Stress has become so ingrained in modern life that many people assume that tension and anxiety are normal and unavoidable. Not true.
There is nothing natural about living a life filled with stress and anxiety. Our bodies react with elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, indigestion, ulcers, headaches, breathing difficulties and other negative responses. Believe it or not, our natural state is joy. Here’s how to return to that state and live a more tranquil life.
Understand that you are the source of your stress. Stress and anxiety are choices that we make to process unpleasant events rather than entities that are waiting to invade our lives. If you blame outside forces for making your life stressful, you’ll only make stress more difficult to beat.
When you admit that your own mind is the source, stress becomes manageable. You always have a choice — do I stay with the thoughts that produce stress within me or do I work to activate thoughts that make stress impossible?
For example, I had to drop off a prescription at the drugstore, and the customer ahead of me was asking the pharmacist a series of, what seemed to me, inane questions. I started thinking, There’s always someone just ahead of me in line who asks silly questions or fumbles with money or can’t find what’s needed.
I knew that was a signal to change my inner dialogue. I reminded myself of my intention to live a stress-free life. I stopped judging and actually saw the virtue in having to take a moment and slow down. My emotion shifted from discomfort to ease, making stress impossible at that moment.
Expel stressful thoughts. Stress feeds upon itself when left unchecked. Break the cycle of anxiety by banishing a stressful thought from your mind. Take a deep breath, and visualize yourself stamping “Next” or “Cancel” across the thought and pushing it out of your way.
If you’re in a bad mood, repeat “I want to feel good” until you believe it. Then say, “I intend to feel good” until you feel better. These new responses eventually will become habitual and replace your old habit of responding in stress-producing ways.
Sometimes, particularly worrisome thoughts run through your head. Here is what you could say to yourself instead.
I have so many things to do that I can never get caught up. Instead, say, “I’ll only think about the one thing I’m doing right now and will have peaceful thoughts.”
I can never get ahead in this job. “If I choose to appreciate what I’m doing, I’ll attract even greater opportunities.”
I worry about my health problems. “I live in a universe that attracts healing, and I refuse to focus on sickness.”
I can’t be happy when the person I love has abandoned me. “I choose to focus on what I have rather than on what I’m missing. I trust that love will return to my life.”
I feel uneasy about the economy. I have lost so much money already. “I choose to think about what I have, and I will be fine. The universe will provide.”
My family members are making me feel anxious and fearful. “I choose thoughts that make me feel good, and this will help me uplift those family members in need.”
I don’t deserve to feel good when so many people are suffering. “I didn’t come into a world in which everyone is going to have the same experiences. I’ll choose to feel good, and, by being uplifted, I will help eradicate some of the suffering.
Return to your happiest moment. Visualize a scene from your past that brings you joy. For me, it’s a dock on a Michigan lake where I spent time with my family as a child. For others, it might be the greatest moment of a high school athletic career… the face of a loved one… a tree-lined road… even making love.
When you feel overwhelmed by stress, picture this happy image for several moments. Your mind naturally will return to the joyous mental state that you experienced originally.
Stop taking yourself so seriously. Next time you’re anxious about something trivial, take a step back and laugh at yourself for thinking that the problem is worth getting worked up over.
Example: Feel the anxiety building inside you because you’re stuck in traffic? Ask yourself what you were going to do with the five minutes you lost that was so important.
The world operates on its own time, not yours. If you plant tomatoes in your garden, they’ll ripen when they ripen — wanting a tomato any sooner won’t change anything. Yet in many phases of our lives, we expect the world to operate on our timetable and we become stressed when it doesn’t. Realize you will never get it all done. There always will be something else to do or accomplish. Your desires, goals, hopes and dreams will never be finished — ever. As soon as you realize one dream, another will most assuredly pop up. The secret is to live more fully in the moment.
Live in a state of gratitude. It’s impossible to be stressed and appreciative at the same time. Consider all the things that you have achieved in your life — your family, career success, anything that makes you proud and happy — and be grateful for them. Then search for a way to appreciate whatever currently is causing you stress. Perhaps the person in front of you who is driving too slowly is saving you from a speeding ticket or a traffic accident.
Meditate. Nothing relieves stress, anxiety and depression like silence and meditation. The stillness of meditation relaxes the mind and gives us strength. Take time every day for moments of relaxation and quiet contemplation.