March 15, 2013

Stress Reduction for Normal People

Last post, I wrote about the benefits of taking time out for relaxation, meditation, or other forms of non-productive downtime. But what if you want to be less stressed, and more relaxed and mindful in everyday life without setting aside time to officially relax or meditate?

Here are a few simple things that I've been trying lately:

1) Not jaywalking. A lot of us automatically cross the street as soon as it's clear, regardless of the colour of the traffic light. Last year, as part of a one-month mindfulness challenge, I resisted jaywalking for 30 days, and enjoyed it. I recently returned to this practice and have concluded that not jaywalking decreases stress and promotes relaxation and mindfulness in three ways: a) It's relaxing to realize that no matter how rushed you feel or how important your destination, you actually can afford to wait twenty seconds for the light to change; b) The twenty seconds of waiting at a red light is an opportunity to get out of your head, check out your surroundings, and ground yourself in the present (I sometimes say to myself things like "Here I am, this Tuesday morning at 9:15 in March 2013, walking to the bus stop"); c) It's relaxing to cross the street without having to suddenly sprint to avoid a car that came out of nowhere.

2) Going out without your phone. I'll admit this usually only happens by mistake, but it's undeniably relaxing. Cell phones are really good at taking us out of the present moment. When I pass an adorable kitten in an apartment window, I can notice and appreciate it and experience an awesome moment of kittenness. When I take out my phone to take a photo of the kitten and text it to my sister with a cute comment, I'm no longer present. Similarly, if you're having brunch with a friend but keep checking your phone for updates on dinner plans, you're not really experiencing brunch with your friend because your mind is already at dinner. Not having your phone on you can admittedly be inconvenient sometimes, but there are few things that actually can't wait; wouldn't it be nice to sometimes, instead of returning a call or posting on Instagram while we wait for the bus, actually just... wait for the bus?

3) Moving more slowly. If you don't jaywalk or engage in compulsive cell phone use, you probably still have the nearly universal habit of moving more quickly when you're stressed. I observed this on a recent morning when I was rushing around trying to eat breakfast, pack my lunch, brush my teeth, and get out the door. My movements were speedy and frantic and inefficient (e.g., picking things up and putting them down in the wrong room, banging my shoulder on the door frame), and I realized that moving my body on fast-forward was reinforcing the URGENT! LATE! message from my mind, amplifying my stress. In moments like this, simply returning to a normal pace lets your body send your mind a different message, instantly decreasing stress. 

Let me know how these work out!

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