Normally I start posting about the holiday season around now. I start talking about mindset centering and going through the season in one piece. But, this year is different.... way different.
This year we are dealing with a lot on top of the holiday season. There is so much unrest and stress, you can feel it. It comes through in the news, calls with friends, bad news from a loved one. It's really hard to avoid. So, I can't just post about the business of the holiday season. I must write about the stress and anxiety layered on top of it.
How Are You Balancing It All?
Have you been feeling stressed lately? I know I have. Watching the effects of the pandemic, layered over the fight for social rights, economic uncertainty and worry about the election and its after effects, it's a wonder we are functioning at all.
Each one of these issues are difficult and complex. We need to have some really intense conversations around them. We might feel quite powerless under the weight of it all.
I have been feeling the stress a lot lately. These feelings tend to build up. I know through my research that prolonged stress can lead to disease. I don't want that. I know you don't either. Rather then run to a fast food store or empty my wallet, I wanted constructive things I could do.
I went in search of things that I can do to relieve stress. I'm hoping that the tips and ideas that I've seen work for me, will help you also. My hope is that you find some big results and that you can be more "at choice" and on top of your game rather then be dragged under the weight of it all.
The other day, I was in the grocery store. I was at the register. I had my mask on, and my keys in my hand. I was looking all over for my glasses so I could get my credit card to pay. I knew that the clerk was saying something to me that I couldn't quite understand as I was fumbling and fumbling and fumbling. Finally I stopped long enough to hear her say, "Your glasses are on your face."
You see, I couldn't hear her because my mask was on! I was so upset at that point that I nearly broke down in tears. I have been having my share of meltdowns.
I'm a mother, I'm a daughter, I'm a sister, I am a business owner (SoulMate Yerba Co.) and each one of those roles are demanding. I also know that when my stress builds up, I'm no help to anyone. I also know that stored anger and anxiety lead to disease. I really don't want that.
So a few weeks ago I decided that I was going to find solutions that work for me, solutions that I could use either in the moment or take a break and use. I needed to focus on solutions that left me feeling better.
Let's just admit that sometimes you need a meltdown. I learned this when my daughter was a toddler. I watched her have meltdowns and then saw as they lead to relief. It's the same with adults. Sometimes you "need" the release of energy to get to the other side.
For this post, I'm just addressing those times when the meltdown is not going to be helpful, or you are feeling the stress being stored within your body.
I'm going to divide these techniques into two groups.
When I am stressed, I am not good to anyone. I am not as patient, I am not as kind, and my decisions aren't as great as they could be. I also know that this prolonged stress will eventually find it's way into a corner of my body and eventually make me sick. I do not want that.
#1 When you only have a few seconds to calm down meaning you can't climb to a mountaintop and find nirvana just yet. You just need to be normal and civil around others while not popping an artery.
#2 When you have more time, and can not only get yourself to a better place but actually enjoy it.
Don't have time to Calm Down!
Most of us can't go to a Mountaintop to find peace right now. Would be nice, but who has time, much less courage to get on a plane? We need an easy solution. Just keep this in mind. One of the easiest things to do is stop and breathe. Yes, that is it. That alone get give you calm. Pay attention to that breath. That only takes a second and is really a great technique even when there are a ton of other people around.
Breath is everything. That is so simple and complex all at the same time. That is why most religions teach siting and breathing. It is something we can all do. It will immediately calm the nervous system. It is free, is at your disposal, but takes a mental decision to WANT to destress.
Are you in Physical Pain?
My hope and prayer is that you are not. You can connect to breath and kind of clue in to your physical body. Breath in and question if there is any physical pain. If you are not in pain, then there is a good chance you can realign your thoughts to destress.
Even if for a few moments, realizing that the stress is coming from my "perception" of what is going on, can be helpful and relieve some stress.
Working out is really helpful when you are wanting to change up your mood.
For me, going for an intense workout helps me to unplug from the stress that is dragging me down and really helps shift my mindset. But here is the catch… it needs to be intense, and the best way I know how to get an intense workout in is with interval training.
There are a million ways to work with intervals, but the basic idea is that you work for a bit at your peak and then you go down to a kind of baseline. You can do this outside by running sprints, doing jumps or doing intense exercises like burpees. I am an indoor kind of girl though, and I do intervals with a spinning bike or small trampoline. But I am sure you have some amazing and creative ways you have been working out at home.
I got turned onto spinning about 25 years ago in Los Angeles. I was never much of an athlete, but the whole bike thing allowed me to work hard enough to work up a sweat. I never understood what the hype was about before. Without the pounding, and even as a beginner, I was able to work out at a really high intensity. So, that was key in getting a kind of mental release.
None of this has to cost you a ton of money. When I got to Baltimore, I actually bought a used spinning bike on Craig’s List. People are selling their at home gym equipment all the time, especially now. If you can swing it, it’s not a bad idea to have an at home, inside option. Sites like Craig’s list and facebook marketplace are a great place to look.
But, you don’t have to work out at that high intensity the whole time, in fact, I find it’s best when I don’t. I will go for as little as 30-45 seconds at the highest intensity I can muster and then back off. And, if that sounds like a short time period, just try it. It’s harder than you think.
Here is what I do… I will take anywhere from 6-10 minutes to warm up. Then I set a baseline. This is at a level a bit more then a warm up, but not a “hard pace.” Once I get to that point, I go full out for 30-40 seconds, no more then that. Then, I stay at my baseline for at least 5 minutes. When I am ready, I will go again. I will do this at least 5 times within the 40 minute workout. But, you can do more or less. Make up your own rules. Just don’t stay at the same level. These intervals get the heart going and truly get my mind to do a turnaround. I also sweat and feel like I got a better workout in when I do this.
If I do intervals like that, sporadically, throughout a 45 minute or hour workout, I will always get a mental release after. For me it seems to work on many levels. First off, having to keep time and be on top of that refocuses my mind and keeps me “in the moment,” something I am not that good at to begin with. Then, focusing on the physical exertion itself makes me kind of give myself a pep talk every 5 minutes. And finally, it actually gets endorphins running around my body and a detox starting.
Rituals Help you Cope
Rituals are incredible. They are touchstones. Healing among themselves. Something that you are comfortable with, that has a flow and steps... these are all rituals.
A ritual can take on any form, but it is basically a repeated act with a beginning, middle and end. It is usually done in a set place with set steps. The repeating of the steps can be, in itself, the ritual or the set steps can lead up to the ritual. Whatever it is, having a ritual can be completely comforting and maybe transport you to a more peaceful place.
A ritual can be simple such as lighting a candle and sitting in a favorite chair to read a book, or more complex like creating braided bread on a Friday afternoon.
Doing a step by step process to create something beautiful for yourself is really helpful to center your mind and body.
Recently I found that I have a completely different day if I give myself ten extra minutes in the morning to sit by myself, make my yerba and either journal or breathe. Starting out the day like that in a calm state really goes far in keeping myself calm all day long.
Rituals might just be a psychological cue or a kind of physical shift that can get you into a really good place for the day. Either way it works.
If you don't have those 10 minutes in the morning you can do them in the evening. I'm just a morning person so I prefer that, but I've heard a lot of people lately say that at night, when everything is quiet in their home, that's when they can really get centered.
So either way, whether it's the start of your day or the end of the your day, I just welcome you to take those 10 minutes for yourself.
My favorite is making yerba mate. When things get particularly harried, I can stop what I am doing and make yerba. I will turn on the stove and heat water while I put yerba in my mate cup. I will put the perfect amount of dried stevia in the middle. Then, add a bit of room temperature water over the yerba. I will pour the hot water in my thermos and then pour a small stream of water from that into my yerba cup. And when the yerba has puffed up a bit, put in my bombilla. Then, I will sip and pour and sip and pour. I get so much pleasure not only from doing these simple tasks in a certain sequence, but also have a physical reaction to the yerba itself.
10 Minutes Alone
Taking 10 minutes to myself is sometimes all that is needed to turn my mood around. Usually when I am super stressed, the stress I coming from a few different directions. There is something about sitting quiet for a bit that helps me to organize my thoughts. Organizing my thoughts is key to calming myself down.
10 minutes can be done in the morning before the world has woken up, before the cell phone starts pinging you, or some prefer the evening. It helps me to set up the day in a certain way. It has another benefit though. Being comfortable and really familiar with this quiet time helps me to recall it when things get a littles stressful during
Intentional Breath Work
One of my beautiful friends Dina taught me this amazing breathing technique.
The first part of it is to just feel the four corners of your feet. Just become aware and make sure they are on the ground. There could be others around and it really doesn't matter. Nobody knows what you are doing. While you feel the four corners of your feet, check into your breath.
Breath from the belly, lick your lips and breathe out your nose. Do you feel the air going past your lips? Focus on that for a few moments.
This is an amazing technique to stop the craziness that's happening "out there" and just center and calm yourself "in here."
Where is the stress "gathering" in your body?
Another technique for de-stressing is to check into your body. Normally the stress gathers in an area. Do you clench your jaw? Do you raise and tense your shoulders? Do you knit your brow or hold your breath?
The idea here is to first just see where the stress sits. From there make the decision to release it. Go slow and take one part at a time. It might take you a few tries with an area to see what you are capable of releasing. Sometimes you can circle back to an area five minutes later and find that the area just tensed up again.
When I am aware that I am stressed, I feel the tension build in my body. My job, when that moment arises, is to realize where is the stress in my body and try to release it. I then go to the next place I feel the tension.
Do you need to carry it?
Sometimes we are being bombarded from all sides. In those times, I try to untangle the web. What can I release?
If I see that I am frustrated with how somebody that was driving next to me cut me off, I can surely let that go, correct? Some are easier than others, but becoming aware of what it is and what CAN be let go is helpful.
Go to the Bathroom
This might seem obvious. Here goes... when stress gets super intens and there are others around, just excuse yourself and spend a few minutes in the bathroom. Go, close and lock the door. Breathe.
Those 2 3 5 minutes away and alone might be enough to bring you down to Center. Closing off the world, getting quiet and calming your nervous system by breathing will help enormously. You just have to realize you are worth those extra few minutes.
If you don't have time or there isn't a bathroom, just walking away from the situation is equally helpful.
"When we pause allow a gap and breathe deeply, we can experience instant refreshment. Suddenly we slow down, lookout and there's the world,”- Pema Chodron
This quote speaks to that moment where we just become super present and realize that the stress is happening outside of us.
I did a video about this that you can see here.
Got some time? Allow stress to melt away with water. This can be as simple as drinking a glass of water. Try it. It helps calm you down.
A more intense way is to immerse yourself in water. Are you lucky enough to have a tub, hot tub or even a pool? This is an amazing way to immediately shift your mood. Here too, it is interesting to note how many religions or healing techniques have a water immersion as a ritual.
Getting to surround yourself with water is enough to relieve your stress.
This may sound a little bit “woo woo” but just got element of fire might really help you shift. It can happen by lighting a candle, lighting sage or incense, or something that can keep a flame.
The element of fire can help with stress. It kind of hearkens back to the idea of it's just nature, and nature is healing. It is ancient. It is an element that no one created, but is of the earth. So, it is bigger and more intense than us.
Disrupt and Distract
Another technique is to refocus the mind. Distraction is valid! You get extra points if it is something physical. And, it works!
Something like reading, sewing, or knitting going for a walk all literally help the mind and body. Changing your environment, even if it is the first 2 feet in front of you, can change your mood.