Monday, December 12, 2011

Stressful Storytelling

I was without a book for whatever reason on the train a week or so ago, and so I was perusing the New York Times and Huffington Post on my iPhone.  I came across this article:  10 Ways to Reduce Stress.  Most every newspaper and magazine has this kind of story nearly every week or month, but I always like reading them to see if there's any new or unique advice.

Reading this article struck me as kind of funny because I do almost all of those things on a daily basis (with the exception of getting a massage, but yesterday's 27th birthday was a fantastic excuse to splurge).  I agree that they are stress relievers  but it got me thinking that if you do something every day, does it lose its ability to reduce your stress?  After all, just because I meditate and journal every day and do my best to get 8 hours of sleep doesn't protect me from feeling stressed out.  I'm still alive, after all.

This time of year, right now, is probably the most stressful in general.  I blogged about it last month, and boy am I in the thick of it right now.  A lot of it is positive stuff - it's Birthday Week for Marc and I, there are lots of fun holiday parties to go to where I get to hang out with fellow yoga teachers I don't get to socialize with much or good friends I don't see as often as I'd like.  On top of all of that, Karma Kids Yoga has opened its second studio this week (Peace In - for teens and grown-ups!  Check it out)! and as you can imagine, a lot of work is going into getting the place up and running and ship-shape for our clients and teachers.  Throw in finalizing Christmas Cards and you've got a perfect recipe for a typical crazy December week.

What I've started to notice, however, is that a vast majority of the stress that I experience and the stressful thoughts that I think and emotions that I feel, occur 100% inside my head during a situation that is in no way stressful at all.  Praying fervently that my class attendance is higher than it has been or envisioning a confrontation or trying to anticipate how many hours of sleep I'll be able to achieve is something that, as a worrier, is truly second nature to me.  I tell stories in my head.  I want to say that I can't help it, because I'm sure I can exact a measure of control over it, but it is a huge struggle.  I catch myself doing it all the time.  I like to plan things out to the nth degree, which involves a lot of anticipation, which then leads to my brain creating a mind-movie of what might happen, usually being sure to include the worst case scenario before the best.

What's the simplest solution here?  STAY. PRESENT.  Practice letting go, trust that the chips will fall however they're supposed to and that when they do, you will be ready in that moment with whatever the best response may be.  That takes a lot of faith in yourself, and it's a lot easier said than done.  Talking to Marc about it, he threw another of my favorite pieces of advice / my life motto at me:  "The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment."  So instead of just thinking about staying present, think about enjoying it.  Even if it seems like an impossible situation to enjoy and you just want it to be January already (or better yet, May!), find something to enjoy about it.  Even if all you can think of is that you're still breathing.  The enjoying gives you something to do with this moment instead of thinking, "Okay, I'm present.  Now what?"

Another piece of advice from Marc that I usually get when I come to him stressed out or upset is an oldie and a goodie:  This too shall pass.  All the bad, all the good, all the stressful, all the peaceful - it's only temporary.  In yoga, we work to create an inner equanimity to help us stay steady throughout the ups and downs of life.  It's the practical, every day purpose of the practice.

So figure out which of those 10 Ways to Reduce Stress can serve you, enjoy every lovely, stressful, fun, emotional, fleeting moment of this holiday season, and be comforted by the fact that everything passes.

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