When you’re living an aware life, it’s important to avoid black holes that tend to pull you down into a churning mess of negative emotions. It’s very easy in this hectic world to get sucked into a momentum of negativity until that’s all you can focus on.
The other night, for instance, I was dealing with a very exhausting day where each meeting went longer than expected, causing me to get behind in my tasks. This meant that at 10 at night, I had to wander into my office to do the research to write four scripts.
I could have fallen down the black hole of, “My life is hard and nobody understands how hard I work, and it’s also unfair that I don’t get to go to sleep.” But honestly, what was the point of hovering above that black hole and allowing the vortex of negativity to pick up momentum until I was swirling and churning in the darkness?
On this very late night that didn’t end until the wee hours, I instead told myself, “I know this is only temporary. Tomorrow night I will be sleeping next to my husband and getting my rest.”
The Ballistic Anger Rush Addiction
At a soccer game the other day, one of the dads went ballistic when his daughter got unfairly checked and the ref didn’t call a foul. Several minutes passed and he was still screaming, refusing to get off of it. Other parents were upset, but they calmed down in minutes. The über-upset dad couldn’t stop his brain and continued to yell at the other parents now. It was like his brain was on a drug and he couldn’t control the chemicals. I actually looked at him compassionately until he finally walked away and sat on a bench alone.
Luckily, he knew that it was time to walk away, decompress, and take a few deep breaths. He knew his spiral was out of control and took action to get back under control. In the moment of his fit, he was certainly experiencing the addiction of that rush where you make rash decisions and don’t act in the most compassionate way possible.
Stress, Your Body, and Your Brain
You might have to ask yourself: Are you aware that you’re addicted to stress? Perhaps you live in such a stressed-out zone that you’re addicted to the rush that it provides and find yourself actually bored when there is nothing to solve or fix.
Do you turn daily annoyances—the long line at the supermarket, the guy who cuts you off in traffic—into major freak-outs? Are you calling your friends because some service worker was rude? Are you fuming when that lady races to the counter at the dry cleaners in front of you?
I’ve found that living at such a high boil is just not worth it, because most little things do not warrant a big response that might compromise your immune system. In fact, when you’re about to get stressed out, ask yourself: “Is this worth stressing my immune system over?” Suddenly, that guy who wanted a refund isn’t that important.
Negative Thoughts Suppress Your Immune System
There have been times in my life when I’ve been under so much strain that I’ve needed to pay attention to every single thought. I recently interviewed Dr. Baskaran Pillai, a spiritual teacher who is an enlightened master from the South Indian Siddha tradition. We were talking about stressful thoughts, and he told me that in his meditations, he looks at them as visitors in a hotel. This gave me a great visual of a “thought hotel”: If a stressful thought comes to visit, it is a guest, you observe it, and then you watch it leave. It is not welcome to stay long.
According to Dr. Pillai, in the beginning it can take the non-trained mind several hours to clear those types of thoughts. After months of practice, however, this process gets shorter and shorter.
I know that the minute my thoughts enter the negative zone, I’m allowing a chemical release in my brain that compromises my immune system. Therefore, I limit things in my life that cause negative thought patterns, like that endless complaining session with a girlfriend. Now when negative thoughts come in, I imagine them suppressing my immune system, and immediately put them in my thought hotel.
Remember, your thoughts are hugely important when it comes to stress. And your job is not to harbor that stress, because it only serves to hurt you.
Five Ways Stress Affects Your Body
Compromised immunity issues: If you’re stressed out, then your body is weaker and often unable to muster up its full ability to fight diseases and infections.
Dental issues: If you’re stressed out, you’re much more likely to grind your teeth at night. This leads to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems, which can cause face and jaw pain.
Unhealthy skin: The American Academy of Dermatology in a study has shown that stress worsens skin conditions such as rosacea, psoriasis, and acne. Stress is also dehydrating to your skin, which ages you.
Memory loss: If you’re frazzled and can’t find your wallet, there is a medical reason for this. Long-term stress over weeks and months actually disrupts communication between your brain cells while also impeding your brain’s ability to store information and create memories.
Inability to concentrate: Ever try to read when you’re stressed? Your brain will rebel. A study showed that medical students studying for exams didn’t focus as well when under stress, but during a non-stressful period received high scores from their increased focus.
Take Breaks and Laugh!
A friend of mine just lost her mom after nursing her through a long illness. It followed that the stress level in the house was on high alert—or had become the chronic strain of a caregiver situation, which many baby boomers are facing these days.
Once her mom passed, my friend went through a grieving period, which was naturally difficult, too. After so much stress in her life, I asked how she was coping, and her answer was simple: “It’s all about the little moments.” Eureka! Even in a tough situation, there are those little moments when you can step out of it and find joy. You just have to be aware enough to find these moments and not let them pass you by.
Why not try to bring even a small amount of laughter into your life—especially if you haven’t laughed in a long time? I can promise you that it feels so good. In fact, laughter prompts your brain to release “feel-good” neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, and an array of endorphins. In the process, you also stimulate circulation and increase your intake of oxygen.
When I’m in a highly tense time in life, I love to watch a silly movie with outrageous humor. No, I’m probably not going to see the best movie of the year when I watch The Pink Panther with Steve Martin (a classic for our family), but I doubt I’ll see one that makes me laugh harder. Or I’ll run around the backyard with my daughter, who I know will do something to make me giggle. In the end, it’s about allowing myself some bliss because I deserve it and so does my body.
Sleep, Breaks, and Naps Are Like Mini-Vacations
I used to get four or five hours of sleep a night until that caught up with me. I also was never much of a napper, but I’ve become a big fan. I’ve found that even ten minutes in the car or on the couch with my eyes closed can recharge my entire day and reorganize my brain. Try it sometime and you will understand what I’m talking about.
It’s good to take those breaks to just clear your mind and renew your energy. And when you do close your eyes, it’s much easier for your mind to go into a mode of resolving the issues that have come up that are gnawing at you. Sleep is a very important way to relieve stress, as you work a lot out when you’re slumbering—think of it as a long meditation.
In addition, the National Sleep Foundation has found in studies that a short nap of 20 to 30 minutes can increase your short-term awareness and provide you with improved alertness and performance without leaving you groggy or interfering with your nighttime sleep. In fact, a short nap can extend alertness for a few hours. A study at NASA on sleepy pilots and astronauts found that a power nap improved their performance by 34 percent and their alertness by 100 percent.
Look at your nap like a pleasant break or even a mini-vacation where you can rejuvenate. Famous nappers include Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Thomas Edison, and Ronald Reagan, all of whom admitted that they enjoyed some afternoon rest periods.
A Multitude of Stress-Relief Techniques Are Available
In addition, there are many helpful books and programs that offer stress-relief techniques. I find that music and being out in nature help me to release tension, as does laughter and practicing the art of gratitude.
In my most stressed-out times, I will actually say out loud five things that I’m grateful for in that moment. If that’s not enough, I’ll put on my headphones and listen to beautiful music that takes me to another place.
Prayer is also a great way to get rid of stress. Many people practice breathing exercises to decompress. It’s important to find what stress relief works for you and to move on from what doesn’t work.
Finally, a great way to reduce stress is to practice compassion, which is something the Dalai Lama talks about in depth. His Holiness believes that compassion can solve most of the world’s problems. You just need to be aware of the moment and substitute compassion for anger.
* Have a “let it go” chalkboard (or eraser board) and write down all the negative things that happen. Then read them aloud before erasing them. The latest neuroscience research conducted by Professor Mark Waldman says that putting those negative things out in the open desensitizes you to those particular issues and then causes you to be done with them.
* Find what it takes for you personally to let go of your stress and incorporate that into your daily routine. I like to take naps, go out in nature, or be in a deep state of gratitude.
* Realize that life will present challenges. Look for core-issue feelings in order to acknowledge what is really bothering you.
* If you dwell or fixate, then that will take up all of your energy and bandwidth. It’s fine to say to yourself, “This stinks. This hurts.” Recognize the unfairness, hurt, and unkindness, and then realize that your need for consideration wasn’t met. Don’t ignore it, stuff it down, or put it away for another day. Release it.
©2015 by Lisa Garr. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hay House Inc. www.hayhouse.com
About the Author:
Lisa Garr hosts a popular US radio programme called The Aware Show, along with a weekly show on Hay House Radio. In addition, she has her own show on Gaiam TV, as well as a popular online personal development series. She reaches a combined audience of more than four million globally a month. Visit her website at www.theawareshow.com