“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~Victor Frankl
Stressful situations are, at best, hard to handle partly due to the negative thoughts we create in these moments. Most of us believe that we are victims to our stress and that there’s nothing we can really do about it. However, how you choose to respond to stress in life is completely up to you. Everybody has the power to reduce stress in any given moment, but like any other skill, it requires practise, dedication and experimentation.
We often become so wrapped up in daily stress that we don’t even realise it’s there. We get used to functioning with high levels of anxiety and forget what it’s like to live a calm, relaxed and effortless existence. In adulthood, achieving a state of inner calmness means you’re alert, calm and focused, all attributes we’d probably like to have more of.
Here are three really simple ways you can help yourself out of, or prepare for, any stressful situation that may come your way.
1) Pause and breathe
Like I mentioned above, the first step to tackling stress is to become aware that you’re in fact stressed. Awareness is the first step to changing and handling any strong emotion that you no longer wish to experience. So stop whatever you’re doing and take three conscious, deep breaths.
Focusing on your breathing brings you out of your head and the whirlwind of thoughts, and back into the present moment. Stress is a mental and physical tension, and both manifest from your attachment to the thoughts in your head. Your mental state is linked to your physical state, so when you can calm one, the other one follows suit.
2) Recognise your thoughts are exactly that, just ‘thoughts’
Remind yourself that you are not your thoughts. You can’t be consciously aware of something that you are, because otherwise you wouldn’t be aware of it. You are not ‘anger’ of ‘self-doubt’. You are not ‘shame’ or ‘regret’. You are an incredible, talented and a magnificent human being who has many capabilities and talents. Don’t let your pesky thoughts convince you otherwise.
Whenever a negative thought arises, simply label it as a ‘thought’ or ‘feeling’. Sometimes it even helps to take that one step further and name what that thought or feeling is, like ‘sadness’ etc. By doing this, you allow your thoughts to arise naturally, and like anything else, it passes on. You’re separate from your thoughts and they’re separate from you, so don’t dwell on them.
3) Look around you and engage with your surroundings
Your power really does lie in the present moment, and your life will become a whole lot more stress-free as soon as you understand this. By engaging in whats going on around you, your mind is forced to focus on something else – and so for a few brief seconds, you can calm yourself down. The more you practise this, the more relief you’ll feel.
It also shows you that your thoughts are at the root of all your discomfort, and will remind you that actually, there’s a lot you can be grateful for right here, right now. We often miss some of life’s most precious moments because we’re too busy giving our thoughts all the attention and focus.
So the next time you feel yourself starting to panic, follow these three simple steps and find which mix best suits you and your needs. Practising mindfulness works because it allows you to take back that control you’ve handed over to your thoughts & feelings. We may not be able to control what happens to us in life, but we can control how we respond/react to it.