“I do not weep at the world I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” — Zora Neale Hurston
destressifying through lifestyle choices
As we work longer hours, become more engaged in social events, take care of all the members of our family, meet all of our obligations, get busier and busier, and try to become self-actualized, the stress of life can be overwhelming. One of the core aspects of destressifying is simplifying. Just as we de-clutter our closets – de-cluttering our life brings a sense of order or structure, which is very relaxing for a lot of people. If you have a room in your house that’s out of control, or your car has cereal embedded in the back seat, or your garage is filled with boxes from your last move – these can be tip-offs that you are at risk for massive chronic stress.
Paring down, cleaning house, and living a “less is more” lifestyle is massively destressifying. There are many other stress triggers in our life that exacerbate the challenge of non-stop stress. In this online bonus chapter, I’ve gone deep into the top14 daily lifestyle choices we can make -individually or in combination- to shift us quickly back onto the path of destressifying. Included in this daily lifestyle guidance are instant destressifying techniques, guided meditations, and never-before-published insights from world renowned fitness expert Laura Bender who I am honored to have certified as one of my core Masters of Wisdom & Meditation Teachers.
Experience teaches us that -if we try too many destressifying techniques at once- we will fail, stop trying, and slip back into the clutches of stress. So be smart, select one –only one!- and own it until it flows effortlessly through you; then move on to the next that resonates with you:
Look at all the moving parts in your life. Find items, behaviors, and relationships that distract you more than nourish you and prune your life down. Don’t do it all at once – that will create more stress. Take five minutes every morning or evening, identify something that’s taking up space in your life and release it. Six years ago, I committed to throwing one thing out every day – even if it was a scrap of paper. A messy home equals a stressy home! This daily ritual has become liberating and even rewarding, as I have linked the process to feeling lighter. Even tossing out a scrap of paper makes me smile. Work on creating a nourishing environment. If you can make the commitment to create all of your spaces with balance and nourishment, your outer world will begin to mirror your inner destressified self. Being in any space that you consider calm, orderly, and reflective of your values will support you in your projects, relationships, and choices.
2. Get comfortable with NO.
Saying yes to life opens you up to more opportunities, expanded horizons, and more abundance in every area of your life. But if we live every moment with an open door policy, we quickly feel the stress of this abundance. Don’t shift your abundance consciousness – but pick one day a week where you say “No” to everything…create more definable boundaries, un-commit yourself from over-reaching obligations where most likely you will not meet someone else’s needs. If you can’t bring yourself to say NO, then double the time it takes you to respond to all the requests that come into you. Don’t automatically say, Yes. Give yourself some time to reflect on the commitment you’re about to make and the consequences of that commitment.
3. Evolve a relationship.
Every month, using The Five Realms tool, shift, repair, or end a relationship that doesn’t serve you in its current state. The process may take you a few weeks, but once the relationship is actually meeting your needs, the benefits will be exponential as someone who toxically absorbed all of your thoughts now flows through your awareness without pushing your buttons.
4. Eliminate debt.
Make the commitment to get out of debt. Owing money – especially to a credit card company can be one of the most stressful aspects of your life. If you have a constricted relationship with money, reach out to the master of abundance – T. Harv Eker, author of Secrets of the Millionaire Mind -who has inspired hundreds of thousands around the world to be their best financial versions of themselves- and attend one of his workshops. This is not meant as investment advice. This is pure destressifying. Make the commitment today to shift into abundance consciousness.
Start slowly and build your daily meditation practice into a cornerstone of your day. It will quickly evolve into a cornerstone of your life and once you start to feel the positive ripples from this painless, destressifying practice, your life will blossom and bloom. This is a core mastery of destressifying, so meditate for at least 16seconds every day upon waking, at 10am, noon, 2pm, 4pm, and before bed.
Take the time at the end of each month to celebrate another successful 30 days of destressifying, meeting your needs, heightening your emotional awareness, communicating consciously, and moving closer to self-actualization. Often times, the month ends and we roll right into the next month without skipping a beat. This feeds the non-stop swirl and the relentless intensity of daily living. If instead, we can break it down into 12 celebrations where we buy ourselves an experience or an item we’ve been desiring, we prepare a special dinner, we pay off some debt, or we put some money into savings, we will fulfill many of our unmet needs. In addition, take some time each day –even if it’s only a minute- to celebrate your small wins and your blessings.
7. Get perspective.
Don’t dwell on solving situations you can’t control such as weather, traffic, flight delays, etc. Solve one small problem every day that is within your control…something easy like putting the cap back on the toothpaste, taking out the trash, reading a few pages of a book, going to an exercise or yoga class, cleaning a room or your car, washing the dishes, paying bills, watching a training video, or doing the laundry to remind you what is within your ability to influence. This “win” will reinforce your moving forward and actually fuel your esteem needs being met with greater consistency.
8. Go to bed.
Lack of sleep is a huge stressor. There are a few hundred reasons we don’t go to sleep early, and sleep restfully through the night but the most common are the food we ate for dinner (usually too much caffeine or alcohol), the evening urge to stay online or watch TV (catching up on emails or mindless social media), and the fact that we resist slowing down after 7pm (often just beginning our evening dining and socializing). There’s no such thing as a daytime raccoon and there’s no such thing as a nocturnal human. Just as plants, birds, most other mammals, and the majority of diurnal creatures on the planet, our bodies are wired to rise with the sun, be productive during the 12+ hours of sunlight everyday and wind down when it sets. People who say, “I’m a night owl” are confused. When we can align ourselves with the rhythms of nature – the daily, lunar, tidal, and seasonal rhythms – we are not struggling against universal forces of nature… we are flowing with them.
The occasional late night will not hurt you, but believing you will thrive by consistently resisting the circadian rhythms and the laws of nature, is madness. All the hormones and chemicals in your body are specifically designed to support you during sunlight and nourish you in sleep during darkness. Those who work while the sun is “sleeping” – train conductors, ER nurses, pilots, swing shift and night shift workers- all experience the negative impacts of poor sleep and confused biorhythms such as apnea and sketchy performance. They are stress-filled ticking time bombs who are damaging themselves and hindering their path to self-actualization. Set a target to be in bed by 10:30 and start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier every week until you get there.
9. Exercise regularly.
We know the value of getting our blood flowing and the nourishing chemical and hormone response we experience from a good workout; in order to thrive physically and emotionally, the bodymind needs to cultivate strength, flexibility, and balance. Daily exercise of at least 22 minutes (the minimum threshold for capillary development) makes that possible by building our resilience and releases physical tension. Exercise also allows the mind to release anxiety; and you don’t even need to leave the house to do it – every TV content provider offers free programming for physical workouts, Pilates, yoga, and dancing. Laura Bender’s article on meditation and exercise explains the benefits of a bodymind workout.
living in the moment is very relaxing until you have to show up and be your best. Taking the time to plan and prepare are two present-moment activities that ensure the future will arrive as close to our expectations as possible. If you have a big presentation next week, take the time to look at all the possibilities and practice –even if you just read it over a few times. This applies to any big moment whether it’s preparing for an interview or planning to quit a job. Attention invested in advance will help the moment unfold with greater ease and with a higher likelihood that your needs will be met.
11. Cultivate self-referral.
The world is coming at us at lightning speed. It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing the outside world is in control of our inner dialog and we are at its mercy. By developing clarity regarding what is within our control and what is not, (grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference), we cultivate our own innate empowerment and stress less about things beyond our control.
12. Practice gratitude .
Having a daily gratitude practice allows us to see the magnificence in each moment and can shift our sense of internal optimism or pessimism to a more life-affirming place. Seeing the silver linings in each moment allows us to be more creative with our problem solving and shift from a “poor me” mindset to a “lucky me” perspective. In the realization of our good fortune and blessings, we feel the positive effects of our actions and connect to greater joy in our lives.
13. Keep breathing.
Most of the time our breathing is shallow or erratic. Making a conscious decision to take a few deep, relaxing breaths –especially long exhales- activates our parasympathetic nervous system and offsets the initial surge of the sympathetic nervous system and the subsequent constricting physical effects. Sixteen seconds of deep breathing fills your body with nourishing, calming oxygen and activates your relaxation response by quickly introducing a pattern interrupt into the first few conditioned waves of emotion or tension. Proactively practice 16seconds throughout the day at 10, 2, 4,and 6 o’clock and whenever you find yourself in an idle moment – in your car, waiting on a line, while your on hold, etc. Here are several powerful destressifying breathing practices:
Doorknob breathing – based on 16seconds, every time you enter a room you can shift your energy. As you grip the doorknob – breathe in; as you turn the handle – hold your breath; as you open the door – exhale; as you step in and close the door behind you, hold the breath out. Your next full breath will bring new energy into the room as you enter. And more importantly, you wont be bringing the thoughts, conversations, or energy that you had only 17 seconds before.
Quiet continuous breathing – Slowly breathe in as quietly as you can and then slowly breathe out with the same silence. Make believe you are trying to create the quietest process you know how. Do this for just a few minutes and you will feel your body and mind slow down to a place of calm.
Sipping breath – Purse your lips as if you sipping a hot cup of tea. Take long, slow deep breaths in through your pursed lips. This will totally release tension and help you transcend any anxiety of the moment. To add more force to the practice, as you breathe in, clench your fists and arms and bring them to the side of your face. As you exhale release the tension in your hands and arms and gently let them rest by your side.
Gargling breath – With your mouth wide open, take a long slow deep breath in and count until your chest fully expands. And as you exhale make sure that your out-breath lasts one second longer than your inhale. Practice this for a minute. Remember if at any time, you get lightheaded STOP. Take a seat. And just breathe normally.
Ocean breath – In this meditation we recreate the powerful physical and emotional nourishment of swimming underwater. The ideal way to practice this meditation is to fill your bathtub with 4 inches of water. Lay down on your back until your ears are totally submerged under water. Just lie there and breathe through you nose for a few minutes and you will experience what it’s like to go scuba diving. Obviously, we can’t carry our bathtub around with us – but you can simulate the powerful bodymind benefits of ocean breathing by simply placing your palms over your ears and taking long slow breaths in and out of your nose.
Alternate nostril breathing – This is a very calming and centering practice that actually aligns the right and left hemispheres of your brain in only a few moments. You can use it as a relaxing tool before beginning your meditation; when you find yourself overwhelmed in the middle of the day; or to ease mental chatter, anxiety, or emotional turbulence before going to bed. Known in Sanskrit as Nadi Shodhana or “clearing the channels”, alternate nostril breathing is best done with your eyes closed.
Here’s how it works:
Gently rest your pointer against the bridge of your nose as if you were about to sneeze. Then, hold your right thumb over your right nostril, pressing it closed, and inhale deeply through your left nostril. When you have inhaled as far as you can, close off your left nostril with your pointer, release your right thumb from your right nostril, then exhale smoothly through your right nostril. After a full exhalation, inhale through the right nostril, then, close it off with your right thumb at the peak of your inhalation. Release the pressure on your left nostril, and exhale through the left. Then inhale through the left nostril, and at the peak of the inhale… close it off again with your pointer. Release your thumb’s pressure on the right nostril and exhale through the right nostril. Repeat the alternating pattern as long as you like – ideally for 3 minutes or more- breathing in and out through the open nostril, then closing it with your thumb or pointer as you breathe in and out through the alternate open nostril. Your breathing should be effortless, as your attention stays on the gentle inflow and outflow.
Metta Meditation – For this breathing meditation, you’ll start by taking a long inhale and bringing metta (an ancient Pali word for unconditional loving kindness) into your heart and then, as you exhale, radiate it out. You do this by sitting for five minutes and focusing your attention on loving thoughts and feelings. Use deep inhales to fill yourself up with loving thoughts, then let that love flow through you and out of you in a long exhale.
Then begin the metta meditation by taking a long slow deep breath in and feel the metta of the universe come into your heart. As you exhale, radiate the metta back out. First to your loved ones…then inhale the unconditional love of the universe and radiate metta to your friends…then inhale the unconditional love of the universe and radiate metta to your acquaintances… then inhale the unconditional love of the universe and radiate metta to those who are suffering… then inhale the unconditional love of the universe and radiate metta to those with whom you have a grievance.. then inhale the unconditional love of the universe and radiate metta to those you’ll never meet… then inhale the unconditional love of the universe and radiate metta to all sentient beings… then inhale the unconditional love of the universe and radiate metta to every corner of the galaxy. Then breathe in the unconditional love of the universe from every corner of the galaxy into your heart and sit with that gratitude. When you do it in a group – at the end, after you’ve inhaled the metta from every corner of the galaxy, radiate it out to everyone in the room with your final exhale and just sit with that for a minute as you feel metta pour into from everyone in the room.
Breathing is key to destressifying. And it comes naturally – you may just have gotten out of practice. By maintaining awareness on our breathing throughout the day, we will naturally destressify.
14. Go back & change things.
Often times, once the regrettable comment leaves our lips or the unfortunate decision begins to take hold, we shut down and ruminate on it for hours, days, months and even years. But you are never really stuck and even though our actions are carved in stone, we can always revisit the scenario and apologize, request another chance, and re-cast the trajectory of your words and actions. The ancient Indian text The Bhagavad Gita in Chapter 2, verse 47 says, “We have total control over our actions; but no control over the fruit of our actions.” And yet we spend so much time in the fruit – the part we can’t control. Instead, let’s go back in and perform new actions, make new decisions to shift our lives from where they are to where we’d like to be!