Who needs anti-depressants when you have your body!
This article provides simple techniques that can help you to reduce stress and anxiety in everyday life.
As I mentioned in my ‘reducing stress at work’ article… don’t worry if you are not comfortable with some of these methods. There is no right or wrong and no set way. Do what feels comfortable for you and what you can relate to.
Techniques to reduce stress:
1. Paced Breathing
Paced breathing is a good way to start the day and launch your brain for the day ahead. Think of breathing and meditation as a warm bath for the mind. Do a minimum of 5 minutes, and longer sessions of 15 to 20 minutes if time allows.
The specific technique is described in my article about reducing stress at work. Once you are comfortable with this breathing pattern you can increase the length of breaths taken; for example, a breath pattern of 5 x 5 x 5 x 5 seconds.
2. Breath Meditation
Keeping it simple with this one. Sit however you feel comfortable in a quiet place and just focus on your breath. You can do this in a couple of ways.
Firstly, notice the cool air coming into your nose and the warm air leaving. Don’t try to change how you breathe, just focus on your breath.
Secondly, become aware of your belly and/or chest rising and falling as you breathe. Again there is no right or wrong; just breathe; even I can do that!
When you notice your mind wandering, thinking, planning and worrying, gently come back to your breath and continue to concentrate on it.
Start with 10 minutes a day or less if you need to – simple targets are much easier to achieve and you will probably end up doing more anyway – set the game to win!
We have an article dedicated to different breathing techniques which you may find useful in reducing stress.
I currently run for the sake of running, just to be outside; some glossy magazines call it “Zen running.” I just call it running!
I don’t track my runs on an app or pace myself with a watch. I run for pure enjoyment (yes, I know what you’re thinking, this weirdo actually enjoys running).
While on these runs, or if walking, I just notice what’s happening around me and what’s happening within my body and my breath. I am relaxed and at ease within myself.
Give it a try, you will find that such mindful movement will relieve stress and anxiety.
4. Family Time
Again, a very simple one but sometimes hard to find, especially QUALITY time.
Ask yourself, when you spend time with family and friends are you really present and interacting with each other or are most of you checking your smart phones or watching the glowing negativity box in the corner of the room?
A recent worldwide study concluded that we all have a set point of happiness. It was shown that if you have a negative, mild depressive state and win the lottery (giving you what you think is happiness), after a couple of months (or even a few weeks in some cases), you will return to the same set point.
This also applies on the other end of the scale. If you are an active, positive, happy person and one day lose a limb in an accident, undoubtedly you will be a little heartbroken for a while, but the study showed that these people returned to their previous set point of positivity and happiness.
In most cases their mental state helped them deal with and recover quicker from their injury.
Spending time with family, friends and other social groups raises this set point and gradually makes you happier. If you are concerned that technology impacts on the quality of your relationships, these apps may help:
5. Morning Pages
I stole this one from Tim Ferriss. It’s very useful when I have questions that needs answering or when my brain seems very busy or scattered.
I simply take a blank piece of paper or notebook and just brain vomit onto the page, anything that comes into my head, I write it down.
When writing, don’t hold back. Put down any fears, worries or questions onto a sheet of paper. This can be in any order and any format, don’t worry, just dump it all out.
Since practicing this stress-relieving technique I have found that:
- Any questions or problems become so much clearer when you put them into black and white. Sometimes you get an immediate answer or your fears and anxieties become so much more trivial.
- The act of brain vomiting onto paper clears your mind. It transfers any scattered thoughts or negative opinions from your head onto a page. For any Star Wars fans out there, think about it as a Star Destroyer dumping its waste before it makes the jump to light speed. It doesn’t want all that crap slowing it down and wasting energy when it has a rebel alliance to crush. The same with your brain; dump it all so it doesn’t slow you down for the rest of the day.
- It helps me to clarify what is important. In Japan people are literally working themselves to death; they even have a name for it, KAROSHI (translated as “overwork death”). I journal every morning to help clarify what is important [to me!] for that day. One question could be: does my daughter really want me to work all the hours under the sun to pay for her children’s TV package or would she rather me take her to the park, push her on the swing and read her a bedtime story?
6. Daily Gratitude Practice
Again, a simple one which we quite often forget. A lot of these drills and mindfulness practices are remembering to remember. When I journal every morning I ask myself a number of questions. One of these questions is: who and what am I grateful for today?
This may sound simple and a bit wishy-washy but it is a daily reminder of what you already have, what’s important to you and how lucky you really are. Also, when you are grateful you are not fearful.
You don’t need to incorporate this into your morning pages, you can just do it as you wake; for example, thank you for this soft bed, thank you for my warm house, thank you for my family and friends, etc. List as much as you like.
Studies have shown that people living with very few material possessions (by our western standards); such as tribes’ people who hunt, fish, gather food, cook, dance and work together for the common good of the village, are generally happier than people who have lots of material possessions and full time jobs.
I have written a whole article on minimalism, so if you want to learn more, check it out here: Minimalism.
I hope that you can apply these simple, practical techniques straight away. As with all my advice I like to keep it as simple and minimal as possible so you can immediately apply it to your life.
There is still a big taboo surrounding mental health in today’s society and stress is a big part of that. Unless you have experienced it yourself you cannot fully understand it.
If you break your leg, everyone can see it and you get all the sympathy your ego requires; however, if you have an issue with the mind you don’t seem to get any sympathy at all.
How many times have you heard the old saying “don’t be so silly, pull yourself together.” This is most likely the last thing that you want to here if you’re suffering with mental illness!
(P.S. If you do break something it is not an excuse to sit on the sofa for 6 weeks playing Call of Duty. Train around your injury as best you can and put sometime into studying).
Think about the broken leg analogy for a moment. If you break your leg would you expect someone to say: “come on loser, strap it up and get sprinting?”
No, you would expect it to be put in a cast, rested on a cushion, you would receive plenty of water, good food, shoulder massages from Katy Perry (maybe not the Katy Perry bit, I was day dreaming).
So why don’t we do this with the mind? Your mind gets bumped and bruised in life and some people suffer serious traumatic events. In times like these we need to rest the mind as we would with a physical injury to allow it to recover.
Most problems that we suffer within our minds are created by the “egoic mind,” that most of the world is locked into.
Until we can control this ultimate super computer we call a brain (and detach from it from time to time), we will continue to travel the same path.
So please try some of the techniques I have offered in this article to control your mind and avoid unnecessary trauma.
For more on the egoic mind, take a look at this clip from podcast 3 of The Black Country Buddhas podcast series: