Of course the easiest way to reduce stress in your life is to change your life in a way that removes the stressful elements. However, the practicalities of earning a living, feeding a family, and keeping warm might mean that walking out on a stressful job and chilling out on a tropical beach for the rest of your life, seems a little unrealistic.
A lot of stress comes from social demands. The expectations of others cause a great deal internal turmoil – after all, you want to do what you want to do with your time, not what someone else wants you to do. You might want to sit and read, or watch TV, when your other half may prefer you to be doing the dishes, cleaning the house, or painting the fence.
Wider than the immediate home are the expectations of society – you need a job, you need to pay taxes, you need to pay bills on time, you need to attend this wedding or that party, and most of all, you need to not spend your life living it the way you want to.
Now I would suggest that, long-term, you decide what you truly want to do with your life and how you want to live it, but short-term there are things you can do to reduce the burden that stress places on your BodyMind.
Following are the five steps. They will have a significant impact on your stress levels and help you to deal with your difficulties from a much more resilient position. They are not alternatives. You need to take all five steps in order to gain the maximum benefit and you need to engage with them in the order I’ve placed them. Each one prepares you for the next and cumulatively they will have a powerful impact on your stress levels.
Yoga is interesting. At a superficial level it is exercise, at a much deeper level it is life-changing, it is a way of living. Yoga requires nothing more than a mat to exercise on, some comfortable unrestrictive clothing, and a class to attend.
In a yoga class you will be guided through a series of body postures which stretch, and compress, various parts of your body. You don’t have to put your feet behind your neck – though you can if you want to. Yoga is non-competitive. Every class will have people who are not at all bendy and people who are extremely bendy. But yoga is an internal process. It is not about watching others and competing with them. It is about you feeling your way into your body, getting to know your body, and being comfortable with what it can do.
As you continue with yoga, you will notice that you can stretch a little more than you used to be able to. After a year or so you will notice a huge improvement in the flexibility of your body. But the real benefit is for the mind. A good teacher will direct you to pay attention to your body, while you are exercising. The idea is not to stand in, say, the Warrior Pose, while thinking about what you need to buy for tea tonight. It is about standing in that pose and focusing all your attention on the feedback that your body is giving you. This gives your mind a break. With regular practice you will notice stress levels reducing.
Find a class and get into the habit of attending it once a week.
Once the yoga is up and running you need to move on to the next step and that is meditation. The beauty of meditation is that you can do it anywhere you can safely close your eyes for ten minutes. Yoga is a good introduction to the practice of meditation. It gets you used to stillness.
There are many methods you can use to meditate and if you want to attend a class then do so, but I want you to think in terms of meditation for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes every evening. The usual excuse is I don’t have time. Well just get up ten minutes earlier and go to bed ten minutes later and you have just found the time. The meditation is far more restful than sleep so you actually gain rather than lose.
If you want to explore different techniques then get some books on the subject, but I’ll share with you a simple technique that I use.
Sit comfortably, where you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes. Focus all of your attention on the sensation of air moving in and out of your nostrils. Then just breathe. You will find your attention wanders. You will not notice it drifting off, but at some point you will realise that you have wandered away from the focus on your breathing to think about more important things. At this moment of realisation, allow whatever thoughts are present to drift away and return your focus to your breath.
The drifting away and coming back will happen many times in a session. It is not a problem. Meditation, at least in the early stages, is all about learning that you can control where you place your attention and that you can always choose to place it on the breath. When you place it here, your BodyMind relaxes.
You will not notice huge benefits immediately. Meditation needs to become a part of the daily routine. Over time it will induce in you a greater sense of calm and tranquillity – but, like any skill, it needs dedication and practice.
Exercise is good for you. If you don’t get any, then get some. If you do get some then get more. Aerobic exercise generates endorphins. Endorphins make you feel good. Stress makes you feel bad. Exercise counters the effects of stress.
Aerobic exercise is exercise that gets your heart rate up a bit. If you have heart problems, or are unfit then be sensible and have a word with your doctor to find out what is ok for you. Otherwise a light sweat is a good indicator that you are pushing yourself just enough without overdoing it. A heart rate monitor that you wear on your wrist is a handy device to help keep your heart rate in the aerobic zone. The more sophisticated ones bleep at you if you are not putting enough effort in and also when you are overdoing it.
Aerobic doesn’t mean hard work. It means pushing yourself a little. Walking at as fast a pace as you can manage is aerobic exercise. In fact my aerobic exercise involves walking two miles or so three or four days a week with a longer walk at weekends. I also get on my bicycle now and then for a little variety.
Don’t make it so tough you give up. Make it easy and enjoyable so you want to do it on a daily basis.
Spend Time In Nature
If you can, do this at least once a week. Go for a walk where there are trees, or grass, or a clean river or lake. Go where you can see wild birds, and occasionally disturb small mammals. Find a spot, sit down, maybe take a picnic if the weather is suitable, and just rest in the tranquillity. Don’t use the time to plan, or fill your mind with busy-ness. Just sit and be, or walk and be. As you look around notice how nature handles everything. Notice how it changes from season to season.
Allow the peace to reach you.
Take Up a Creative Hobby
In all the years that I’ve been helping people to reduce the stress and anxiety in their lives, I’ve noticed one common factor in the people who struggle most with life. They have no creative outlet. They have no passion for anything. They get up, go to work, come home, go to bed and repeat.
It can be difficult to find time for yourself with the demands of family and smartphones that make bosses, and friends, believe you are available for 24 hours a day to do their bidding.
Nevertheless, find something that interests you and do it. If you don’t know what interests you then pick something at random and try it. If you like it, do more. If you don’t, take another random stab in the dark.
Around 12 years ago I went to a week long series of evening talks at my local library. The subject was the paranormal. It was purely out of curiosity. I ended up joining the group that was running the event and have spent many happy hours on paranormal investigations in some fascinating places.
Two years ago I was staying at a holiday park and had a go at archery – again just out of interest. Subsequently I joined a club and have spent the last 18 months shooting arrows anything from once to three times a week. It’s a great stress reducer because you have to focus on you and your body in order to hit the target.
Follow the clues that your mind provides. If you are curious about something then explore it further and see what happens. It doesn’t matter what it is – gardening, writing, photography, a sport, crochet, cookery…
Just try something out and get your mind onto something other than those that are making your life hell.
Life doesn’t have to be hell. However bad it is, you can do something to make it just a little bit better.
If you’d like to explore in more detail how to reduce the stress in your life then check out my book Change Your Life with Self Hypnosis for a detailed, step by step training course on how to use your mind to help you to live a better life.