Own Your Story: Managing Stress in Three “Easy” Steps

Own Your Story: Managing Stress in Three “Easy” Steps

Stress.  It’s something that every living being experiences.  From animals to plants to humans, stress is a part of life on this planet.  A zebra experiences stress when a lion springs from the bushes: that rush of adrenaline and cortisol that fuel the instinct to flee keeps the zebra alive for another day.  A plant in the garden experiences stress when the weather is hot and windy or cold and too damp: the resiliency that is built due to these conditions helps the plant to thrive when conditions evolve.  Much like in the zebra’s story, a human can experience stress when life is physically threatened whether that threat comes via a gunman, a grizzly bear or an icy road.  The heart races, palms get sweaty and all we can think about is the crisis at hand.  We react. And that reaction to a life or death threat is necessary for survival in such cases.

However, in our modern societies today, we generally experience significantly less life or death stress than our hunter/gatherer ancestors did.  For most of us, stress arises when we perceive a situation to be stressful and when we let our perception hijack our response.  There are challenges galore in a human life – that goes without saying.  Schedules are tight, communications with loved ones or colleagues or neighbors are strained or non-existent, traffic is bad and there are too many bills to pay.  But are they life or death situations?  Usually not.  Yet they often trigger the same fear or stress response:  Our hearts race, palms get sweaty and all we can think about is the crisis at hand.  We react.  But in this case, our reaction is not helping us to survive: in fact, it might even be causing damage to our health in the form of elevated blood pressure, chronic tension headaches or inability to get quality sleep. In today’s modern culture, particularly in the corporate workforce, values of more, better, faster have invited everything from chronic stress to burnout to a general disliking of Mondays. When we view the world as an emergency room, our stress levels soar.  But when we can really see what’s going on, we regain a sense of control and peace. Continue reading “Own Your Story: Managing Stress in Three “Easy” Steps”

Listen

Look out the back door into the sunrise.

Listen.

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There is a faint, yet unwavering beat spreading horizontally over the landscape. It has a rhythm like the powwows of the Lakota people, of a drumming circle, of a collective chanting and funneling of energy into a medium that can be felt and heard by all. This pulse is coming from Gaia, from the core of the earth, from the Being that is represented in all life on the planet. It cannot be ignored. It can be pushed aside and is by many, but it is persistent. The authentic earth is speaking.

What do we hear? What are we going to do with this pulse that is reminding us of who we are? What are we going to be as the ancient rhythm settles into our veins and spreads outward through our choices?

Through our choices, by the actions we take and because of the way we walk on the earth, we are  part of the life that continues to unfold all around us. Nothing that is life – that has the capacity to love, that is the essence of something bigger than we can fully understand – can be contained by systems that are not peace centered and life giving. Though we have plenty of broken systems, we as a collective are an integral part of the unwavering beat – the pulse- and the energy that is propelling our world into something that we know is truth.  To something that is more beautiful than we can imagine on the good days.

This forward motion, this horizontal push into the newness of what has always been at the core, is not without challenge. Change is hard for humans, even when the change is full of light and promise. It can be easy to hold on to what we know, even when it doesn’t serve who we truly are. Even while we welcome change, we don’t know what our reality will look like in the days to come, and we have a hard time with the unknowing. We want something concrete; we want dates to look forward to. We want to plan, and we want to see changes and energy shifts manifest in ways that we can understand and see in our daily lives.

We will get these things, even when it feels like we are still waiting for a sign that Now we can truly live how we are meant to live.   Because while we question, while we still feel like we are waiting, while we strive to exist in a way that is authentic, the pulse is still there. It has always been there.   Many ears are still deaf to the realness of the beating, but it is getting louder with every intention to live as a part of the whole and to be as one with the heart of creation.

Look out the back door into the sunrise. You will see the pulse of the earth. You will feel the collective call to be a people of wholeness and of healing. You will remember that you are the true value, the energy and the answer.

Listen.

Remember.

Be part of the sunrise.

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The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

–Alan Watts

 

Notes on Being Alive

Notes on Being Alive

Wake up. Notice how things grow. Don’t be afraid to see what you see, hear what you hear, think what you think, or feel what you feel.   Attend sunrises. ~Douglas Wood

What was your initial response to Mr. Woods’ suggestion? When I first read the little book that contains the above advice, Breathe the Wind, Drink the Rain: Notes on Being Alive, I thought, “Of course. Stay aware. Notice life as it happens. Be authentic. Pay attention to a new day coming into being. No problem.”

Well. As with most simple advice, it has proven more challenging than I anticipated. What follows are some suggestions and strategies that I find to be effective in my quest to experience life fully. Sometimes it works really well. Sometimes I fall of the wagon. But if I do these things consistently, I am reminded of the beauty that is possible when I can live in a way that supports noticing what matters.

First things first: Wake up. To me waking up is more than just the physical act of coming out of a sleep state. It means seeing past the illusions that are presented via media, advertising and an economic culture that is based on always getting the next best thing. So how do we avoid getting sucked into the propaganda?

  1. Tune into how you feel the next time an advertisement crosses your consciousness. Does it invite you feel joyful? Or does it invite you feel like you are somehow incomplete without whatever it is?
  2. If you feel a sense of “I am not enough” look at that feeling. Acknowledge its existence. Let it be there. Then let it go. You are complete, even without a new pair of heels or lash lengthening mascara or the latest smart phone or trim waistline.
  3. Start to notice the energy of the messages that are coming from the media. Notice the sense of lack that pervades so much of advertising and decide to stop paying your own energy into a system that is set up to make you feel like you are missing something. Limit screen time, avoid television and pay more attention to the trees under the billboards than the messages plastered along the roadways.

Next: Notice how things grow. We live in a time of instant gratification. We can get what we want whenever we want it as long as we are willing to pay the asking price. Sometimes I forget to embrace the process of growth and evolution.   In our fast paced lives, how do we slow down enough to notice life happening around us?

  1. Plant a seed. Maybe it’s in a community garden, maybe it’s in a pot in your windowsill, maybe it’s in your front yard. Give it some sun, water it and witness its growth. It will invite you to be patient and to trust the process of accepting whatever is happening in the present moment.
  2. Pay attention to your breath. Take a minute or two to push back from your screen right now to close your eyes, inhale deeply into your lower abdomen to the count of three and hold for a few seconds. Then exhale to the count of three and repeat. Focusing on our breath is an effective way to return to the state of mindful presence that allows us to notice what is happening when we skim the hectic surface off of our days.
  3. Commit to eating at least one meal or snack per day with no distractions. No internet, no phone, no newspaper, no planning the next section of your day in your head. Tune into the food on your plate and notice the way it tastes, how you feel as you to eat it, and how it satisfies your hunger. Notice how eating with full awareness invites you to make the choices that serve you and what your physical body needs best.

Moving on: Don’t be afraid to see what you see, hear what you hear, think what you think, or feel what you feel. So many times, I find myself interpreting what I see, hear, think or feel through someone else’s lens. When I can truly look at what’s going on through my own experience and my own lens, I am more able to act in a way that is consistent with what I value, regardless of what another might see, hear, think or feel.

  1. Identify something that you would describe as beautiful. Let yourself think about why that something is beautiful to you and about what has colored your perception. Is your idea of beauty consistent with what really matters to you?   Let your unique interpretation of beauty shine through.
  2. When you are feeling negative, sad, irritated or fearful, don’t try to mask those feelings. Let them bubble to the surface and then look at them without judgment. Sometimes we need to experience certain feelings fully in order to let them go.
  3. Speak up for what matters to you. Go against the grain if your entire being is screaming at you to do so. Be the one who doesn’t cross the road with the crowd. Let your life speak through the things you do and the things you don’t do. Be authentic to what matters.

And finally: Attend sunrises. For me, witnessing the start of a new day holds a power that is hard to describe. There is such potential in the breaking of a new dawn. As the rhythm of the earth moves my part of the world into a new day, when I take the time in the morning to witness that new start, I am more apt to acknowledge the good that can be found, even in the midst of challenge.

  1. Sleep well. Figure out an evening ritual you can do to help you unwind, set up your sleeping space to support you, and tell those you share space with about your plan.  Allow yourself time to rest.
  2. Splash some warm water on your face after you rise, stretch your body and walk go outside if conditions allow.
  3. Greet the sun as it does its own stretch into a new day, or bid it goodnight if early rising isn’t your thing. Express gratitude for the opportunity to breathe into a fresh start or for another day lived.

Mr. Wood goes onto include several more simple tips on how to be alive, but I’ll let you read the book and come up with your own interpretations for the rest.

Do you have some strategies that have proven useful as you work on staying present and living in a way that is consistent with what matters to you?  Be sure to share them in the comments so we can all benefit from your wisdom and experience!

A version of this post first appeared at Having Time.