1. Breathe. Our breath is the most powerful area of the nervous system we have the most control over. One of the first and most immediate side effects of the activation of the sympathetic nervous system–in charge of our fight, fight or flee response–is the shortening of our breath. Ask nearly anybody how they’re feeling in their body when they’re in a stressed state and one of the most common symptoms is shortness of breath. That’s because the sympathetic nervous system is sending more oxygen to the muscles, prepping them for action.
But when we’re simply in line at another place we need to pick things up from, there’s no need to prep the muscles–useful if we were going to tackle a foe from a warring tribe or flee a charging mammoth. So we help the whole nervous system find a place of balance by activating the calming systems in our body and our parasympathetic nervous system. We breathe deeper, inhaling all the way down to the belly, and exhaling all the way up to the chest. One, two, three, four counts in; one, two, three, four counts out. Then we let the exhale grow longer than the inhale, prolonging the relaxation activation.
And where are we? Still in line–but feeling a whole lot better about it.
2. Mind over matter. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, and the stress response kicks in, one of the survival tactics programmed into our biology is the tendency to become laser focused. This is useful if we need to narrow our vision and act quickly to avoid a Saber Tooth tiger, but not so useful when we want to remain receptive and present, aware of and interacting with everything around us.
Here’s where mindfulness tactics–taught by everyone from therapists and life coaches to zen masters and yogis–come in and save the day. To help our system come back into balanced awareness, we draw our attention mindfully to what’s around us:
1. What do you see? What colors? What textures? What shapes? Get as detailed as you can.
2. What do you feel? What textures, shapes and sensations can you feel when you touch something near you?
3. What do you hear? What sounds are around you?
4. What do you taste?
Drawing your intention and attention mindfully to what’s around you helps to broaden your awareness and lessen your mind’s grip on that one stress-related thought.
3. Take a break, while you walk. Anytime you’re walking anywhere, bring in the mindfulness techniques. What do you see, feel, and hear? Even better: bring in the mindfulness techniques AND your deeper, longer breathing. Double whammy–while you’re still getting things done.
4. Your body tells the truth. Our bodies don’t lie. They don’t know how. So we can use our body’s reaction to guide us in our decision making.
Step 1. Imagine yourself in a situation you didn’t want to be in. What do you feel in your body? In your throat, your shoulders, your stomach? How about the muscles around your eyes?
Step 2. Imagine yourself in a situation you did want to be in. What do you feel in your body?
Step 3. Label each sensation grouping: one for how your body feels when you’re in a situation you don’t want to be in, and one for how your body feels when you’re in a situation you do want to be in.
Step 4. The next time you have a choice to make and aren’t sure what to decide, tune into your body. Does it feel closer to the feel-good situation grouping or the ‘not so much’ situation grouping. Bottom line: Head towards choices that feel good in your body. These tend to be the choices that are right and true for you.
p.s. This tool is one I learned from Martha Beck’s life coach training–she deserves the full credit.
5. The essential self. We all have a social self: that part of us we wear as a cloak to help guide us through social life. It can be a useful tool when navigating situations like meeting your future in-laws for the first time, or during a job interview. But it can also get in the way when decision-making time comes, and we feel bound to do something we don’t want to–because it really doesn’t serve us.
We all have an essential self: that part of us that prefers to just be ourselves, exactly as we are, no cloak needed please and thanks. It’s a useful tool when navigating ourselves towards living a life that is full of everything we truly need and want. THIS part of us knows that choices that make it happy are not only best for us, but also best for the ones around us.
Next time decision-making time comes, and the body compass points towards ‘not so much’ but we feel bound to anyway…let your essential self have a conversation with your social self.
Step 1. Ask yourself ‘Why?’ Why do you have to?
Step 2. Ask yourself ‘Why?’ Why can’t you say ‘no’?
Step 3. Ask yourself ‘Why?’ Why would it be a big deal?
Step 4. Ask yourself ‘Why?’ Why would your reputation as a dependable career-woman get tarnished?
Step 5. Ask yourself ‘Why?’ Why would the people inviting you think badly of you?
And THEN you get to the core limiting belief: Because people will think I’m not dependable if I don’t say ‘yes’ to their invitation. They’ll stop asking me.
REALLY? Is that true? Often, the limiting beliefs are so outrageous we can laugh at them right away. But sometimes not. In these times, we move to the work of Byron Katie. Want to dissolve your own core limiting beliefs, so you can be free to live as you were fully intended to, and not the way you think others want you to? Check out this simple worksheet.