People often tell me that I’m a really calm individual. It takes a lot to get me riled up or stressed out. I like to I think it’s because I hail from the land of chill dudes. That’s certainly part of it, but I think that a lot of the time, being chill is a state of mind. I’m no expert in chilling, and I wasn’t always this chill. I used to get paranoid and stressed out about things a lot. So what changed? As I grew older, I realized that a lot of our daily stresses are a result of things that we can control (mainly our attitudes), and when they’re not, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors by dwelling on them.
As you read this you might be thinking that nothing traumatizing has ever happened in my life, but you would be wrong. Everyone has experienced suffering in one form or another, and regardless of where we come from, we shouldn’t be made to feel like our suffering is any less worthy of care and sensitivity than anyone else’s. While we may not be able to control some of the traumatic things that happen to us, we can make a choice about how we deal with them, and that’s what this article is about.
The consequences of stress
Stress is a part of life, to be sure. Sometimes it’s not avoidable, but sometimes it is. When we subject ourselves to unnecessary stress by letting our minds go off on irrational tangents, we are potentially causing harm to ourselves that could have been avoided. It’s a scientific fact that stress is not good for your health. According to Health magazine, about 70% of doctor visits and 80% of serious illnesses can be exacerbated by or linked to stress.
If you’re having a hard time chilling (whether you’re trying to wind down after a stressful holiday season, dealing with a traumatic event, or just trying to get through something that triggers your stress levels to skyrocket out of control) have a good cry, then try some of these simple techniques for bringing you back down to earth.
Check in with yourself
Oftentimes we can relieve stress in the moment by asking ourselves: Is there anything I can do to change this crappy situation? If so, then do it, and if not, there’s no point in stressing out about it. Take the often-infuriating experience of traveling by public transit, for example. Your bus is late. You’re going to be late for work. Your boss is probably going to be annoyed. You’ve been late several times this week. Oh god, oh god… you’re a huge failure!
When your thoughts spiral out of control you can do yourself a big favor by thinking about the situation rationally. Can you control the bus schedule? No. Is it your fault your bus route had a larger than normal amount of giant strollers on it requiring extra time to board and disembark, thus making the bus late? No. Is there anything you could have really done about it? No. Then stop the unnecessary stressing. Buses are late sometimes. Everyone knows that. It’s not a reflection on you as a person. By letting that stress follow you for the remainder of your day, you’re only hurting yourself.
Take a moment to breathe
One of my closest friends, Jenny Boyle, is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and also a holistic health and meditation coach. She’s basically an expert in how to live your most chill life, among other things. She has a couple practical suggestions on what one could do when faced with a stressful situation. The first is a quick breathing exercise made popular by Dr. Weil. In times of stress, follow these steps for what is known as 4-7-8 Breathing:
a.) Inhale through your nose to full lungs for 4 seconds.
b.) Hold for 7 seconds.
c.) Exhale through your mouth to empty lungs in 8 seconds.
This exercise has been shown to help make the switch from sympathetic predominance (fight or flight/high stress mode) to parasympathetic predominance (rest and digest/chill the eff out mode). If you’re strapped for time, you can repeat this sequence for a mere 90 seconds and it will help.
Take a moment to meditate
For relieving stress, Jenny also recommends either starting or ending your day with a 5-minute meditation:
a) In comfortable clothes and a relatively quiet environment, sit in a position that suits you and set a timer for 5 minutes.
b) Close your eyes and bring your awareness to the area below your nostrils, and above your upper lip. Be aware of your breath as it passes in and out through your nose.
c) You may notice your mind jumping around (especially if you’re stressed). Try to keep bringing your attention back to your breath, coming in and out of your nose.
According to Jenny, this exercise helps remind you to keep your mind in the present moment, as opposed to the past or future. The present moment is where we experience the least amount of stress, because we are aware of what’s actually happening rather than what we are remembering or anticipating – both of which we have no control over. Meditating like this at the beginning or end of the day can be very effective for reducing stress and empowering us to be more chill throughout the day.
Being somewhat new to meditation myself, I have found the Omvana app to be quite helpful. It offers free meditation audio clips you can use to guide you through the process.
During a particularly stressful workweek, hitting the gym or going for a run is probably at the bottom of your priority list, but exercise does wonders for dealing with stress. It’s also great for dealing with depression and anxiety. Harvard Medical School points out that exercise has numerous proven benefits for the mind, including reducing stress hormone levels and increasing the production of endorphins (aka natural happiness boosters).
Getting just 20 minutes of exercise a day can improve your mood substantially, and you don’t need to spend tons of money on fancy equipment or a gym membership, either. Whenever I feel crappy about something, I get my happy boosters pumping by turning on my favorite 20-minute kickboxing workout video on YouTube and sweating it out in my living room. YouTube is a great source for free workout videos, and there are also tons of free podcasts out there for quick yoga routines you can do in the comfort of your own home.
Phone a friend
It can be very helpful to talk to a friend when you’re feeling stressed out about something, especially when you think you may be reacting to a situation irrationally. For this purpose, it’s best to choose a friend that has a calm disposition and is a good listener. Just talking yourself through it while they listen will be therapeutic, and your friend might even be able to offer another point of view on your situation and help you find some peace of mind.
Try these techniques for reducing stress in your life as much as you can, and you’ll be on your way to the chill zone in no time.
What do you do to find relief in times of stress? Share your tips in the comments below or on Twitter at @luvoinc. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, Plated, to unlock a $2 coupon to use on your next Luvo purchase.