Stressed, depressed and feeling as though life is getting on top of you? If so, you’re not alone, a whopping 77% of those polled in the US recently responded that they regularly experience physical symptoms which have been caused by stress, with 48% saying they often lie awake at night and 33% admitting that they are living with “extreme” stress.
The causes of stress ranged from job pressure, which came in as the number one reason, with “co-worker tension, bosses and work overload” being cited as major problem areas, to media overload, relationships, plus poor nutrition and health. Unfortunately, stress is just a part of life…Or is it? Is there a way to glide through life’s problems and get on top of them, before they get on top of you?
Mindfulness expert Marcus James, who teaches mental and physical relaxation to stressed out business executives in Stockholm, Sweden, as well as teaching refugee children and teenagers how to read and write English, tells Lumity that there are a “number” of ways to instantly change your reaction to stress: “In my daily working life I see adults with pretty great jobs and lovely homes who are a bundle of nerves and can’t sleep at night, and children who have witnessed the most awful atrocities and lost so much – loved ones have died, their homes and country of birth have been left behind – yet they feel fortunate just to wake up each morning.
“One of the refugee children that I teach English to travelled here on a long and perilous journey; it was over land, sea and a lot of it was on foot. He was telling me recently that for him the best part of the journey to safety was the boat trip. I couldn’t believe it, the images we see on TV news are horrifying – all these poor people are rammed into unsafe inflatable boats that topple over regularly with everyone drowning. I assumed that would be the most scary part of the journey to safety. But he told me that he really enjoyed it, because before that he and his brother had been running from armed guards and they knew that once they were on the boat that they were finally on their way to safety. He looked out at the tranquil blue ocean and focused on that and he said that he felt a true sense of inner-peace. After that, once they reached Europe, he said he didn’t care how far he had to walk, because they were safe and they saw it all as an adventure.”
James says that we can all learn something from this: “The refugee child on the boat was focusing on the present moment which was why he was able to feel so calm,” he explains. “His mind wasn’t racing all over the place with, ‘what ifs’ as many of the adults I see do. When we do that, for example, you’re worried you won’t win a big new contract at work, and then your boss will be unhappy, your co-workers upset and you might ultimately lose your job and end up homeless you’re letting your fear and worries spin out of control. Your body releases too much of the stress hormone cortisol and you can’t sleep and you feel horrible, angry, sad and on edge.
“When faced with a problem in your day to day life, try closing your eyes, taking several deep breaths and interrupting your anxiety with gratitude. Mentally list three things in your life you are thankful for and focus on those. Next, if you can, go for a walk. Your brain is often better able to calm down if your body is occupied. Don’t mull over what is making you anxious. Instead, take your phone out and look for things to take photographs of, it could be flowers, or clouds in the sky. That anchors your thoughts in the present moment. After fifteen minutes go back to mentally listing a longer list of things in your life you are thankful for. Finally, go back to the initial problem; ask yourself if you will still be worried about it in five days, five months or five years. If the answer is not yes to all three then forget it. That way your mind will be free from worry and far more able to think of a solution.”
James underlines that while severe anxiety disorder is something that sufferers should consider seeking out professional help for, moderate anxiety can be changed within thirty days, because that is how long it takes for the brain to learn new habits: “Anxiety and negative thinking are often habitual patterns of behaviour so if you can focus on doing the above exercise every day for one month you should find you naturally become less worried,” he says. “Find your inner tranquil blue sea and try to remember that life is not meant to be one long list of miserable moments, there’s joy in everything if you look hard enough.”