Did you know that chronic stress can weaken your whole immune system, harm your body irreversibly, and leave you with possibilities to a whole lot of chronic illnesses impossible to even begin naming? And, that 75% of all doctor visits today come from stress-related concerns?
That's a whole lot of $$$$, physical and emotional suffering, worries from your loved ones, and cost to the important work you do that you can save if you hit the brakes today to release some weight from your shoulders.
Of course, we're not aiming for stress levels of zero, here, because that's nearly impossible and we also can't ignore the evolutionary functions of stress (preparing us to fight or flight; keeping us on our toes in high-stake situations; etc.). But how can you manage stress, especially when you have no time? Instead of feeling run down all the time by all of your worries and to-do's, you can incorporate the following six simple practices into your demanding lifestyle to keep you feeling grounded in the midst of chaos.
1. Just breathe
Focusing your attention on the rhythms of your breath going in, and out of your body in any given moment is one of the most effective and fastest ways to pacify stress. We often worry because of things that have yet to happen. So by zeroing in on the present moment, we release ourselves from the infinite uncertainties of the future to embrace the absolute certainties of right now.
Also, when we're drowning in the endless tasks we have to do, we may subconsciously end up taking shallow breaths (which can drain our energy). So by taking a minute for some conscious, deep breaths every now and then, you can make sure your body takes in enough oxygen so it can function at its best.
2. Be a tree!
This is one of my favorites, because I love trees and I also love how the practice makes me feel. If you get a few minutes in the middle of overwhelm, find a quiet, private space; stand with your feet shoulders-width apart; reach your arms upwards and outwards in a "Y" position; and close your eyes.
Then, imagine yourself being a tree.
Picture your feet as the base of your trunk, digging into the ground with your imaginary roots towards the groundwater and soil nutrients under you for strength. And picture your arms as your branches, extending up, up, and up towards the sun for energy. Stay here for as long as you'd like, and really take in that strength, energy, and confidence from the power pose to help you feel rejuvenated again.
3. Try progressive relaxation
In a seated position, flex your toes, hold for three counts, and then let go. Flex your calves, hold, then let go. Tighten your thigh muscles, hold, then release. And continually repeat this flex, hold, and release pattern for the rest of your muscle groups from your butt muscles, abdomen and lower back, chest and upper back, shoulders, arms, hands, and up to your neck, and face.
Beyond helping you to be more mindful of the present moment, progressive relaxation can also help you to reconnect with your body and let go of any tensions held anywhere.
4. Remember your intentions
"We cannot bear a pointless torment, but we can endure great pain if we believe that it's purposeful."
— Andrew Solomon.
What's weighing you down, and how does it relate to your values, beliefs, and goals? For example, if what's burning you out are the endless things you have to do today (e.g., doing laundry for your family; going to the bank; going to meetings; confronting someone about something), put those tasks into context. What grander goals will they help you accomplish over time? How will they make your life or a loved one's life easier?
It's not about ditching your must-do's or forcefully powering through your frustrations. But it's more about remembering the direct or indirect purposes behind what you have to do so you can feel less dread and more excitement for it.
Postpone less urgent tasks; take everything one baby step at a time; and acknowledge yourself for every thing you get done and everything learning lesson you take away.
5. Count your blessings
Gratitude is almost like the antidote to stress — two sides of a dice, if you will. It's just hard to appreciate your blessings while feeling stressed out at the same time. So in the midst of overwhelm, take a break from it by counting your fortunes.
What do you feel grateful to have? What brings you hope? What do you look forward to? Who do you really appreciate having in your life? What do you love about yourself? What are you proud of?
Yes, there are a lot of things that concern you right now.
But never forget the often-taken-for-granted blessings you have that can keep you uplifted when you feel weighed down.
6. See stress as your friend
It might sound odd, but when we understand the evolutionary functions of stress and learn to see it as our friend, we can potentially bust the negative health effects that otherwise come with it.
In a large-scale study, researchers asked participants two questions:
1. "How much stress have you experienced in the past year?"
2. "Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?"
Then, they used public records to keep track of who died. As predicted, people with higher stress levels were significantly more likely to have died compared to others —but only if they also believed stress to be harmful. On the other hand, people with high stress levels but did not see stress as harmful were actually less likely to have died than even people with low stress levels.
This means how we view stress can make a huge difference on the actual effects it has on our health.
For example, instead of getting anxious when you begin feeling your heart pounding harder, your shoulders tightening up, and your mind racing faster (in other words, getting distressed by signs of stress), look at these symptoms as your body's way of preparing you for high-stake situations. By pumping your blood more quickly, you may feel more energized than before. And by keeping your mind and body active, you may feel more alert and ready to take on whatever comes your way.
To put it simply, you have a choice to see stress as distress or as excitement. As your enemy, or as your friend. As harmful, or as beneficial. And your mindset on it alone can hugely impact whether it drains you or energizes you for the better.
If you find it difficult to turn what you want to do into real, meaningful action, know that you're not alone. The reality is that adopting new habits, changing your mindset, and making positive changes last are extremely challenging without strategic plans and trained support.
The good news is: With my support at your back, you can regain balance, motivation, and confidence in a sustainable manner so you can feel strong inside and out and bring your best to serve this world.