Inner peace is the centerpiece of your soul.
Stress is a constant, a fact of life, a silent killer. These catchphrases grab our attention because, yep, they sound pretty stressful — as though we’d better put on our protective gear, grab our weapons, and prepare for combat… or else. No doubt, our daily exposure to the stress factor can make us feel like we’re in the trenches and quickly losing the war. And when stress eventually retreats, there we stand – bloodied and bruised, dragged down and worn out. And ready to surrender.
But wait. Let’s not wave the white flag just yet.
Why? Well, for starters, evolution dictates that we’re pretty resilient soldiers. Throughout the ages, we’ve somehow managed to adapt to (and rise above) challenge — even through unmitigated episodes of personal and professional stress. In fact, we can manage stress through some simple, empowering choices that cost nothing… yet, we might agree are priceless. As we take inventory of our arsenal of stress-reducing weapons, let’s consider some practical ways to regulate our stress response and remove ourselves from the line of fire.
Slow Your Movement
Love it or hate it, physical activity is a convenient, customizable stress reliever. But we’re not talking about just any form of physical activity. The fluid, low impact of yoga, t’ai chi, qigong, and other Eastern meditation-guided practices has been linked to significant decreases in perceived stress level. In fact, these practices promote something that Zumba, Boot Camp, and their high-intensity counterparts do not: slow, kinesthetically integrative movements that facilitate controlled breathing patterns and, thus, have a calming, down-regulating effect on our hyperstimulated nervous systems.
So, find your zen zone, downshift into a slower gear, and remember: High-intensity, sweat-inducing vigor is by no means a universal prescription for stress regulation.
Control Your Breathing
Given the rapid fire pace at which we throttle through life, it’s easy to take the calming potential of breathing for granted. Yet, when we take a moment to filter out the chaos and focus on our breathing cycle, we immediately open up our respiratory and vascular pathways, facilitating the flow of oxygen through the blood and to the brain.
Although breathing is an autonomic process, our tendency to mindlessly meander through life in autopilot mode often causes us to become inattentive to the importance of coherent, controlled breathwork. When it comes to the oxygen-brain-stress equation, the formula is a simple one: When we assume control of our breathing, stress no longer consumes us.
Find Your Escape
The word escape conjures up visions of excursions to faraway, exotic destinations; hearing it almost immediately reduces our blood pressure and induces a relaxation response. Truth be told, we can regulate our stress level via any form of escapism that allows us to psychologically remove ourselves, even if just temporarily , from our energy-draining daily grind. For some of us, it might mean getting lost in a captivating book or movie, logging out of social media (highly recommended!), or going for a long walk to de-clutter a disorganized headspace. For others, it might mean locking the door, playing air guitar to some favorite jams, and leaving the rest of the world behind for a little while. Those books, walks, log offs, and rock star-ish exploits serve our tired brains well; they allow our crazed neurotransmitters to recalibrate as we take a temporary (and much-needed) hiatus from reality.
If we believe that stress will eventually “surrender”, we’re not just fooling ourselves — we’re waging a war that cannot be won. Given its ubiquitous presence in our lives, it’s up to us to stop being on the offensive and, instead, start establishing a workable relationship with stress.
When we’re willing to listen to what stress has to say, it can teach us about our capacity to survive and thrive in the face of constant change. When we leverage stress as a performance motivator, it can give us the firepower to push forward toward our goals. When we exhale “stress-pectations” about the things that we can’t have or do or be, we inhale gratitude for what we have, what we’re doing, and who we are. And when we finally choose to lay down our arms and make peace with stress, we transform a powerful “enemy” into an empowering “ally.”