This is a re-blog of a post that I found helpful to come back to. As we continue through these difficult times, more and more stress and distress will impact us all. Over the next few weeks, I will share practical posts to help us navigate the lows of life. May we all find our middle ground.
There are many tips in this post. As you read through this mini course, choose a couple of tools that resonate with you and let that be your focus, rather than trying to apply them all.
To bring about positive change, we must go past the intellectual understanding and embrace the experience. It is a practice. For many of us, it is the most important practice of our lives.
It is part of our human nature to become annoyed and angry when we feel threatened or things don’t go our way. Irritation and frustration seem to go hand in hand with the demands of life today.
We humans also have a “fight or flight” response when we feel threatened. It helped our ancestors survive when facing sabre toothed tigers. Nowadays, we can have the same response when someone cuts us off on the road, a colleague takes credit for a piece of our work, or we feel we are being treated unfairly…
Whether the threat is real, or in our imagination, the mind and body reacts in exactly the same way. Our brains and bodies are flooded in a chemical bath. There is a rush of adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream, blood is sent to the extremities and the heart, digestion is put on hold, muscles tense. We are ready to pounce or run!
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness” ~ Viktor Frankl
“You can’t stop the waves but your can learn to surf” ~ Jon Kabat Zinn.
Here are 6 tools you can use to calm the body and mind’s response to center yourself:
1. Breathe. At the first moment you realize you are experiencing annoyance or anger, bring awareness to your breath. Take several full breaths focusing on the exhale to release that tension and energy. Then slow it down. Making the inhale and exhale long and even.
This will help invoke the body’s relaxation response and give you time to access your higher brain for making a decision on how to proceed.
2. Calm Body and Mind. Try these calming techniques for body and mind.
- Bring a hand to my belly, to encourage fuller breathing and to feel more grounded. I also like to put a hand on my heart to initiate a mammalian soothing response. Try it and see. Feel the warmth from your palm and allow it to calm and soothe your heart.
- Bring a finger tip to your lips can also have an immediate calming affect on the body
- To create a new neural pathway in the brain . You may also like to add a word to say or phrase on the exhale. For example “release” or “let it go” or “have patience” or “be calm”.
- If you are more visual, then bring to mind the image of someone you love or a place that calms you. Have it on your smart phone, ready to be accessed in a moment.
Take a moment and reflect on what would work for you…
3. Release the Tension Our body also needs to release the energy build up that is part of the fight or flight response. Animals naturally shake off this tension after conflict, but we humans have lost that natural ability to release it. Moving your body is important. Get out of your head and into your body to deal with the physical response.
Here are some examples:
- Find a private place to practice sun breaths (full movement of the arms with the breath)
- Stretch the body! Stamp your feet into the ground then reach for the sky. Imagine the energy being released downwards and then upwards.
- Run up and down stairs
- Get outside for a walk or a run.
- Practice “meshing”. Visualize yourself as porous as a mesh screen. As you encounter strong feelings welling up (for example, anger, fear, resentment), let the feelings pass through your body. Observes the intense feelings moving through.
- Pretend you are in a sitcom, and appreciate the humor in every absurd situation. The challenging times are often similar to scenes in a bad comedy, especially if they are of our own making. Laugh about it. Laughter releases physical tension too!
Take a moment and consider what would release tension for you…
4. Reflect. With blood now accessing your higher brain you can reflect on what has just happened.
Where is the emotion coming from? Is there a history behind it?
Explain it to yourself. “I’m annoyed right now because ….” This reflection may be enough to detach yourself from the emotional reaction. Don’t be quick to judge, based on your own reaction. You don’t know what the other person might be struggling with, or what is going on in their life. If you are cut off in the car, it may be that that person really does have an family emergency.
5. Switch Perspectives. Be an observer of the situation. Imagine you are an observer and play back what just happened. Let go of judgment or getting caught up in your side of the story.
Be the narrator of the scene that just occurred. Notice when emotions come up and try to step back into the observer role again. Keeping a detached distance will allow you to find your center and balance.
Try to see the other person’s point of view. Don’t be quick to judge, based on your reaction. You don’t know what they might be struggling with or what is going on in their life. If you are cut off in the car, it may be that that person really does have an family emergency.
6. Have a Mantra or Axiom. Choose a go-to phrase that means something to you that will help you maintain this observer mindset: Here are some examples:
- Everyone wants to be happy.
- This person is acting this way because he thinks it will make him happy.
- People who are a pain are usually in pain.
- Recite the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Remind yourself that this too shall pass. Trust in time. What seems bad now will not always be so.
- Lighten up. Things happen. Don’t take it all so seriously. What really matters here? Ask yourself “Is this worth fighting for” or is there something more important here.
- Which is more important – Being right or this relationship?
- Move from reaction to action. What part have I played in bringing this about? What can I do to make this better?
Take time and reflect on what would work for you…
Having a set of tools to use in the heat of the moment is really helpful, but will only help at that moment. Research has shown that having a regular practice of meditation helps us to step back and access this observer mindset so that we find our balance more and more easily. With practice over time, we will not react so strongly as we accept all our emotions as our teachers and friends.