You CAN Stay Strong, Sane & Centered in Times of Stress
These 7 tips can help you foster calm and resilience
Posted September 30, 2016
We live in what are undeniably stressful times. Many of us are overworked and feel stretched to the limits of our capacity to cope. Every day, we are bombarded by news of strife, tragedy, and conflict. As an example, just yesterday, a commuter train crashed into the Hoboken, NJ PATH station - something inconceivable to most locals prior to this event.
This post is in no way intended to minimize the impact of frightening and stressful events. But the below are simple and effective tools for remaining present, re-centering, and coping better in the long run. They also provide us with stronger inner resources to help us survive and heal after unexpected difficulties.
- Plan for the future, but live in the present. The present is the only time we ever have. This means that regardless of whatever is going on now, we really have no choice but to remain present. This is where all change takes place, and all healing can begin.
- Breathe. When things feel overwhelming, move your attention to the simple and miraculous act of your breath. It does a body (and mind) good. Simple diaphragmatic breathing can lower your heart rate and respiration, foster feelings of calm, ease pain, serve as a focal point for meditation and distract from overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Conscious breathing also reminds you that you are alive – a most precious gift in and of itself.
- Mentally step back from the situation. Most things are time limited. Ask yourself, “In six months, will this still affect me? In one year? Five years? Ten?” If the answer is no, revisit tip #2 and breathe. Remember, for the vast majority of issues, the axiom, “This too shall pass,” will apply. Even in the face of tragedy, we must remember that we are all here for a purpose. If you are reading this now, you have survived every difficulty you have ever encountered even if you thought you couldn't. You are a survivor.
- Practice self-compassion. A growing body research has found that self-compassion helps people become more motivated, feel happier, and fosters both forgiveness and compassion toward others. This practice involves being in the present moment, treating oneself with the same kindness afforded to others, and remembering that we are all human – none of us perfect, but all of us having inherent and enduring worth. Every mistake, missed opportunity or thing we wish we'd done differently provides an opportunity for learning. There is no value in using this information for self-bashing.
- Find something to be grateful for, regardless of whatever else is going on. Gratitude has been linked to improved mood, a greater sense of well being, forgiveness, empathy, and feeling better about oneself. If you are open, you may be surprised at what will evoke gratitude. As an example, during the past few weeks I’ve been experiencing headaches and sharp neck pain. The pain was frustrating, bothersome, and highly uncomfortable. I actively resented it, until yesterday, when this same pain ensured I was no where near the Hoboken PATH station at the time when a commuter train crashed into it, injuring over 100 people and killing a bystander. I grieve for those affected by this horrific accident. I am also grateful for the pain (which has since disappeared).
- Find joy in the simple things. So many times we conflate happiness with big achievements, material possessions, the approval of others, and the like. Certainly, it’s important to appreciate these things when we have them. But, in my opinion, they pale in comparison to an expression of care from a loved one, the laugh I get from watching my dogs race around my apartment, a good meal with a good friend, or the smell of fall in the air.
- Remember, just as there is tragedy, there is also good in the world. We can see this in the kindness of strangers, when communities come together for the greater good, and in our own acts of selflessness and compassion.
For further information:
Cleveland Clinic: Learning diaphragmatic breathing.
Emmons, R. A., and Mishra, A. (2011). Why Gratitude Enhances Well-Being: What We Know, What We Need to Know. In Kennon M. Sheldon, Todd B. Kashdan, Michael F. Steger (Eds.), Designing Positive Psychology: Taking Stock and Moving Forward. Oxford University Press.
Neff, K. D., & Pommier, E. (2012). The Relationship between Self-compassion and Other-focused Concern among College Undergraduates, Community Adults, and Practicing Meditators. Self and Identity, 1-17 (iFirst article). Retrieved from http://self-compassion.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/Neff.Pommier.pdf
Dr. Traci Stein is a health psychologist and wellness expert in New York City. She is the creator of a series of affirming audio programs on topics including self-esteem, mindfulness, self-compassion, healthy weight and body image, creating positive change, and more. Dr. Stein is also the author of the award-winning book, “The Everything Guide to Integrative Pain Management.” Follow her on Facebook or Twitter (@DrTraciStein). Her audio programs are available via iTunes and at HealthJourneys.com.