In the modern world, stress has become a big part of our life everywhere. Even in Auroville, where we dedicate our life to more conscious living, life can get so busy that stress creeps in the second we stop paying attention. Stress has become the ‘new normal’, and for some, a good sign, something that tells us that our life is filled with important tasks that need to be accomplished.
Yet human beings are not built to be stressed all the time. The purpose of stress is just to trigger our fight-or-flight response when we are facing danger. It is important to remember that constant stress, if left untreated, can have a huge impact on our mental and physical health. More than that, a stressed-out lifestyle makes us reactive instead of responsive, which affects the way we connect to our friends and loved ones.
We all know that to release stress, we are supposed to relax more, eat healthy, and exercise regularly. Though these are very good practices for an overall healthy life, we also need to take care of the other parts of our being – and an important step on that journey is to incorporate practices that do not only target the body, but also the mind and spirit. A healthy mindset, supported by some tweaks in our environment, can make a significant change in our relationship to stress.
Below you will find some strategies and small exercises that will give you more inner space and serenity.
Create your support system
It is hard to go through this life alone, and most of us need people that we can lean on for support when we run into frustrations and problems. Knowing that you are supported by your loved ones will help you to feel calmer. Having someone that you can trust and who has the ability to listen will be helpful to de-stress, and this person might offer a different perspective from your own. In turn, make sure to have an open ear for your loved ones when they need it. If you find it hard to open up to someone close to you, consider talking to a coach or therapist.
Challenge your thoughts
When we are stressed about something we often end up in a negative spiral of thoughts, a strong compulsion to think about and revisit a problem, a hurtful comment, or a painful interaction. Subconsciously, we are often quite attached to these kind of negative patterns in the mind, as they have become part of our identity. While it is tempting to discuss these thoughts with people who share your point of view, talking to someone who challenges your logic can actually help you to see the bigger picture and put some perspective on your stress.
See the positive things in life. Gratitude is a powerful practice that takes us out of the small sense of self and helps us to appreciate the beautiful things in life. When we feel grounded in a sense of gratitude towards the world, stress will find it harder to touch us. A great practice is to simply take a moment, each day, to connect to what gives you a sense of beauty or joy. Gratitude will come naturally. To keep in touch with what you are grateful for during stressful times, remind yourself of the good things by putting a post-it on your mirror or computer screen, or by keeping a gratitude journal that you add to and revisit regularly.
Define what is important
Our schedules are full and every task seems more important than the last. We have to acknowledge that we cannot do everything well. Between obligations at work, our family and our social ties, we often end up running around. When you know what your priorities are, we can make clear and guilt-free decisions on how you spend your time. Accepting your limitations and making sure that you are doing what is important to you is the first step towards creating a manageable schedule.
Pick your battles
As important as defining priorities is knowing how to pick our battles wisely. It is impossible to engage in every argument that we come across, as this would leave us stressed and defeated. Furthermore, it is very unlikely to help us make progress. The potential battles are endless, so choose to fight only for what is really worth it, to stay calm and see the progress.
Take a break
Simple as that. When it becomes too much, just sit down and breathe. Do not allow your mind to convince you that you do not have the time; everyone has time for a healthy pause in their day. Just do it!
Be easy on yourself
When you do not get everything done, forgive yourself. A lot of stress comes from self expectation. You are not perfect, and nobody is. While you are probably striving to be a better human being, you also have to remember to love yourself the way you are. Forgive yourself.
Turn off the volume
We are constantly surrounded by noise, whether it is the radio in the car, the TV at home, or conversations at the office. This constant input easily exhausts our brain and scatters our ability to be present. While our surroundings will probably never be completely quiet, it will definitely bring you more serenity when you listen to the cars on the road and the birds outside your apartment, instead of music or talk shows.
Turn off the notifications
We are constantly distracted by our phone. It will always demand our attention no matter how peaceful the space around us is. So turn off your notifications – or, dare we say it, even your phone? – and try to relate to your phone more consciously. Start with making a clear choice to give your attention to it when you have time and space to do so, not when that little ding-ding demands it.
Meditation or concentration does not require a lot of time and effort. You can take 5 minutes in between tasks to focus on your breathing and clear your mind. For a small guide have a look here. If you are uncomfortable or unable to clear your mind, simply sit for five minutes and do nothing. Meditation will follow naturally.