3 STEPS TO DE-STRESS RIGHT NOW
Google “how to de-stress” and you’ll find tons of (mostly great) advice about getting enough sleep and exercise, eating a balanced diet, taking time for vacations, not over-scheduling, getting outdoors, and other lifestyle recommendations.
You’ll also come across terrific suggestions like: avoid stress triggers, take deep breaths, and think positive.
But when I think back to the years my life was full of stress, I’m not convinced any of these would’ve helped much.
It was the 90’s, I was working as a freelance graphic designer, co-managing a busy restaurant, and trying to support myself for the first time. (Hence the 2 jobs.) It felt like I was always racing to the next thing late and frantic.
I was in an on-again, off-again dysfunctional relationship, my parent’s marriage was ending, and being alone with myself was unbearable. (So I avoided that at all costs!) My mind would bounce from one panicked worry to another and back like a pinball.
Overwhelm, exhaustion, and struggle was my norm.
Admittedly, I was over-scheduled and not getting enough sleep. But I ate fairly well, exercised and camped regularly (that covers getting outdoors and vacation for a 20-something). The lifestyle advice wouldn’t have changed much about the way I was living outwardly.
And while avoiding stress triggers, taking deep breaths, thinking positive, and journaling may have temporarily reduced the symptoms of stress, they wouldn’t have addressed the real problem. I needed a practical way to deal with the inner suffering I was experiencing.
At some point during this time, my sister and I visited our Grandma at the beach and she taught me some yoga postures. There was an immediate and new type of connection with my body and mind but, I walked off the sand that day and went back to my chaotic life.
Unbeknownst to me, a profound seed had been planted.
Several years of not dealing with it, and my stress and anxiety was through the roof:
- My way of avoiding stress triggers was to stay in bed all day with the blinds down and ignore the ringing phone.
- I was often dizzy and had tightness in my chest where it felt like I could barely breathe, much less take a deep breath.
- Frequent headaches and migraines made my brain hurt and I’m not sure my bleak outlook was capable of positive thinking.
Then I started leaning against a wall, bending over, and taking deep breaths. That seemed to help me interrupt my pattern of stressing and gave me a glimpse of calm. I remembered that day on the beach, practicing yoga.
Over the next 5 years, I slowly integrated yoga into my life.
I went to a class occasionally, but mostly my practice was 5 minutes in the evening when the overwhelm and worry of the day could no longer be avoided. A forward bend, slow breathing and reminding myself I was ok reset my tendency to go down the dark rabbit hole.
But the real breakthrough happened when I began using this awareness to reset myself throughout the day. I found I could go from scattered and anxious to focused and confident. The more I did it the longer the benefits endured. I learned a life-altering lesson:
Stress is an opportunity to practice being the person you want to be.
Wanting to stay in bed all day was an indication that I was burning the candle at both ends and needed rest. Legs up the wall pose for 5-minutes was a simple way to take better care of myself.
My dizziness was telling me to slow down, I was spinning out of control. So I’d do tree pose holding on to a chair and practice letting my body and mind find it’s center and calm.
Pounding headaches were asking for a reprieve from worrying and trying to control everything. Child’s pose (sometimes at my desk at work) gave me the pause and to see that I was causing my own suffering.
Listening to, and working with my body and mind rather than fighting or ignoring my obvious struggle completely changed my life. My experience of overwhelming stress helped me understand that at its root, stress is resistance to what is happening.
Now, I want to share 3 tools from yoga philosophy that offer a direct and simple approach to working with your resistance and suffering:
Step 1: Self-study (In Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, svadhyaya.)
In order to know what you need to feel better at any given moment, you have to observe your body and mind without judging or ignoring.
Often you’re so caught up in your inner dialog, you’re paying more attention to your perceived story about what’s happening, than what’s really going on.
I recommend a data-gathering mindset: What sensations are in your body? What thoughts are here? What feelings are present?
You’re not trying to figure anything out, just notice.
Step 2: Surrender (ishvarahpranidhana)
This is where you practice letting go of resistance to what’s happening and recognize the experience as an opportunity.
This does not mean you give up on changing things in our lives that aren’t serving you, but rather you stop habitually fighting life (including the inner battles) and actually make a change in that moment.
To surrender is to connect with what your experiences are trying to tell us. To open.
I recommend gratitude: As in, thank you for this dizziness and tight chest, I recognize the need to slowing down and breathe.
Step 3: Intention (sankalpa)
Once you stop fighting or avoiding what’s happening, you can direct attention to what really matters.
And rather than a disconnected reaction, you can make a conscious choice, which is a direct and practical way to help yourself in that moment and manages stress in the long run.
I recommend answering the questions: How do I want to show up for this moment? How do I really want to feel right now? How can I adjust internally to align with that?
Your intention is your will.
Here’s how to turn this into a simple practice.
When you feel overwhelmed, worried, tense, stressed out, pause and set a timer for 30-60 seconds. Use the acronym N.O.W to go through the 3-steps.
First, notice your physical body, remember just feel it and observe what’s happening.
Then notice your breath and heartbeat, watch both for a moment.
Finally, notice your mind, imagine you’re a fly on the wall inside your own head, listening.
Stay with noticing your internal experience without judgment until the timer goes off. Then reset the timer for 30-60 seconds:
Spend this time saying thank you over and over again to everything you noticed in your body and mind.
This may be counterintuitive at first, but with practice, gratitude WILL shift your experience from reacting with resistance to responding with openness.
Cultivate gratitude until the timer goes off as this is absolutely essential for real and long-lasting de-stress.
Reset the timer for 30-60 seconds one more time:
Decide on a course of internal action.
How do you want to think? How do you want to feel? What type of person do you want to be?
Align you next, simple action with the answers to these questions.
I will be calm, so I’ll focus on just one thing right now.
I will be strong, so I’ll acknowledge my fear and match it with courage.
I will be balanced, so I’ll say no to taking on more.
Focus on what you want for yourself, it’s the only thing you can definitely do something about.
And check out how I can guide and support you in using this practice to stop struggling with stress through my online program Make Peace with Stress.
NOW YOU TELL ME, WHAT DO YOU NOTICE ABOUT YOURSELF MOST OFTEN? HOW DOES YOUR MIND RESPOND TO GRATITUDE? FINISH THIS SENTENCE: I WANT TO BE THE TYPE OF PERSON WHO? LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.
HI, I’M STEPHANNIE.
I’m a Certified Yoga Therapist on a mission to make yogic wisdom, movements and breathing practices simple so that you can make them part of your routine and be less stressed, more confident, and experience more cam every single day.
LEARN MORE ABOUT:
GET A SIMPLE, THERAPEUTIC YOGA PRACTICE THAT'S JUST RIGHT FOR YOUR UNIQUE STRESS TYPE.
LET ME HELP YOU
Subscribe to get my latest content, full of free guidance and support, delivered directly to your inbox.