Life is stressful. We can acknowledge this truth and learn to respond from a place that is centered and grounded. On a trip to New Hampshire, I discovered this cozy corner and sat to reflect on how we can achieve long lasting happiness, despite life’s stresses. Several realizations emerged: 1. We are capable of overcoming any stress life throws our way. 2. We are resilient and adaptable. 3. We have choices. 4. We can choose happiness. How?
First we must lift the FOG: Fear, obligation, and guilt. Many of us operate under one of these three conditions in relationship to others, ourselves and the world. Sometimes we get caught up in beliefs that keep us unnecessarily stuck in situations that are unhealthy. We might fear change, though we know it’s ultimately what’s best for us. We might feel obligated to someone, even though it might be an unhealthy relationship. We might feel guilt about something that is not our fault.
We need to step out of this FOG that clouds our judgment and interferes with our ability to truly be happy. We can “lighten the load” by practicing self-care on a daily basis. We can say no when something isn’t right. We can nurture ourselves. We can spend time with loving others. We can move on to healthier situations. We can create change in our lives to make it better. We can make our dreams come true. We have this power. We just to have to believe in ourselves and take action to move us forward. We must never, ever, give up.
Positive challenge # 1: Take a moment to sit and reflect on what is preventing you from making a positive change in your life. Is FOG clouding your vision? Are you stuck in an old belief that is no longer serving you? Decide how you will lighten the load today. Replace the old belief with one that is current and realistic. Take one step forward in the direction you want to head. What will you do differently today?
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.