How to STOP STRESS IN IT'S TRACKS.
"Stress is a sign that you have become detached from the present moment. The next moment has become more important than life itself."- Author Unknown
St.Pete was exactly the medicine and the vacation that I didn’t know I needed.
If you followed my story while I was on vacation, I talked about how challenging it was for me to relax, unplug, and be present on this vacation due to how busy my mind constantly is.
A large reason that I couldn’t allow myself to relax, is because MY METRIC for how to live my best life beyond the bar that I set for myself has been
“how much am I accomplishing, and what’s the impact I’m making?”. Basically, how productive can I be helping people, while trying to lead by example and leave the world a better place than how I found it.
And I was convinced that you can’t be productive chilling on a beach.
My brain kept trying to remind me that I was wasting precious time and I had so much to do.
Plus, I wasn’t drinking alcohol like I normally would on vacation- therefore I felt like I didn’t have an excuse why I shouldn’t be working, other than wanting to spend time with my family. And as bad as it sounds- I even had the thoughts “Do I really need to do that 24/7 on vacation? “ (Which invited the shame monster to the party as I began to think “WHAT KIND OF ASSHOLE THINKS LIKE THAT!”)
After about 3 days of this, I remembered that I was a Coach/Consultant and people actually pay me to solve these types of problems for them, so I decided to treat myself like a client and take my own medicine (as hard as that can be sometimes).
So, I sat down and started working through my toolbox of techniques that I would use for clients in this situation, and I realized something profound!
This was my brains defense system kicking in as I tried to transition out of fight or flight mode!
To keep it simple, let me explain-
Due to things like our jobs, work/life balance, the economy, the media painting everything as so polarizing and catastrophic, our diets causing inflammation in our brain and bodies, and OH YEA- that thing in your pocket right now fighting for your attention 24/7 (which not to mention is incredibly addictive btw), many of us these days are constantly in a heightened state of STRESS and overwhelm.
Even though many of our jobs and lives don’t usually force us into life or death scenarios, our brain loves to find ways to stress us out in an attempt to prepare us for worst case scenarios all the time.
And the longer your brain and body are stressed, anxious, depressed, or burned out for, the more familiar it becomes with the chemicals, feelings, and emotions associated with those state of minds. In a way, it becomes addicted to these feelings because it’s familiar and predictable and therefore- safe.
As long as it can keep you in that state of stress- worrying about everything in your life and future- you won’t do anything crazy or unpredictable!
However, it also makes it almost impossible to remain present, at peace, and truly grateful for all the good in your life as well since you can't exist in both "states" at once.
(To be clear, when I say states of existence I mean REST/ DIGEST, and FIGHT/FLIGHT)
You may be thinking “But I’am grateful for my life!”
I’m sure at you are! But, I’m sure you also know that you can say it, you can think it, but to truly FEEL Gratitude and BE Present takes practice.
It’s like the difference of looking at a sunset in a picture while being at your office VS actually sitting on the beach, feeling the sand and water beneath your toes, smelling the ocean air, hearing the waves crashing, and seeing all the colors as it sets before your eyes.
On one hand, you’re trying to generate emotion from a memory or your imagination.
On the other, you’re dialed in using your senses and experiencing it which makes you really feel it.
However, if you’re reading this, then you may have found that even when you are on the beach using your senses to try and be present/grateful- your brain can still be locked in stress or work mode, right?!
That’s what we are here to fix!
The following steps are things that you can work into your standard week NOW to get more familiar with them, or they can be something that you keep in your back pocket for when you’re on vacation, or when you feel yourself getting really stressed out. Some of this may sound so simple- but often we usually know the answers and the solutions to our problems. We would just rather take the easy road and ignore the hard truths.
THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH MY FRIENDS!
***PSA: If you’re going through severe depression, anxiety, trauma, or other health issues, I’m not saying that this is a cure all or that there is a “quick fix” to help you feel magically happier! I’ve been down those dark roads for a long time as well and sometimes God’s timeline doesn’t align with ours. As I navigate dealing with Stage 4 cancer as father/husband/business owner-these are things that help remind me that WE ARE NEVER OUT OF THE FIGHT! So I hope they help you and whatever you’re going through as well.***
Step 1. Lower your Stress levels/Build momentum.
As I said earlier, you can’t operate in two states of existence at once. You can’t be peaceful, and creative, while you’re simultaneously feeling like you're fighting for your life. So, before we begin doing any deep work, let’s try to get ourselves out of fight or flight mode.
Ironically the best ways to do that are sometimes making your heart beat faster on purpose with intention doing things like: exercise (weight lifting, cardio, yoga etc), massage, acupuncture, a cleanse, eating less sugar, Epsom salt float, Cold showers, and intentional BREATHING are all just a few ways to lower your immediate stress levels.
When done consistently, they can help increase quality of life in almost every category!
Also, as you’re doing these things for yourself, I want you to remind yourself that you’re taking the power back, and that what you’re doing is good for you!
EX: “Even though I may be experiencing some __X_____right now, I KNOW IT WILL PASS. I’M COMING BACK FROM THIS. I AM GETTING STRONGER, I AM GETTING MORE RESILIENT, I AM GAINING STRENGTH THROUGH MY HARDSHIPS. I AM PROUD OF MYSELF. I LOVE THAT I DONT QUIT. etc”
Step 2. Identify the Obstacle
Why do we keep the skeletons in the closet? Because it’s dark in there.
Sometimes you may be self-aware enough to just sit with the stress or discomfort that you are feeling and identify what the root of your problems are in that moment. Other times you may benefit from journaling about the problems, emotions, obstacles, or stressors that you are feeling. Then through writing them out without judgement (<that’s important), you not only get them out of your cluttered mind, but your brain can process the information you have written down and make sense of it. It may not always be comfortable at first when you gain clarity on what’s eating at you, but just like venting to a therapist or a confidant, you may feel relieved.
***For me personally, I know that after about 5 minutes of journaling, I recognized that the reason I couldn’t relax was because of my underlying fear that I might die before accomplishing XYZ, so I felt like vacation was wasting precious time. However, when I was able to switch gears in my mind and remind myself that not only does your brain need down time to recover and be its best, most productive and creative self- but my metric for “being productive” on vacation had to shift! Work is only a part of my life. Therefore, it’s not the only area I can/need to be productive in. By prioritizing attentiveness and being present while on vacation with my family, I was being my most productive self in my relationships by making memories and moments matter! I was striving to be productive at being a better husband, father, and friend.
Step 3. Sit with the discomfort. Set the Intention
If you’ve lowered your stress, and identified the obstacle, you may notice that you already feel a little bit lighter and more relaxed at this point. However, as I said, your brain is used to feeling stress so it may continue to nag you about that problem or remind you of a new issue to worry about. That’s why it’s important to “cement your state” with “trenches of truth” as author Craig Groschel says. This takes practice, and the best way to practice something is by making it a non- negotiable ritual or routine! EX: Exercise-> journal-> set intentions/meditate
Just like your brain creates ruts in your brain with negative thinking patterns, you can create new more positive ones as well.
This is about transitioning our brains out of TO DO, and focusing on who do we want TO BE!
It can be 1, 3, 5 or more Adjectives that help you focus on the type of person you want to be, and the qualities that they possess or how they would respond/behave.
EX: “Today I want TO BE- CONFIDENT, CALM, and PRESENT”. Or “I want to try and be an understanding, and more patient husband/father” etc…
Then try to imagine yourself going through your day acting in accordance as that person and how they would handle certain scenarios.
***I prefer to do these after I pray and meditate or do some form of breathwork at the start of my day because it helps me dial in my focus and mindset for the rest of the day, then I will do them and check in periodically throughout the day. (However, I realized that I had been slacking on both meditation and intention setting in the weeks leading up to vacation-which could have contributed to the added stress)
Meditation is one of the most powerful tools to use when it comes to strengthening your mindset and dealing with stress! By just training your brain and body to be able to sit, breathe, and continually bring your mind back to center, your breath, or a mantra with patience and forgiveness, builds mental resilience in dealing with discomfort while also strengthening your ability to focus on what you choose to focus on, rather than getting lost in what your brain wants to keep you distracted with!
Alright. That was a lot…
It was, but I want to make sure I get it out there for anyone who may be struggling with these types of issues, because I know how precious life is. I know how upsetting it can be sometimes to KNOW how grateful, blessed and appreciative you are for the life you have- but you’re so busy being busy, or consumed by stress, anxiety, and overwhelm that you struggle to actually relax and enjoy the life you’re working so hard to create along the way. So to anyone reading, I hope this helps! If it does, please share with a friend, leave a comment below, or reach out if you’re interested in learning more!