My last two posts have discussed the problem so many of us have of spreading ourselves too thin and strategies to find our way back from the stress of over-committing. This week I want to continue sharing resources that have helped me to reduces stress and find more joy and ease in my life. I recently started training in a somatic (body-centered) treatment for trauma, and one of the trainers described a resource as anything that brings you closer to yourself. This concept resonated deeply with me, and I immediately began to see so many of the simple practices I engage in regularly as having much more significance than I was giving them credit for. The flip side of this was the realization that there are many more simple practices that I convince myself I don’t have time for or haven’t “earned” that could be bringing me into greater alignment with myself and my values. Here are some resources that work to bring me closer to myself...when I allow myself to practice them....
1. Purposeful pauses. One of the best ways I’ve found to combat over-commiting is to pause before agreeing to take on anything new. Depending on the size of the commitment, this pause might last a few minutes or a few days. For instance, if I’ve been asked to speak to a group about improving care for transgender clients, a topic near and dear to my heart and something I’m certain I want to do, I might pause just long enough to make sure that I can accommodate the request in my schedule. I haven’t run into anyone who was offended when I asked for a day or two to check my calendar. However, if I’m asked to commit to something that’s a little further outside my comfort zone, I might respond by saying, “You know, that’s not something I have a lot of experience with. I’d like to take some time to think about how that would fit in with the work I’m already doing. Can we touch base next week and talk more about it?” There is the possibility that you will miss out on opportunities that you might have enjoyed by pausing. That’s a chance I’m willing to take to preserve my sanity and my ability to really commit to the things that light me up. At this point in my life (post-stress-induced meltdown), I would rather miss a few good opportunities than return to a time when I felt pulled in so many directions I didn’t know which way was up. Feeling centered in my values helps me focus on the opportunities that are moving me in the direction I want to be going.
2. Conscious connection. One of the fastest ways to feel stressed out is to keep moving and never take a moment to be still. When we’re always in “go mode,” our bodies get worn out, our minds get tired, and our nervous systems get stuck in a state of constant acceleration. I’ve had an acupuncturist describe this as “wired and tired.” To avoid going down this path (or when I realized I’m halfway down the road), I commit to regular practices that connect me to sense of inner stillness. Believe it or not, one of the best ones for me is running. I’m intentional about the way that I run and have abandoned music and podcasts for a focus just on my body, breath, and surroundings. I also find stillness in ways you might expect, through yoga (restorative poses are my favorite), meditation, acupuncture, massage, and simple breathing exercises. You don’t have to be physically flexible or mentally sharp or even emotionally stable to benefit from a few moments of mindful breathing or movement. On the contrary, committing to a minute or two of these kinds of practices that connect you to your body and your breath can interrupt the wired and tired cycle long enough to move you in the direction of wellness when you’re feeling frazzled. Don’t just take my word for it. Try this one minute relaxation break and notice what shifts in your body and breathing.
Or try breathing along with this fancy moving picture for a few breaths and see what changes.
3. Technology-free time. This one is big for me. I resisted getting a smartphone back in the day because I knew I wouldn’t have the discipline to keep myself from falling headfirst into it first thing in the morning and swimming in perceived productivity until late into the night. Like so many hustlers for worthiness, I’m a productivity junkie. If I can reply to three emails before I even put my feet on the floor in the morning, I feel like I’m off to a great start. So not a great strategy for generating purposeful pauses and conscious connection. I’ve recently gotten serious with myself about this problem and am now sleeping with a $3 alarm clock from the Goodwill on my nightstand while my iPhone sleeps alone in the kitchen. I’ve found that when I don’t start my day by scrolling and scanning and clicking and tapping, it’s easier to resist the rest of the day. When I don’t jumpstart the wired and tired process in my brain and body but allow myself to ease into the world at a more relaxed pace, I’m more able to focus on what’s important and not just what’s flashing on the screen in front of me. Even better, when I begin my day with a practice that helps me settle into the rhythm of my breath and the stillness of my body, I’m more able to pause, connect, and allow myself to be guided by the wisdom within.