As we enter another new year, fear and ever-increasing levels of stress loom large for many. Here are five ways I use to help cope with the pressurized lifestyle most of us have embraced as the new normal.
1. Reclaim quality time. These days we find our time is taken up with endless things to do. In addition to work and family, we have emails, Facebook, Twitter and newsfeeds, not to mention the incessant ringing of our mobile phones. We have no time for ourselves, no down time.
We need to make a point each day to take some quality time for ourselves. Closing the computer, switching off the phone, finding a place where we're not going to be disturbed and just letting the mind relax. Not focusing anything in particular, not trying to solve problems or go over the past. But just opening to the experience of the present moment. Normally we are so busy doing things or caught up in our thinking, we don't notice experiences that are already there, sensations in the body, what we are feeling, the sounds around us. When we do, our minds begin to relax.
2. Rethink your priorities. So often our priorities are determined by others. We easily overlook our personal priorities. We need to ask ourselves: What is it we really want out of life? What do we really want to be doing? What do we really value? We need to take back more control of our own lives. What makes our hearts sing? What brings us joy?
It's important to understand what makes us feel good and to make time to nurture those priorities. That may mean cutting back some other activities. Often we do things simply out of habit, without even thinking. Ask yourself, "What if I don't do this for once; will my world really fall apart? Will it bring great disaster to other people?" Often the answer is "no." Those are the things we can cut out to give ourselves more time to rest and to follow the paths that bring us joy.
3. Look at things a different way. Whenever we feel stress, there's usually some fear behind it. There's often a voice in our head which tells us that things are not going to work out the way we would like, that we are going to suffer in some way. So one helpful approach is to change our thinking, to see a situation in a different light. Being stuck in a traffic jam, for example, can induce anxiety -- fear of being late, missing an opportunity, reprisal from a boss, etc. But it can also be seen as the least stressful part of driving; there's no oncoming traffic, no pedestrians to watch for, nothing to worry about. You can finally relax, listen to music or enjoy the first quiet moment you've had all day.
So when you're feeling stressed, just pause and ask yourself if there's another way of looking at the situation. Not trying to work out an answer with the reasoning mind, but just pause, be quiet, pose the question and remain open. Often, another way of seeing things appears. And it is usually one that is more relaxed, peaceful and compassionate.
4. Don't keep anxieties bottled up. We tend to want to push away uncomfortable feelings. We think life would be easier if we did not feel them, so we may push them to back of our mind, or even have a drink or take some drug to temporarily avoid the discomfort. However, feelings that are resisted do not go away; they continue to create tension, disturb the mind and make us feel tired. As Carl Jung wrote: "What you resist, persists." What you do not let into your awareness continues to have a hold on you.
Try taking the time to write down your feelings of anxiety, frustration or sadness. Note how it actually feels, what stories you are telling yourself. There's often the fear that by opening up to our feelings in this way, all hell will break lose -- we will break down sobbing, or lose our temper with our partner. We think we are much safer keeping things bottled up. But usually the very opposite happens. When we give expression to our negative feelings, they have a better chance of dissipating. We begin to see things more clearly, the tension decreases and we are able to make better decisions about what to do.
5. Value community. In tough times, community becomes increasingly important. Your family, close friends and colleagues are your inner circle that needs your special treatment, because they are the ones who can be there for you. As well as caring for them in terms of their physical needs, we also need to care for the quality of the relationship, and for how they feel inside.
The golden rule found in every major religion says: "Treat others as you would like to be treated." We all want to be treated with love and respect, not to be attacked verbally or emotionally. So this is something we can consciously give to others. In any communication, try to say things -- including the difficult things that are hard to say -- in a way that the other person feels appreciated and respected rather than attacked or demeaned. Remember, kindness is contagious. By causing them less stress, they will cause you less stress.
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