggravated and terse with your family?
Have you stopped doing things that you love?
Are you making poor choices?
Do you find yourself inefficient and ineffective?
The other day I spoke with someone in job transition. She was very stressed about finding a new job as she is the breadwinner of the family and health care is a necessity. Her thoughts kept swirling around her fears. She had moved into a constant stress mode -- shutting down her body and her reasoning mind. She had a hard time concentrating and didn't seem to move quickly or efficiently in her search. The stress of finding a job was actually preventing her from finding one.
When we are in the midst of stress, we -- as wonderful, thoughtful, caring, intelligent individuals -- cease to exist. Our primitive survival brain takes over. A strange being infiltrates our body and clouds our mind. We react to issues from a place of fear. We are mired in our fight-or-flight reactionary circuitry. We are not thinking, only reacting. We lose our cognitive rational mind. Often we are so focused on our fears and stress, we are not truly aware of what is happening to us. I am sure every day you mention something about being stressed, overwhelmed, or being too busy. But are you truly aware of your stress level and how it is keeping you from living the way you desire?
This is why April is Stress Awareness Month. The key to minimizing unhelpful stress is to first become aware of it. We can not change what we can not see. If you talk to someone who is stressed, you can hear their voice rise, see their muscles tighten, and witness their shallow breathing. But they don't see it. Like a bull in the ring, they can only see red; they only see the trigger of their stress and not what it is doing to them. Without the ability to turn off their survival mind, they stay blind to what is happening to them. In order to become aware of our stress, we need the State of Gray.
In my book, From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop "Doing" Life and Start Living It, I talk about the State of Gray as a pathway to disengaging our stress mind allowing us to become aware of our actions. Meditation is the most commonly thought of way to get into the State of Gray. For those in the throes of stress, taking thirty minutes to get into a Zen-like state can be impossible. Luckily we have many ways to achieve a State of Gray, and meditation is just one of them. You can also strengthen your right brain through yoga, guided imagery, conscious breathing, chanting, self-hypnosis, prayer, or any activity that gives your left brain a rest. If your monkey chatter and stress levels are high, find some activities that occupy your mind just enough to keep it busy, but not frantic. When I am too crazed to quiet myself into meditation, one of my favorite ways to unplug is to play solitaire. Solitaire is just enough thinking and enough routine to occupy my left brain, allowing more space for my right brain to breathe. Other people have found success through knitting, running, and other forms of repetitive movement. Be a kid. Get lost in something creative like coloring or humming your favorite song. Try different techniques until you find the one that works for you, and then practice it at least once a day for fifteen minutes or more.
I always professed these alternate ways to obtain the State of Gray and therefore minimize stress. This came from my own experience and observation. But now I have proof. A recent study conducted by Wool and the Gang showed that 68 percent of respondents found knitting helped them overcome stress while a whopping 97 percent of people felt happier not while doing yoga or meditating, but while knitting. So as you look for ways to reduce your stress don't think you need to become a yogi on a mountain top, unless that really interests you. Instead look to the things that you lose track of time doing. How do you naturally relax and recharge? Petting a dog? Coloring a picture? Then grant yourself some guilt free time to indulge in what you love.
This April practice the State of Gray, become aware of how stress affects you, and begin to make small changes which can have a large impact on your health and your enjoyment of life.
In honor of Stress Awareness Month, From Type A to Type Me is on sale on Amazon April 4-11, 2016.