Think back to a time you felt really happy, calm and relaxed. What were you doing? Who were you with? How do you feel recalling this memory? Notice it in your body. Check in with your breath. Is it fast and shallow, or deep and smooth? Are you breathing from your chest or deep down into your abdomen?
When I recall the walk with my son last week during a beautiful spring day I feel calm and at peace. I can feel it in my body. My breathing is smooth, deep and regular and my muscles feel loose and relaxed. My mind feels clear and focused. It’s like reliving this wonderful moment all over again!
We can pay attention to our bodies to raise awareness about our current state of mind. Our heart rate, level of muscle tension and how we’re breathing can tell us whether we are calm and relaxed or stressed and anxious. Our body functions as our very own barometer that helps determine how much internal mental and physical pressure we are experiencing. When we are in a happy memory or experience, our breath tends to be smooth and rhythmic and our muscles are loose and relaxed. Contrast that when we experience anger or anxiety. During an anxiety or anger episode our stress hormones release to prepare us for the “fight or flight” reaction to protect us from danger. Our heart rate increases, and we might experience a “nervous” stomach, shallow breathing, a headache, or other painful condition. In the midst of a real dangerous situation this is a necessary process to prepare us to escape from imminent danger. However, when we are caught in the vicious loop of re-experiencing anger or anxiety-provoking situations from the past, our bodies will kick into high gear to protect us from this perceived threat as if it’s happening in the present. Over time, these repeated episodes cause wear and tear on the body, and in the short term will leave us feeling drained and exhausted.
Repeated stressful reactions like this can trigger episodes of depression, overwhelming anxiety or substance use to alleviate the pain (both emotional and physical). However there are natural ways to obtain relief from stressful experiences. Visualization coupled with deep breathing is a powerful method that works to calm your mind and body so you can feel grounded and at peace.
The audio visualization below about accessing a happy memory was recorded live with my stress management group. You can practice it in the quiet of a private space where you will not be interrupted. I invite you to take a 10-minute break from whatever it is you are doing, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, close your eyes and listen.
Many of us often feel that life is something that just happens to us, and that we have no control over our fate or situation. While that is sometimes true (and is the reality for children who have limited control over their environment and people in it), it is up to us as adults, to make healthy decisions that will move us forward in our goals and aspirations. Although many things happen that are out of our control, we have the power to choose how we respond to these events through the decisions we make each day.
We can’t change what happens to us, but we can change how we respond to it. We can’t change how others behave, but we can change our relationship with them. We might feel stuck in a particular situation, but the truth is, we are making choices each day about what our life will be like. We have the power to make decisions and take steps towards a different outcome. Though it might seem like it’s taking a long time, rest assured, every effort you are making every single day, is moving you closer to something. Is that something what you desire? Is it something you want? What’s holding you back?
This 15-minute guided audio visualization gives you time to relax so that you can focus inwardly long enough to answer some important questions. Often we are busy getting through the day that we don’t stop to reflect on what really matters, and why we are doing what we are doing each day. It’s important we take a few minutes from time to time to think about the choices we are making and why. When we take time to self-reflect, we can feel empowered and inspired to move forward with our life goals.
I used to waste my time watching re-runs of the same TV programs over and over again, and getting sucked into reality shows like the Real Housewives. Let me assure you, there is nothing real about them. My husband would remind me they would have a negative effect on me. After watching an episode I somehow would become more irritable and grouchy. After much convincing, I realized that the characters in these shows are not representative of real moms in America (or anywhere). I’m actually a bit embarrassed by the fact that I used to be interested in these women’s opinions. Most of the real moms I know are hard workers (whether inside the home, outside the home, or both) and really, truly care about other people in their lives, besides themselves. They are not narcissists only doing what is in their own best interest, but are able to balance self-care with care for others. These women of the Real Housewives seem to be interested in one thing only – themselves! So, one major time waster I’ve managed to eliminate is to not waste another minute watching these women flaunt their self-serving behaviors on national television. I am going to take the next step now and not mention them again.
Let me just clarify that there is a difference between self-care as I talk about on my blog, and self-serving behavior. The latter involves doing only what’s best for oneself without regard to the negative consequences or effect on others.
Moving on…I was reflecting on how the heck I have time to work two jobs, commute 10 hours a week, and do my writing, which is my passion, on top of trying to spend quality time with my husband and son. Believe me, I do have my days when I am not pleasant to be around. Last night was a good example of that. I came home after a 12-hour day, and I just wanted to be left alone! I was pretty irritable and raised my voice to the tune of “leave me alone already!” It happens. I started to feel guilty after experiencing thoughts like “I’m a bad mom and wife.” What I did make sure to do before I locked myself in my room for some peace and quiet was to kiss my son good night and let him know I love him very much but “Mommy’s tired and I will not be able to read you a story tonight.” Today, I will need to apologize to my husband for acting out the way I did. I figured he’s a grown man and can handle my mood swings from time to time. Hope I’m right!
So after a restful sleep and some reflection I’ve come up with 5 major time wasters. Once you’ve recognized these time wasters, it’s important to eliminate them from your life and instead opt to spend time and energy on what really matters to you. This is an important step towards improving mood and well being because it gives you the opportunity to focus on activities that are meaningful and add value to your life, instead of zapping it away.
Watching or reading “junk” shows or magazines. I like entertainment, who doesn’t? However I’m becoming more selective of what type of material I expose myself to by questioning its impact on my life. I ask myself, is this content important or adding some type of value to my life? Is it inspirational and motivating? Is it intellectually stimulating? Is it worth my time? If the answer is no, I don’t bother wasting another minute on it.
Thinking about people who are no longer a part of your life. I found myself wasting countless hours and energy reflecting on why someone is no longer a part of my life. I questioned my role in the separation. It brought me down. The reality is I’m not sure what happened, and unless someone directly communicates with me, it’s a waste of time to try to guess. It’s also a waste of time to take it personally and automatically assume you’re the one who did something wrong. The reality is that a relationship is a two way street. It takes two people interested in making it work and willing to do that work, not just one.
Worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. I am infamous for this one. I’m learning to start letting go of things I have no control over. It’s a long and challenging process to learn this new behavior, when I’m accustomed to worrying about EVERYTHING. What I’ve found is that it’s a major waste of time. The reality is when bad things happen I have survived and only grown stronger from those experiences. It’s amazing what happens when you let go. Good things start happening. You also get the chance to find out who your true friends are during your most difficult times. Though I love all my friends and family, I can honestly name only a handful of people who have been there for me during my most challenging times. These are the people I trust. These are the people I choose to focus my energy and time on.
Working harder than anyone else, whether at work, home or other areas of your personal or professional life. I am constantly working on balancing how much time and effort I put into something or someone, vs. how much effort they put in. Though I have a strong work ethic and really value relationships, I also value myself enough to set limits and boundaries when I need to do it. For example, I recently noticed at work that I was scheduling way more clients in one day than was doable for me or for anyone. After catching what I was doing I let my boss know what was going on and she confirmed that I was doing too much. No wonder I felt stressed and exhausted on those days. I’m lucky to have a boss who is reasonable and empathetic, and I know others who have bosses who might say to “grin and bear it.” I’m lucky to work for a reasonable and understanding person (who’s also a working Mom herself). I think that also makes a difference.
Spending more time online than offline & interacting with people face to face. There is absolutely no substitute for actual, live interpersonal contact with someone you care about. I know online resources are helpful for keeping us in touch with people from a distance, but it’s taking away from the in person connections that are also important. Though it seems I’m probably online all the time, I actually take breaks from it and practice being in nature, scheduling gatherings with my friends, going to yoga, doing meditation, and putting that phone away from time to time, with the ringer set to off. It really makes a difference in my mood when I know I’ve spent quality time, face to face, with my loved ones, and with myself!