And become a better parent
You don’t need to look hard in order to find where all this stress is coming from in our modern lives. Anything that causes stress is what we refer to as a ‘stressor’, and these are all around us, all the time. Some are physical, while others are mental.
Consider the way you start your day: by being woken up with a start in the pitch black, by a beeping noise. Did you know that we chose beeping for alarms because it sounds unnatural? That means that the brain fires up on red alert, and sends panic signals by releasing cortisol and adrenaline into your body. You’ve only just woken up, and you’re already probably suffering from whiplash!
Or maybe you are a parent, and you get woken up by your screaming child, while outside is still dark and you were sound asleep, still in your REM phase.
Then you rush to get ready, heart racing as you worry about what happens if you’re late — and perhaps dread whatever stressful thing you need to handle that day in the office. Then you head off on your commute, people pushing past you and walking toward you. Horns blaring, smoke thick in the air, and bright billboards flashing in your eyes. All these things, vying for your attention. All of them, triggering more spikes in excitatory neurotransmitters.
At work, you no doubt need to deal with office politics, with deadlines, with people shouting at you down the phone… with the potential prospect of losing your job if you don’t do well, always looming over you. The unnatural light you’re bathed in meanwhile triggers even more arousal, with none of the nourishing effects of vitamin D and fresh air.
Or maybe you’re a stay at home parent? In which case your day will revolve around responding to the screams and cries of your child, struggling to keep the house tidy in the time in-between, making food in a hot kitchen, worrying about bills…
Meanwhile, most of the activities we engage in when we try to ‘relax’ involve looking at flashing lights and images of people fighting. When we flick through magazines, we find ourselves being constantly pressured to look better, perform better, and spend more money. Even Facebook is filled with people projecting a false image of success — one that we feel pressured to live up to.
I have given quite a gloomy picture of how some (a lot?) of us live our lives, but the great news is that there are ways out of this rut of negative thoughts and actions.
These are some of the tips I swear by whenever I feel overwhelmed:
Occasionally unplugging and turning off is also a good way to enjoy a calmer and less stressed life. The very nature of screens means that they trigger a release of the stress hormone cortisol. Not only that, but these portals into other people’s lives are what gives us that feeling of dissatisfaction and constantly having to move forward. If you can take some time away from screens and machines, you’ll find it’s much easier to appreciate what you have already and to find other ways to make fun.
This becomes especially important right before bed. So, while it might not be easy to completely do without your phones or other gadgets, you should at least consider having a ‘no phone zone’ for an hour before you hit the hay. It can make a huge difference to your recovery.
Go back to the basics
Exercise, fresh air, nutrition, sleep… all these things are vitally important to you feeling your best. Not only because exercise triggers a short-term release of feel-good hormones like serotonin, not only because it feels good to be free from pain and full of energy… but also because being healthy actually supports long-term calmness. Did you know that there are close links between the hormones that regulate our appetite and weight (like thyroid hormones and ghrelin) as well as those that control our mood?
Think about your health holistically — if you want to perform and feel your best, you need to cleanse yourself inside and out. As your meditation improves, try to gradually remove those things that are making you unhealthy, and introduce more and more positive change into your life.
Less stuff, more space
We are driven by capitalism and commercialism to try and accrue as much ‘stuff’ as humanly possible. We do this by buying the things we see in magazines, and by lusting after pictures on Instagram.
But the more you spend, the more stress you introduce into your life. The more you have, the more you’ll feel you need. And the more you think about the stuff you don’t have, the more you’ll miss out on the opportunities you have right now.
Do you really need a wide screen TV? Will it genuinely make your life better, or are you being convinced as such by clever marketing and society? If you don’t buy the TV, you have more money in the bank to provide peace of mind. Moreover, you can spend a little less time sitting in front of it, and a little more time playing outdoors with family or reading books.
Go through your belongings and have a think about what you really need and what you don’t. Throwing out some items will mean less cleaning, less work, and a tidier, calmer environment.
Your child as a master
Children don’t know anything about stress, they know how to vocalise their needs without shame, and they need food and love to feel pure joy and to be able to thrive. I’m always amazed by all the wonderful things my little love teaches me on a daily basis if I care to be present and listen. She educates me on self-love, on the importance of the now, and on how playing should be part of our daily activities. She moves her body until she is tired, eat until satiated, cuddles whenever she needs a warm embrace, without judgment or comparison.
We went on holiday recently and we rented a small house with a sandpit in the backyard; there was a pink bucket in it, and my baby spent half day playing with it, embraced by sand and dirt, happy in her own judgment-free environment. Do you remember the last time you experienced the same?