This post was originally posted to my now retired personal WordPress blog – AstridOxfordTravels.
Every year since 1992 the world has recognised April as “Stress Awareness” Month, yet it’s a celebration that has only just entered my radar. This shocks me because “stressed” seems to be a permanent state of mind for many these days. In my case, I have been dedicating the last few years to eliminating any and all sources of stress from my life. Is that even possible? I have found that it is not easy, but quite possible to get your stress down to a level that shows you what changes need to be made so you can stress less. These five activities have been a staple in my self-care routine, and never fail to help me ground myself in the face of stress.
Life before COVID-19 was the least stressed I have ever been. Generally, keeping my life scheduled gave me very little room to overthink which would usually lead me to stressing out about a myriad of future situations. If, like me, you’re an over-thinker the key way that has led to me stressing out less about the future is focusing on the present.
The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.Eckhart Tolle
Setting up a schedule works for focusing on the now because you are giving yourself a set time to do a certain task. Ideally when you’re doing that task, you give it your full attention to get it completed. You’re not thinking about your past or your future, you’re fully rooted in the activity taking place at the moment.
I know that I struggled with keeping my thoughts from straying even when I was supposed to be focused on teaching a class or cooking lunch or dinner. This next technique really helped anchor me in the present.
Come Back To Your Breath
The power of a focused deep inhale and exhale is severely underrated. Stop reading this right now and let your gaze soften, or gently close your eyes, and take a deep breath in. I like to do four counts. Hold for another four seconds and exhale in four seconds. Did you do it? Go back and do it! How do you feel?
As simple as it is, focusing on my breath reminds me that I am alive and that in and of itself gives me a calming sense of peace that relieves me of any stressful thoughts previously occupying my mind. For added effect, I like to do some small exercises that re-energise my body. You can roll your shoulders forward and back, rotate your wrists and ankles, and give your neck and wrists some gentle rolls to relieve tension.
Tracee Ellis Ross defined meditation as “doing what I’m doing while I’m doing it” during her Your Life In Focus interview on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations podcast and I couldn’t agree with her more!
At first I really struggled with the idea of meditation as not thinking at all. However, meditation has shown itself to be a very versatile practice that varies from person to person. When I meditate, I sit still and focus on my breath. I allow thoughts to come and go, but I do not engage with them. I simply observe.
When I do guided meditations, I like to repeat out loud the parts of the meditation that resonate most with me using I statements where the speaker would use you statements.
Meditation ties in really well with my first point of practicing presence, especially the way Ms. Ross describes it because you’re being intentional about a task and that is the highest and purest form of presence that allows you to just be.
Talk To Yourself
Listen, I know this sounds crazy BUT talking yourself through things is a monumental tactic for eliminating stress.
A lot of the things that caused me stress in particular stemmed from the way I perceived them. As a result of that, I struggled with being vulnerable with other people, so I would whip out my phone and talk to myself. I have a lot of videos where I talked myself through some difficult situations and for me it’s helpful to watch them over again because I can see how far I’ve come and all the lessons I have learnt on this journey to a stress-free me!
I’ve long outgrown not being able to talk things through with other people, so when I do talk to myself it is lovingly. Affirmations are a great place to start! I would repeat to myself specific affirmations depending on what the situation was that was causing me stress.
For example, on the days that I would stress out about giving an after school English lesson to a new student at the academy I used to work at I’d remind myself that “People are grateful that I am doing what I am doing.” and so said, so done! The first class is always a bit awkward but I help others by teaching dynamic English lessons that my students were always grateful to receive.
I first tried yoga so many years ago when I was a student of the TallMan Foundation, and even then I looked forward to my Friday evenings after school heading to the dance studio in Cascade to practice with my friends.
I don’t think I really understood how it was helping me back then but I definitely do now. Pre-pandemic, I did yoga-esque classes at the gym three times a week and even dabbled in aerial yoga twice a month.
The joining of the physical with the spiritual is exactly the kind of thing that gives me the space to just be and not stress. If you’ve ever practiced yoga you’d know that it combines all of the things I already talked about in this post – presence, meditation, breath work, and self-coaching to an extent.
Learning how to deal with stress is something that everybody needs to know. Our health can take a hit too if we let stress overcome us which makes it hard to focus on doing even the simplest task. These simple, easy techniques have helped me reduce and almost completely eliminate stress from my life, so I hope that after reading this you feel equipped to start living a stress-free life too!