Wouldn’t it be great to joyously flow through the Holidays stress-free? Might this be possible for you? “Well, sure, anything’s possible,” you might say. How about extending the no stress experience through March? Might that be possible? “Sure, but are you OK Koehneke? Or have you been dipping into the fruit cake a bit early?”
If you have read or heard anything about stress (who hasn’t these days) you know that some good practices like meditation, physical exercise, yoga and “tapping” are great to have in your toolbox. And while I will say some about meditation, (and you know about exercise and yoga, and can google tapping or EFT), I will also cover Three Key Principles and Seven Techniques you can add in throughout the day without taking time out of your schedule.
I suspect that a Zen Monk who has meditated three hours a day for 25 years might have a pretty easy time with little or no stress throughout the Holiday season, but you and me? Not so easy. The reason for this is that the monk has trained his or her mind in such a way that repeated focus on some object has caused the brain to actually become focused and “harmonized” by physically decreasing the size of the brain’s amygdala, or the unmanaged fight or flight response. While the monk has gained freedom from the negative impact of miscellaneous thoughts, you or I might “latch on” to an anxious thought, expand it into a mind movie about how the future might not turn out so well, and as a result feel quite stressful as a dose of cortisol is dumped from the adrenal glands into the amygdala to put us in an unmanaged flight or fight response. Which causes all sorts of problems over time.
If you meditate (which is a great stress reducer), you probably have been taught to focus on your breath as the object of attention, which causes the brain to restructure itself to make concentration easier. But you might also add in some other ways to focus your attention. Researchers have found that when practicing calm acceptance during meditation, you will develop a brain that is more resilient to stress. And if you meditate while cultivating feelings of love and compassion, your brain will develop in such a way that you spontaneously feel more connected to others. (Excerpted from Your Brain on Meditation, by Kelly McGonigal, www.mindful.org)
While many of us don’t have an hour or two a day to meditate, even a short practice of 10 minutes can be very helpful for reducing stress. (I urge you, however, to take at least 15 minutes in the morning before driving to the in-laws on Christmas day!) But there are also other things you can do to remain in sync with your well-being — without extensive periods of daily meditation. In my view these Principles and Techniques strengthen the ability of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex to regulate emotional responses from the brain’s amygdala, and thereby better manage the fear response and avoid unwanted stress.
Before covering the Seven Techniques I suggest you keep in mind these Three Principles for living stress-free described below. In addition, I urge you to check out my eBook I recently posted on Amazon entitled WellBeing.
Here are the Three Key Principles for Reducing Stress:
- Accept. Whatever the present moment brings allow it to be OK. Simply stated, stress is caused by resisting what is occurring or what shows up. So instead of “fighting” with reality, be curious about it and see what you can learn from it. (“If you argue with current reality you will only be wrong 100% of the time!” — Byron Katie)
- Claim Your Uniqueness. Consider life a process that is unfolding only as it can for you alone. You are unique, so no need to compare yourself with anyone else, because they are unique as well. With this unfolding nature of your life consider and affirm that “everything is working out in perfect timing.”
- Take One Step at a Time. We call life a journey for good reason. On any journey there is a next step to take. As life is unfolding in perfect timing, be sure to remember that what you want — and will ultimately achieve — happens one step at a time. If you find yourself racing around and trying to achieve too much too fast, say to yourself “stepping stones” as a way to remember to slow down and remain mindfully in the present moment.
Now on to the Seven Techniques for Defeating Stress:
- Gain Awareness. If you find yourself getting anxious (which for me was trying to make things “perfect”), interrupt the thought-feeling response by taking three slow breaths. Next, give yourself a pat on the back for being able to do this! Then ask “what is going on? Is it really so important?” The more you are able to check out and acknowledge what’s going on, the more you are able to take charge of your mind and manage your thoughts.
- Be Content. If you are always wanting something different than what you have, you are also typically thinking about what you don’t have, which creates even more stress. Try allowing whatever you have to be OK and see how your contentment leads to gratitude. Appreciation is energy that actually opens the door for more good to come your way. So if you catch yourself complaining about what is, flip it upside down and be content with what is. And as you feel more and more grateful your stress will diminish.
- Be Yourself. Use your new-found technique of Awareness to catch yourself comparing yourself with anyone else. There is no one like you in the Universe. You have a special assignment, which may be as simple to make flower arrangements (because you love it and are good at it) that make people smile and feel happy. Your current situation is perfect for you right now, albeit one that is unfolding to your greater good. It’s easy to say “love yourself” and harder to do, so just give yourself a pat on the back a few times each day and let that put a smile on your face and contentment in your heart.
- Rise Above Your Problem. Look directly at whatever is bothering you squarely in the eye, then whatever image it produces place it on the ground beneath your feet. “Say what?” Yes, beneath your feet so that you are walking on top of it! You are now “top dog” and are walking all over your problem and can handle anything that comes your way!
- Ask for Help. Honor the energy that created you, the world, and the universe as one of Wholeness. In fact, you cannot be anything other than connected with this all-powerful loving energy, and are free to tap into it and ask for assistance at any time — knowing it will be given — and typically provided in the form of inspired ideas to resolve whatever anxiety or concern you may have.
- Flip Your Limiting Beliefs! We all have beliefs — some that serve us and some that are based on confused interpretations from the past. Check out which ones seem to run you most of the time, or which ones stop you from taking action in the face of an unknown. Whatever the belief, know that you can never “fail” at doing anything. Yes you can make mistakes, learn from the experience, and gain new knowledge . . . but never fail. So if you come across a belief that keeps hammering you, or a critical voice saying you are unworthy, not good enough, or a failure, look sternly at the message and turn it upside down. Recognize its opposite. Then think it, feel it, and say it out loud. You are the master of your ship, so take hold of the steering wheel and turn it in the direction of your power and goodness.
- Claim How You Want To BE, and Trust That It Will Occur. This is maybe the most important of the keys. When you wake up every morning say to yourself ten “I am’s” — slowly and with feeling. Like, “I am wonderful, I am wise, I am worthy, I am stress-free, I am powerful, I am happy, I am abundant, I am healthy, I am content, I am skillful, I am loved.” As these qualities begin to take hold and you gain the faith to believe them as true, you will see the “fruits of your labor” appear to a greater and greater extent.
If you are seriously interested in defeating stress and enjoying a stress-free December, I suggest you try doing one or two of these Principles and Techniques every day. Then watch how your life begins to change and your stress disappears. And when you’re walking down the street and hear someone say they feel “stressed-out,” you’ll wonder what the heck that even means!