Reduce Stress: 3 Simple, But Powerful Practices.
Reduce stress by incorporating these simple practices into daily life.
Stressors are inevitable. Research from many areas including neurochemistry, sleep science, longevity, and mental health, illustrates that the more stress a person experiences in life, the more likely negative health outcomes are and the falser one ages. But you can reduce stress, or more accurately how much stress you feel, with some simple practices. One artefact that shows up in the literature again and again, is that our perception of stress, and our response to it, are more important to our health outcomes than the objective stressors that are present.
This fact considered, I feel it is of great utility to invest effort in improving your perception of, and resilience to, the stressors in your life. The following three simple practices can help you do just that.
Recovery Time & Activities. You are only as good as your ability to recover.
The human body and mind are incredibly resilient to stress, and capable of handling quite impressive amounts of exceptionally diverse stressors. To do so, however, adequate recovery from that stress must be allowed. The problem with the modern world is that stress can be protracted over long periods of time, and recovery can be difficult to incorporate. Recovery can even become stressful. If you have ever felt guilty about taking time for yourself you know this to be true.
For many people I coach, the pressure to be hyper productive or available for others is round the clock is significant. The draws on their time, emotional resources, presence and skills has become so great and ubiquitous, that the simple act of taking time out for oneself has become a source of guilt and stress. I see this quite commonly in mums, heads of businesses, and people who have a tendency to care a great deal about others.
To these people I have a specific message:
If you feel pressure or obligation to give the best of yourself to some cause, be it your children, your company, or any other thing. You MUST take great care of yourself, because nobody needs the best of a worn down, unhappy, resentful, and likely sick version of you. To benefit others maximally, you must be at your best. Efforts to reduce stress, should not become stressful.
Insights on recovery from heart rate variability (HRV).
Recovery is more potent than anyone thought. Just watch the trace of a persons HRV for a full day, and you can see all the stressful and restful times. But look closely and you will see there are some activities, however, that go beyond mere rest. These “recovery” activities, are not only respite from stressors, but are actively putting energy back into the system. They regenerate the body, increasing readiness for coming stressors.
What is even more insightful, is the nature of these activities. There are some things that seem universally beneficial for recovery, like meditation and the practice of gratitude. For any given individual, however, the most regenerative activities could be wildly different. Each person will have specific activities that help them, that are unique to them. The common thread seems to be things that stimulate positive feelings of appreciation, laughter, love, connectedness etc.
For one person, it might be singing his infant to sleep, for another playing the piano, for another watching comedy.
Finding time to do the things that you love for their own intrinsic value is key. Maintaining a practice in your life that you find rejuvenating can be profoundly protective, and reduce the stress you feel.
The Sacred Pause.
Sometimes, a meaningful break from stressors to engage in leisure is not possible. Maybe you’re going from a stressful meeting straight into a client call. Maybe you need to be there for a friend or coworker in the middle of a mile high pile of tasks. In these cases, the sacred pause can act as a mini check in. It provides just enough space between your environment and your inner state for you to become self aware and present. This can reduce felt stress just enough to improve decisions and temper reactions.
How to to it?
Stop. Take a breath. Feel that breath, notice what you’re thinking and feeling, without judgement. Exhale fully. Now continue.
This brief shot of mindful presence is enough to increase awareness of whats happening around you and inside you in the moment. Quite often, awareness is enough to help you take better actions and understand yourself and your context more deeply.
In most scenarios, we know the better path to walk. So often, though, our disconnectedness from ourself acts as an invisible barrier to taking the higher road. Our minds being worried about the future and ruminating on what has passed leads to us making impulsive choices based on emotion rather than thought. Daniel Khaneman wrote extensively about this in “Thinking Fast and Slow”. The sacred pause acts as a break in reactive quick thinking, which allows integration of your thinking self and experiencing self. This leads to better decisions and less reactive, more thoughtful actions.
The practice of gratitude can be immensely beneficial for mitigating stress. Simply spend some quiet time reflecting on things that you are grateful for, from the profound to the benign. This practice will alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety and similar emotions. Best of all, this practice is free, easily accessible, and can be done in the quiet of your own mind, anywhere, anytime.
The mechanism of action seems to be as simple as the application. It is quite hard to simultaneously feel grateful and fearful. So feeling thankful and content can reduce feelings of stress. In Buddhist teachings, a focus on the absence is often a cause for suffering. Holding desires for things, qualities and situations that we wish to have creates a sense of absence and wanting. By focusing on the things we are thankful for, the focus shifts to the goodness of our reality, of which there is almost always plenty.
I use gratitude every morning when I wake to check in with the goodness in my life. The fact that I woke in a comfy bed. That bed is in a heated house. My family all present and well and I am privileged enough to I love my work. Of course, I have stress, worries and tough days, especially last year! I have been on the brink of losing my business. Ive lost loved ones, been worried about losing other loved ones, and felt the futility of battling the realities of 2020. But despite this, it is quite easy to feel ok about life when each morning starts with gratitude. The important things are all present and there are so many people who are way less fortunate.
Research from many fields shows that your perception of, and resilience to, stressors determines their impact on physical health. I know many people are struggling with very real threats and fears, I am not diminishing your struggle. My hope is that these three tools may lessen the burned. I hope you are able to use these to cope a little better. These tools could reduce your felt stress to a level that allows you to manage, even thrive though whatever adversity you face.
By Pete Edwards. ASCC.
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