This week (2nd – 6th Nov) is International Stress Awareness Week and given that 2020 is winning no prizes for Most Uneventful Year or Year Most Likely to be Thought Back on Fondly… I thought I would turn my monthly musings to the unwieldy yet ever-relevant topic of stress – and with a little sprinkling of mindful Zen for good measure.
How are you doing amongst the stresses of the day?
As I am writing this we are all travelling through a global pandemic, less than a week away from a pivotal US election and bumbling towards Brexit – not to mention that we are hurtling through the void of space on a massive rock at 1.3 million mph and we’re not quite sure why…
Yet we have all sorts of ways of coping with the stress. If you are anything like me, some of them are more healthy than others. I notice I am getting stressed when my thoughts turn darker, when I pick an argument with my partner Jack or when I devour all the biscuits in the house… I have come to treat these symptoms as something of an Early Warning System. If I notice I am heading in that direction, I try to pause and ask myself a few questions – What do I need? What am I missing? I then remind myself that I can ask for help, and try to name what is happening.
Sometimes I realise that my wellbeing practices have slipped in some way. I know that meditation, exercise, good sleep, healthy foods, spending time in nature, and keeping my days varied supports my mental and emotional balance yet those habits sometimes fall by the way particularly when stress piles up. I have learned to forgive myself immediately for letting things slide and this helps me get back to the gym, the mat, or the forest.
Over the years, I have also noticed that when I am able to be open and vulnerable about the things that are troubling me (ideally before the biscuit-binge) the better it is for me and for those around me. It has taken a lot to overcome the pattern of bottling things up, putting a brave face on things, and holding the struggle within.
Mindfulness has taught me that stress is not bigger than I am…
My emotions are not bigger than me and that the challenges of the day will pass. I now recognise overwhelm as a call for space, stillness, and increased skilfulness in the cultivation of clarity.
As Viktor Frankl says beautifully:
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Easier said than done, yet mindfulness offers some practical tools that help here. When bringing stress into the focus of awareness we can explore using the Three Actions of Mindfulness:
- Observe:become consciously aware of what is occurring without judging it as good or bad.
- Describe: neutrally name all aspects of the experience that you are aware of. E.g. I am experiencing overwhelm. I feel exhausted. My breath is shallow.
- Participate:consciously choose how you wish to respond, take action, speak your feelings, ask for help…
When stressed, mindfulness encourages us to meet the experience with acceptance, non-judgement and compassionate awareness. One of the outcomes of the mindful approach is that we might step into resourcefulness rather than victimhood. We acknowledge our experience and through not resisting, we allow it to normalise. Anxiety dissipates or we take action.
Mindfulness invites us back into a simpler, purer and more effective state of being and gives us the tools we need to bring excellence to our craft of consciousness. By developing and sustaining a consistent mindfulness practice, we discover new ways to be effective in all aspects of our lives.
We find stillness, even whilst hurtling into the unknown.
By Neil Seligman
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International Stress Awareness Week is run by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) to raise awareness about stress prevention and the importance for individuals and organisations in order to ensure that those who are suffering from stress know where to go to seek advice. If you are looking for help you may wish to contact the below organisations: