Calming the Mind in Tumultuous Times

Calming the Mind in Tumultuous Times

Risa Bos, LMHC

Stress and its burly cousin, anxiety, are no strangers to most of us.  It seems we are expected to keep up an unreasonable pace at our jobs, juggle multiple schedules within our families and wear many hats during a regular week.  We have so many things on our to-do list that our inner computer, (the brain) feels as if it’s on overdrive, and then it won’t power down when it’s time for bed.  Serenity now! 

Picture this scene: You’re at a red light at the height of morning rush hour traffic.  You are cutting it pretty close since you had to swing by school and drop off your son’s forgotten lunch.  You have a presentation to make at work, and you’d like to have a few minutes to go over it beforehand.  You glance in your rear view mirror and notice that, in your haste, you forgot to put on mascara, which makes the sleep deprivation apparent in your eyes.  You hear the honk of the car behind you and return your attention to the road, just in time for the turn signal to turn from yellow again to red.  Another light cycle to sit through, and you’ll be even later getting to the office.  You take a deep breath as you reach for your mug, remembering having poured your coffee and setting it on the kitchen counter—where it still sits.   Welcome to Monday. 

Who hasn’t felt stressed out or overwhelmed at some point in their life?  It seems like an acceptable state of being in American culture, where often the emphasis is placed on achieving status and acquiring possessions.  What if you could learn to deal with stress through mindfulness, stress management and stress reduction techniques?  Wouldn’t things run a lot more smoothly?  We all encounter everyday stressors that, when not managed well, can result in our feeling overwhelmed, nervous and anxious.  Anxiety is stress gone rogue.  In its worst form, anxiety can result in chronic worry and even physical illness like high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. 

Close your eyes and imagine a calm, beautiful place where you would like to be, either somewhere you’ve visited in the past or a place where you’ve always wanted to go.  As you picture yourself in that peaceful place, imagine everything you are experiencing through your senses: what do you hear, see, feel on your skin, smell?  Enjoy being in that calm, peaceful place for a few moments as you breathe in, fill your lungs until you feel your stomach inflate.  And then slowly and deliberately exhale until your lungs are completely empty, feeling the breath as it moves from your diaphragm through your throat and mouth, and audibly out through your mouth.

Relaxation exercises help to manage anxiety and help you find your balance.  It’s kind of like hitting a reset button, or rebooting your nervous mind.  Anxiety and breath cannot occupy the same space within your chest, and so the anxiety is displaced, if even for a few moments while you’re mindfully breathing.  

Although it seems counter-intuitive, deliberately slow down when you feel stressed.  Ever notice how, when you’re rushing, you get sloppy and can make additional mistakes, or drop something, or stub your toe, or run into someone?  Take a deep breath of awareness and slow down.  Making your movements intentional and thinking things through allows you do move smoothly through your tasks.  You are only one person, and you can truly do just one thing at a time.  (multi-tasking is an illusion; you’re really only doing several things poorly as your attention is diffused)

It’s common for us to try to escape or diminish the significance of the anxiety we feel, thinking we can be distracted so that the discomfort is averted.  It’s actually helpful to acknowledge and accept the anxiety you feel while talking yourself through the discomfort.  “So I’m feeling anxious…hello anxiety, my old friend.  Where might this be coming from: an earlier disagreement with my husband…the looming tax deadline…the upcoming banquet where I’m giving a speech..?”   Once you have an idea of what is causing the anxiety or worry, determine whether there is anything you can do to change the situation.  If not, try to let it go.  If doing something will positively affect the situation, briefly make note of some possible steps to take and make a plan to address those steps one by one. 

Stress reduction is taking proactive steps to lower your exposure to stress.  Prioritizing your tasks and assessing what is most important is an example of stress reduction, as is improved time management.  Remember the Monday morning mess at the top of this blog?  Building an extra 20 minutes into that morning routine could have allowed a buffer of time to avoid being rushed and potentially bombing the important presentation at work.  Make the kids’ lunches the night before, and lay out your clothes and the kids’ outfits before going to bed.  Simplify and scale back where you can.  A few minutes spent planning can make things run exponentially smoother, and you won’t be trying to problem solve in stress mode, when you’re not thinking as clearly as you otherwise would.

Another good stress reducer is identifying the toxic influences in your life, and limiting or eliminating your exposure to them.  Often we can choose to “unfriend” someone who causes us stress and anxiety.  And if that isn’t possible, there are mental exercises we can use in order to tolerate those interactions without allowing the negativity to affect us.  One such approach is to “kill them with kindness”, when we decide that the more negativity an angry person gives off, the more peace and kindness they get back from us. 

For help in establishing stress management and mindfulness practices, or to gain better insight into any emotional need you may have, engage in self-care by meeting with one of our professional therapists at Life Skills Resource Group.  Call us at (407)355-7378.