Stress is not only unpleasant and exhausting, it seems to be the ‘X’ factor in just about every disease. So managing it is important. While that can be easier said than done, it’s useful to recognise that we can do it at various levels.
At a macro-level there might be holidays or other changes of scene that allow us to press the refresh button.
Weekly or daily there are restorative activities such as art, yoga, gardening, walking in nature, journal writing, or time with friends. It’s an individual thing and we need to know what floats our own boat.
If stress is chronic, this might include counselling or some other type of support.
At a more micro-level are behaviours that calm our nervous system, like meditating, various types of breathing, or just patting the dog or sitting in the garden with our morning coffee.
But I read something recently about one of the micro-level keys to managing stress that’s often overlooked.
A woman was standing in a queue to buy a magazine at the airport. There was a long line behind her and she felt pressured to hurry up.
It was a familiar feeling, the tension of rushing. She noticed the tightening in her chest.
For many of us this can be so normal and habitual that we rarely catch it.
But she did. And she purposely slowed down in the moment, made eye contact with the cashier, and thanked her. In making that connection she was able to connect with herself and let the tension go.
We’re either at the effect of what’s going on around us — traffic, the daily news, family dramas, or the other the gazillion things that don’t go our way — or we recognise that we have a say in our internal state.
If we’re just bowling along, unconsciously absorbing the outside world, we’re a magnet for stress. But we also have an ability to notice what’s happening internally and switch gears.
In the face of chaos we can create calm. Like the woman in the story, instead of pressure or anxiety we can create connection.
We mightn’t always have the presence of mind to do it in the moment, though the more we learn to slow down and check in, the better we get at it.
Taking stock of where and how stress builds up in our lives, how we defuse it, and whether we have habits or practices at the various levels is time well spent — a valuable investment in own well-being.
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