I’m sure I can speak for a lot of people on this planet right now when I say ‘life has been stressful’. There are so many unknowns that have found their way into our daily lives, though I feel its times like these that can truly define our character.
Lately, I’ve been feeling the pressure as it’s so simple to get caught up in it all. Stress & anxiety in the body is known to be the #1 killer. Chronic stress suppresses the immune system and creates the perfect storm for the disease process to take hold. I find that having the right tools to manage stress has been a gift that has helped me feel healthy & youthful while keeping my creative spirits alive.
Here are some powerful tools I use to help break through stressful situations….
Taking a moment to physically feel into your body will dramatically soothe the mind & shift your awareness into a more positive & peaceful state. You can use this technique anywhere and in any situation.
A. Exhale all the air from your lungs.
B. Inhale for 6 seconds
C. Hold for 3 seconds
D. Exhale 6 seconds
E. Hold for 3 seconds
As you can see this is a very simple & basic practice. Beyond the basics, breathwork is used as a gateway to achieving higher states of health & consciousness. There are many breathing exercises to explore. Two categories that I’ve found to be profoundly effective are The Wim Hof Method, and Kundalini Yoga Breathwork.
The seed of most fear and anxiety is sewn by the seemingly uncontrollable inner chatter of the mind. Discovering the path to find peace of mind has been a long road that has taken steady practice. Meditation is an unwinding of the mind that taps into a deep reservoir of peaceful energy.
A simple technique to start a meditation practice:
A. Find a safe & comfortable space away from distractions. Sitting upright is best as laying down tends to cause people to fall asleep.
B. Close your eyes and check in with your breath. You can get into the above breathing exercise, counting at first until you start getting used to the rhythm.
C. Once this rhythm is achieved, move into a state of visualization. Envision yourself next to a beautiful flowing stream in nature. Explore the scene in your mind’s eye, sensing all the subtle details of the space around you. Explore what you hear, see, smell, etc….
D. Your mind will surely find its way to creep into your thought process. It’s important at this moment not to find discouragement. Becoming aware of the mind and its chatter is a very important step in the process. Once we are aware, visualize yourself turning your thought into an object in your mind ie: a flower or a stick. Then place it into the river and let it flow away down the stream.
E. Continue this visualization for as long as you feel comfortable. If I’m tight for time I like to set a gentle alarm chime sound at 10-20 minutes so not to have to worry about time. You will find that with steady practice you will be able to meditate for greater lengths of time. It’s important to note that yoga &/or stretching your back prior to meditation will help to tremendously increase the length in which you will be able to sit comfortably in meditation.
Even if you can’t draw a straight line to save your life, the journey through the creative process can be a powerful gateway to relieving stress. You may have jumped ahead of me already by reliving a moment in your mind where creating art has actually caused you stress. I assure you this is not the case. Stress in the creative process comes from two major variables – self-judgment & expectation.
As a child, I moved to a different school for nearly every year I attended. Along the journey, I faced the challenges of being bullied both at school & at home by my former stepfather. I felt completely stressed & cornered by the world with nowhere to hide. In these dark times, I learned to unintentionally explore art in a very therapeutic way.
This technique works similarly to meditation as it brings your awareness back to the present moment & away from any inner thoughts consumed by fear of the past or future. Remember to leave self-judgment & expectation at the door as this isn’t a test & you will not be graded.
- Draw a simple share or scribble on a white piece of paper.
- Ask the question…’ What could that be?’
- If an idea comes add a shape that could fit that idea.
- If no idea comes, make another shape or line that is attached in some way to your original doodle.
- Keep asking the question ‘What could that be’ while adding to your drawing.
If nothing comes then you will surely have some fun & strange design on your page. You may surprise yourself as to what manifests itself on the paper. In the end, no matter what you find yourself doing creatively, set yourself up to practice the art of ‘letting go’ Letting go & surrendering to the creative flow brings you into a state of ‘no-mind’. You are simply here, now, in the present moment. Through this mindset, you will find that stress & anxiety have no thoughts to take root from.
The Alchemy of Physical Exercise
The roots of alchemy are based on a medieval forerunner of chemistry in an attempt to convert base metals into gold or to find the universal ‘elixer’. I use the word ‘Alchemy’ quite intentionally as inner stress (base metals) can be used to transform your physical state into pure gold.
When we feel completely stressed & angry the idea of hitting a boxing bag or slamming sticks into trees can offer a strong release. I believe this is why some people resort to physical violence as they do not choose a healthy outlet to express their emotions. Harnessing this energy in a positive manner has brought a transformative force into my life. I’ve found myself pushing that stress into the floor with every pushup or using it as a driving force to take myself past that extra mile. As a result, this practice will cultivate a state of self-confidence while you enjoy a cocktail of feel-good endorphins.
Our bodies store emotions through psychosomatic connections. These are like threads that connect our memories to physical states within our bodies. When we are feeling stressed it is important to metabolize these emotions effectively otherwise they can become locked in our subconscious state. When this happens, in short, our bodies become prone to disease. Metabolizing your emotional state is as simple as finding a safe place to let it all out. If you need a place to lay down and breathe, breathe. If you need a good cry, cry. Simply take the time to let it out in a healthy manner so as not to turn into a human pressure cooker. As you can imagine this will ultimately help to reduce anger which will reflect into a more positive relationship with yourself & others.
The Darkness Defines the Light
Sometimes no matter what exercises we do, we still need to face the reality of our situation. This is where courage comes in. Courage is finding the ability to do what needs to be done whether you want to or not. Breaking past this layer can be extremely challenging. Learning to ‘Let Go’ & feel vulnerable is extremely hard & sometimes counter-intuitive, but if your situation is causing you regular chronic stress, it is imperative that you walk through that fire. Take a deep breath & figure out what needs to get done. Know that no matter how dark the road seems ahead that the ‘Darkness always defines the light’. Having the strength to push through will tell you that you also have the strength to persevere the hardships ahead.