It was the third time in a single day that I had seen a blue heron fly over my head. To many of the Native Americans I work with, the blue heron represents a time to go inward. A time for a vision quest or a time to get near water and contemplate your life path. As I pulled my van into the school’s “pick-up-your-student-here” line, I realized why the Universe had given me “the bird” not once, but thrice. It was time for me to pull out of the day-to-day activities and do more thinking than doing.
This takes a bit of creativity when you’re a single parent and working with multiple schools, scout troops, writing books, running a business and making sure that food is served with each meal. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to calm myself down and put more effort into thinking rather than staying on the stress machine of doing, doing, doing without thought.
1. Meditate. If you don’t meditate it is time to start. If you don’t want to call the process I’m going to write about, “meditation,” then use the word, “introspection.”
The simple act of sitting in a quiet space and allowing your thoughts to rest, your breathing to calm and giving your nervous system a break from sensory input is the best activity you can perform for your personal well-being.
It is this simple. Take a seat in a comfortable chair. Place your hands palms up at the junction of your thighs and hips so that your arms are not a weight to your shoulders. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth with a “huh-huh” sort of sound. Repeat this breathing pattern two more times. Close your eyes and gently turn them upward where you are looking up, but not straining. Then, focus on your breathing. Let your body naturally slow your breathing. Don’t force your breath to slow down, but allow your body to dictate the pace. When your breath is calm when you feel a sense of peace throughout your being. Follow step 2.
2. Focus on Feeling Good. Much of our lives involves schedules to keep, responsibilities to perform and obligations to meet. I have found when I start to feel stress it is because I begin to think that I won’t get to do what I want to do because I’m trapped doing things I don’t want to do. The funny part of this thinking is that I “signed up” to do all the activities I’m engaged in, but for some reason, I’m feeling trapped. This is a signal to me that it is time to meditate and then focus on what would make me feel better in the moment. When I realign myself in this manner, I realize that the situation isn’t really the problem, the challenge is that I need to go do something for myself that has been absent from my schedule. After a bit of contemplation, I’ll realize, I’ve gone too long without camping, or hiking or meeting up with friends for a leisurely meal. Once I’ve figured out the activity that is missing in my life that I need for my own personal harmony, I schedule it and my life continues on with the only change being, that I’m no happy because I will achieve what I want while working with those who are in my care.
3. Laugh. This is a trick I’ve used my whole life. When the stress really hits and you’re in situations where too many things have erupted that have completely messed up day, project or life path; take a breath (take several depending upon the severity) and realize, you have no control.
You have no control over the outer circumstances of what is happening to you. What you do have control over is your reaction to them.
Decide to laugh at the crazy that is happening. Decide that it is time to stop “adult-ing” for the next 10 minutes and you’re going to laugh. You’re going to laugh at the ludicrous situation that you now find yourself in. No guilt. No self-abuse talk. No “should-have, coulda, woulda” talk. Just laugh. Laugh at yourself, the situation and the sheer craziness of it all. Why? Because you have control over your reaction. Nothing is more important than your peace, your joy, and your happiness. So take control of that one thing. Laugh.
When you start focusing on what makes you happy and what you enjoy about life, it is amazing how the stress drops off of your shoulders as you start deciding to do the very things that bring you a sense of peace and laughter into your experience. There is so much to do on this planet. Go out there and make “fun” a priority each day, then you can get back to “adult-ing” when you’re done dancing in the sprinklers with the neighborhood kids.
Janine, you offered three potentially helpful steps to relieving stress. When you are under tremendous stress these steps will offer little relief. The best possible solution (if at all possible) is to try to get at the source of the stress. In general, there will be stress in life. I have my share and I am sure you do as well. You have as much as possible learn to deal with it. But in general, these multi-step solutions that people propose do not work for everybody, are not for everybody, nor are they applicable to every situation. Life is too complicated to be broken down into a few simple to follow steps. When we were raising our children we would find ourselves in a situation where you knew you had to be the one to figure out the solution as they did not come with instruction booklets. Thank you, Janine, for writing and sharing your article.
Joel, It was my pleasure to write the method and steps that I use when I find myself under the stress of my life. As a single mother of four teenagers, author, business owner and online course creator, I have my times when I KNOW that I am not operating in a place of peace. I have found these steps do assist me into a better feeling place. It has taken me 24+ years to learn this method. You mention that this will offer little relief. I have found great relief from these steps. Please offer up to our community the process you use, since the process I offer doesn’t work for you. I would enjoy learning your techniques.
Janine. sometimes the best way for me to deal with stress is just to deal with it. There is always going to be stress in life. Knowing what is causing me stress is important. Being in possession of the knowledge of what is causing the stress may offer a solution for it. I raised four children. Three of them were from my wife’s first marriage. I came into their life in the middle of a nasty bitterly contested divorce that included a custody battle. Raising my son from an infant was stressful as he did not come with an instruction booklet. Music is a help. Watching the birds is a help. Above all, I know stress is a test from G-d.
Thank you for your reply, Joel. Seems like you and I have been through equally challenging times! Hats off to you on managing to come up with ways to work through the stress! One of my favorite books on the subject is “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. Have you read it? If yes, what were your thoughts about his perspective?
I am not one to read books.