“I’m feeling so stressed at work. What can I do about it?”
This, or a variation, is one of the questions we hear most often as we travel and share with others. Recently we gave a talk on “Finding Inner Peace in a Stressful World.” I will give five quick techniques for dealing with stress, but first let’s look quickly at both its positive and negative aspects.
We need some stress in order to flourish. Luther Burbank, the great botanist and saint, found something amazing in working with plants. In order to develop new qualities, plants need to be stressed. For instance, a sun-loving plant moved into the shade will develop a stronger stem and larger leaves. Burbank said that when stressed, a plant goes back into its genetic history to find new expressions. Weightlifters know that they must push a muscle to failure in order for it to grow stronger.
But too much stress, especially when chronic, is dangerous. Stress pushes us into the fight-or-flight syndrome, which releases a flood of chemicals and hormones into the body. This is useful for dealing with an unexpected threat, like spotting a cobra near your door. (I use this illustration because we actually did see a cobra outside of our door at a retreat near Bangalore a few days ago. Before you gasp and feel a flood of second-hand stress, it was only a baby, about a foot long, and was being gently herded toward a safe area by a guard with a broom.)
But, back to stress. Many people find themselves in high-pressure situations at work or at home, where neither fight nor flight is appropriate. If we realize that most of the stress we feel comes from inside, from our reactive process, then we have found something we can work with. Here are five quick solutions. For fun, I’ve also listed the approximate time needed for each.
1) Breathe. Have a little tool kit of breathing techniques at your disposal. Just taking five deep breaths will help. Even better is to do a few rounds of the simple pranayama “regular breathing”: inhale slowly for a count of eight, hold eight, and exhale for a count of eight. The length of the breath can vary according to what is comfortable, but make sure the counts are all the same. Yogananda recommended that we do this daily while walking, but it can also be used in any stressful situation. Approximate time: one minute.
2) Mentally recast the situation. A well-known story illustrates this method: Imagine being on a crowded bus about to sip coffee from your cup, when someone jostles your arm, spilling the hot liquid all over you. As you are about to give him a piece of your mind, you see that he is blind. Immediately compassion rises and your stress level drops. Everyone is blind in their own way. If you recast a stressful situation, you get back into control. Time: one minute.
3) Change your focus. When confronted with your own stress producers—negative moods or thoughts—break their momentum by visualizing a pleasant scene very clearly for one or two minutes. Then, with your mind diverted, you can refocus it on a positive thought or mood. Time: two minutes.
4) Bring your energy to the spiritual eye. Press your forefinger at the spiritual eye briefly while deeply concentrating there, trying to see light and feel joy. Time: thirty seconds.
5) Practice gratitude. Everything that happens is an expression of God’s love and His desire for our freedom. Whatever comes, say, “Thank you, God. Thank you, God. Thank you, God.” And mean it. Time: five seconds or a lifetime.
Total time for all five quick stress breakers: 4 minutes, 35 seconds.
The best stress buster of all is meditation, but that is better left to another blog.
In peace and joy,