Category Archives: Executive Coaching

Cultivate Self-Compassion

Cultivate Compassion… Starting With YourSELF

Think Before You Speak, even to yourselfBy Vicy L. Wilkinson, MA, BCC

“I am so stupid.”
“I am so frustrate that I keep doing this even though I know it’s not good for me and I know it’s wrong. What is WRONG with me?”
“Why can’t I just let it GO?”
“When will I learn to stop letting people walk all over me?”

I hear a lot of comments like the ones above from my clients during our first few sessions. One aspects of my work as a transformational life coach is to help people hear their own language, especially with regards to how they talk to and treat themselves. I spend a lot of time carefully saying things like, “May I please repeat back to you what you just said to me?” I repeat what clients say with similar inflection and body language to their own. When I do so, I see the look of shock on their faces and I watch their bodies slump or tense or shudder or whatever the general modus operandi is for that particular person. People are initially scared of their own language, verbal and non-verbal.

Why is our inner dialogue and our outer talk about ourselves important?  Because we must first hear what and how we’re talking to ourselves in order to begin developing compassion.

Once a client has heard his or her language clearly, I ask a question like, “Would you say what you just said to [or about] yourself to a five-year old you were taking care of? Would you say it to your best friend?” The answer is always a resounding NO and a rather disturbed look. Usually that “no” is followed by some commentary on how much easier it is to be kind, objective, and compassionate towards others than it is to be kind, objective, and compassionate towards one’s self. I agree. It IS easier, but this is exactly why it is so important that we all learn to develop a deep compassion towards ourselves.

How do develop kindness & compassion towards ourselves?

It all starts with noticing. Noticing how we’re feeling during moments of frustration or anger or guilt or shame. Just like I ask my clients to pause and allow themselves the opportunity to “instant replay” what they just said by my repeating it to them, we must learn to do this for ourselves. When we are able to notice the shift in our language and behavior, whether we say it out loud or just say it in our own minds, it’s equally degrading and problematic. Once we are able to consistently notice our tendencies, we can begin to consciously change them through choice. If we never notice, we can never choose to change.

Following are three suggestions on how to start noticing:

1 – Allow yourself an extra two minutes in the morning and two minutes in the evening to sit still and quiet and just create some “breathing room” within yourself. You can sit and just breathe. You can sit and say kind things to yourself or affirmations of some kind. You can sit and just be quiet and allow your thoughts to float through you like fluffy clouds on a summer afternoon. You can sit and listen to calming music. What you do doesn’t matter as much as intentionally taking just a couple of minutes for “time in” with yourself to just BE for a moment. The purpose in doing it morning and evening is to start your day centered and end your day centered because doing so helps you develop your own inner observer. Your inner observer is the part of you that recognizes you are more than the sum of your parts. You aren’t just your thoughts or your job or your kids or your mom’s fears or whatever it is that you tend to over-identify with about yourself. When you stop over-identifying with one aspect of yourself, you instantly become more open and compassionate towards yourself and others.

2 – Take a moment to “check in” with yourself throughout your day, especially on busy days when you’ve scheduled yourself back to back to back and have that feeling that I call “the white rabbit” syndrome. (Do you remember the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland? “I’m late! I’m late! I’m late for an important date!”) It’s amazing what three long, slow, deep breaths can do, and you can do them in the car, or at your desk, or even in the middle of a meeting. It’s just breathing. I assure you everyone does it. Taking a moment to do it consciously can help clear your head, your heart, and give you a centering energy boost to help you feel more peaceful within. When you feel more peaceful within, your ability to be compassionate expands exponentially.

Kids being silly3 – Laugh. Need I really say more? LAUGH AT YOURSELF. Are you really taking it so bloody seriously that you ate two cookies instead of just one? Is it really a crisis that you’re running 3 minutes behind schedule? Will someone die if you don’t say yes to every volunteer opportunity presented to you? Laugh at your human-ness. I assure you, we are ALL in the same boat. And oftentimes, when we really look at it, that boat is very funny. Laughter helps you gain perspective and it also gives you a solid boost of feel-good hormones that will help you recognize life is hard enough without your needing to make it harder on yourself by saying unkind things. You don’t deserve that. You deserve kindness, peace, and compassion. Give yourself some.

Give and Get

What’s really interesting about the journey towards constant self-compassion is that as we begin to give ourselves daily doses of our own compassion and kindness, we begin to notice that others are giving us more of both as well. When we treat ourselves with loving-kindness and compassion, our bodies, minds, and spirits respond to our treatment and we (seriously) begin to resonate at higher frequencies. Our energy levels are higher and more sustained. We begin to sense that we can TRUST OURSELVES. We begin to sense that nothing is inherently wrong with us, and instead we are simply perfectly imperfect creatures, every single one of us. We begin to realize that others are struggling with the same sorts of things that we are struggling with, and we begin to realize that by recognizing these similarities we build bridges that help us connect to others. We can see ourselves in others, and our empathy grows. We can see ourselves in the mirror and realize we deserve goodness, from ourselves and from others. The bottom line is that when we start giving to ourselves, we can give more to others and we can actively receive more from others. We can hear compliments and just say, “Thank you,” and smile. We can hear praise and accept that we deserve it. We can feel appreciation and we can reciprocate that feeling. We can RELAX and allow others to help us see our own greatness while we help others do the same.

It’s not EASY because it takes conscious effort and conscious practice. But it is very simple. Cultivating compassion for yourself helps you and everyone around you. The only change you can ever really produce is self-change. So, stop waiting. Take a deep breath. And just do it!

Shamanic Sound Healing + Tonglen Meditation

shamanskyShamanic Sound Healing Journey with Guided Meditation + Potluck & Fireside Dancing

Please join us for a afternoon and evening of healing, sharing, and learning at our Magical Mountain Retreat Center with special guest Sonic Yogi, professional musician and sound healer.

We’ll be experiencing the deep healing offered through time in nature while Sonic Yogi shares the sounds of Tibetan singing bowls, Native American flutes, and other sacred instruments. We’ll have time for discussion and sharing, as well as guided meditation practice for increasing loving-kindness and compassion for ourselves and our world through the ancient Tibetan practice of tonglen (giving and receiving).

After the sun goes down, we will celebrate our journeys fireside with dancing and hula hooping…or just sitting and enjoying, if that is your preference.

This event is free, but donations will be accepted to cover costs and to thank Sonic Yogi for traveling from Lawrenceville, GA, to share and be with us! $10-20 per person is suggested.

Details:
We will provide garden fresh greens for salads and plenty of iced tea and deep well water. Please bring a favorite dish to share for the pot luck dinner. We will be outside most of the time, so please be prepared with yoga mats, cushions, insect spray, and sunscreen. Restroom facilities are available.

Movement, Mindfulness, & Creating Positive Experiences

Rowing for joy health

Taking up a new sport is excellent mindfulness & movement practice!

In this podcast, CLC discusses the importance of mindfulness, movement, and creating positive new experiences.  These practices can be used to relieve the effects of anxiety, depression, anger issues, and trauma & PTSD.  Learning to incorporate easy practices into your daily routine is one way to get started in a more grounded and solid-feeling life.

We discuss easy mindfulness practices that get your 5 senses involved and make it easier for your nervous system to calm down and focus on the present moment. We share stories about how movement helps with shifting moods and attitudes.

For more information on getting help, contact us for one on one help, resources, or join us for a retreat or workshop.   You are also invited to join our online communities and get involved!  Let us help you THRIVE.

Listen here now. (Available to stream or download.)

 

The Fountain of Youth: Keep Your Brain Young

diversindevilsden_500wI’ve always been adventurous and have often been quoted as saying, “I’ll try pretty much anything at least once.”  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered that this statement is still true and it’s a big part of why I truly enJOY my life, my work, and all the people in “my world.”

It is true, to the best of our knowledge at this time, that fundamental differences exist in the adolescent brain (11-24 years old by neuroscience & psychiatric definition) that make us all distinctly different in these years than in childhood or in adulthood.  However, as adults, we are fully capable of embracing our ability to consciously change our brains by first examining our thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, and then changing the ones that don’t seem to be GROWING us and actually helping us THRIVE in our lives.  When we start making changes, our brains change too!  What’s awesome is that those brain changes affect how we think, remember, focus attention, make decisions, and relate to others (and ourselves).

We can learn a few things about how to GROW and THRIVE in our lives by setting ourselves up to experience more of the positive sides of four specific qualities embodied in the teenage and young adult mind, according to doctor and researcher Dr. Dan Siegel.  In the book Brainstorm, Siegel defines those qualities as:  Novelty Seeking, Social Engagement, Increased Emotional Intensity, and Creative Exploration.  There’s no time like the present to take on at least one of those categories consciously and make some changes in your life to support it!

“Novelty seeking” is a perfect starting point in flexing my adult-brain muscles because adventure and the deep sense of excitement and exhilaration I feel when I try new fun stuff is fantastic for me!  It’s also something that I can really hold onto and am able to enthusiastically transfer to others through the power of storytelling and sharing.  (Which is cool in and of itself, AND it ushers me forward in my own growth because it precipitates more social engagement and increased emotional intensity in my own experiences… see how that works? Growth-orientation feeds more growth!)

This past weekend, I took a road trip with friends to visit even more friends down in Florida.  We wanted to escape the winter for a while and get some sunshine, swim time, and some new experiences to forge new positive memories together.  Goals:  all accomplished and the trip exceeded all expectations.

boatfriends_smNovel Experience #1:  We canoed and kayaked around one of the local crystal clear headsprings (72 degree water, year ‘round) and got to swim with a multitude of wild manatees. We saw a family of manatees with a wee baby, and our individual manatee counts ranged from at least 6 to maybe 12-13 separate manatees.  Once we were in the water with them, they swam right up to us, often nudging us with their bodies or their noses.  I was snorkeling when 2 large adults swam directly up to one of my friends while I watched from about 5 feet away.  Once of those guys turned towards me and swam directly underneath me, touching the skin on my bare legs as he swam by.  It was truly an amazing experience!  As we swam slowly away from the headsprings, we were able to identify them as the water turned darker and more brackish.

I felt excited but calm; these large animals were clearly curious and totally trusting of us.  I felt a deep sense of connection and responsibility after I realized that most of the manatees had scars on their backs from propellers.  I was so grateful to be moving slowly and mindfully through their waters, a visitor inside what was clearly their territory.  When we got back in our boats to paddle upriver for a while, I just felt awestruck by how graceful these animals were and how they seemed to just immediately embrace our presence, in spite of their scars.  I think this experience taught me a valuable life coach lesson about trust, using my strengths (enthusiasm, curiosity, love of learning), and the golden secret of slowing down and paying close attention. If we had just jumped into a boat and sped away upriver, we never would have seen those welcoming creatures.

(Apologies for not being able to photograph the manatees; I wasn’t prepared with an underwater camera.  But you can see how happy we were after swimming with them!)

stepsintodevilsden_outside_smNovel Experience #2:  When you’ve been friends with a group of people for a time period now measured in decades, you all get to know each other REALLY well.  The super cool thing about that is that you’re able to perfectly predict the kinds of new experiences that ALL of you will enjoy, which makes it easier and easier to set up the possibility of new awesome memories you can create together.  Our second day of adventure on this trip was one of those, “I know people who want to come here even though they don’t know it exists yet” moments.  Our friend T, host with the most and partner in our cozy accommodations Rainbow River Club, had scouted out a place called “Devil’s Den” and we packed up with swimsuits, snorkel gear, and a picnic to go check it out!

stepsintodevilsden_smAfter signing our lives away on various waivers which required a steady stream of initialing down the side of a front and back sheet of paper, we walked carefully down a set of about 20 stone steps into a hole in the earth.  At the end of those stairs, we were standing on a rock ledge that had another 20 or so wooden steps leading down to a series of underwater platforms in the huge cave below, with sunlight streaming in from a gaping hole in the earth around the corner from where we’d entered the stone staircase.  As the light lit up the water, you could see straight through to the bottom of the cave about 75 feet below the water’s surface.  One person at a time (as instructed), we walked down the steps with our snorkels and flippers in hand.  Once we got the platform suspended in the 72°F water about knee deep, we put on gear and pushed off for a snorkeling adventure while scuba divers explored the depths below.  It was an incredible experience!  You could see all kinds of fishes and as you swam around, the light danced all around.  We had a private swim for about half an hour, exploring every nook and cranny we could get to without dive gear.  I’ve never seen anything remotely like it anywhere, and it just felt like we were in some fantasy adventure movie of some kind.  It was unreal and truly awesome.  Although we’re used to swimming in 60° mountain river water in the summertime, 72° with flecks of sun inside a cave is only tolerable on bare skin for so long!  So, we climbed back up the two very steep sets of stairs and found a sunny table to spread out a picnic and warm ourselves up like turtles on a log.  By the time we’d picnicked and walked around the old SCUBA training facility on the property and dried out in the sun and shared what our personal take on the place was, the sun had shifted significantly and there was more sun on the hole in the earth. “Let’s do it again!” and off we went back into the earth for another swim and exploration of this cave that had a bit more light on it now.  None of us wanted to leave, really, and have determined we would love to go back and spend some more time… and maybe go beyond the surface next time!

selfieinsidedevilsdenIt’s SO IMPORTANT to keep experiencing new things and growing our connections to friends and family in exciting and memorable ways that make us all FEEL GOOD.  Embracing change through self-selected growth is one of the keys to long-term happiness, brain health, and a positively oriented thriving life.  If you’re not doing anything new, or changing anything by using more of your strengths, we strongly encourage you to take on a challenge of some kind to do so!  Keeping your brain, your mind, your body and your spirit active and growing is the closest thing to the fountain of youth we’ve discovered!  Be well and be good to you and yours.  Namaste!

Joy Jar: Remember the Positive Experiences

Joy Jar ~ Savor the Positive For the past several years, I’ve seen a post floating around the Internet that instructs people to place a large empty jar somewhere visible in their home, and every time something really good or happy or positively surprising happens, write it on a piece of paper and put it in the jar. Then, at the end of a whole year of doing this, you’ve got a whole jar stuffed with happy memories that you can read and savor.

This past year, I finally thought to do it!  My this year’s self is very grateful to my last year’s self for starting this tradition in my home.  Why?  Going through my “Jar of Joy” yesterday was so enlightening and inspiring to me! This past year has been one of the most difficult ones of my entire life due to a tragic and sudden loss – to a violent suicide – of a close friend of almost 30 years.  And that loss came on the heels of a solid year of grieving other lost family members and friends, so there was a period during last year that I was lost in a sea of grief, and every day was a struggle to keep “practicing what I preach” and learning to grieve but keep GOING and keep GROWING at the same time, while not giving in to wanting to just give up.

This Joy Jar showed me that even when I think there is too much darkness for any light to get through, that is not really true… The light is ALWAYS there, we just have to look for it AND we have to write it down so that it doesn’t get lost in the dark.

Build a Positive Life with Happy MemoriesI found fabulous little nuggets like:
Got a kayak today and I am SO GRATEFUL to my friend S. for giving it to me!  
It is cold and pouring down rain outside, but reading about that moment revived it in me and I was filled with so much gratitude and EXCITEMENT, just by remembering that fabulous gift.

Another one was:
E. and I successfully rowed across the lake and back, including a moving turn, without stopping in our new favorite scull, Dark Matter.  YAY!  
If you’ve been keeping up with us, you know by now that I am a rower, and that I started indoor rowing and eventually began translating those skills to the water by learning to scull.  It’s a life-long learning curve, so getting to the point that we can navigate our tiny domain without stopping AND successfully turn that crazy long boat without stopping is incredible!  (One day, we’ll row in a bigger shell and have coxswain to tell us what to do, maybe, but until that day, we row doubles.  And it’s hard! But SO FUN!)

And then there was this sweet one:
I had a great first real date with I. today, and the goodnight kiss was sweet.  
I mean, do I have to say anything about this?  A first kiss, even if it goes nowhere in the long term, is a sweet happy memory.  <3

This was exciting too:
Complete Life Coaching got a call from a NASDAQ-traded company today to ask if we’d considering giving a talk on dealing with high stress in the workplace!  (My comment on that little slip of paper was:  Wow!  We’re both excited!)
Sometimes, memories are exciting enough to give us a whole new *spark* when we think about them!  And a lot of the times, that spark will inspire us to keep moving towards our goals, even the giant daunting REALLY big picture ones!

As I went through the jar, I found evidence of progress made on many of my goals, and I discovered how I was able to keep up with many of my best practices for self-care, self-love, and self-discovery even when I thought I had basically thrown in the towel.  I learned that there’s a part of me that pays attention to the positive, even when I seem overwhelmed by the negative. I also learned that it’s so wonderful to have and acknowledge all my support during crisis, and on the good days!

There were so many magical little memories from last year that I’d lost completely, but this jar saved them for me.  Now, I am able to savor them!  Please try this simple technique, and I promise your next year’s self will thank you!

STOP Your Runaway Thoughts & Take Control of Your Mind

Tame Your Mind, Improve Your Lifeby Vicy L. Wilkinson, MA Philosophy, BCC, Certified Transformational Coach

It’s nighttime, you’re trying to relax and go to sleep, and your brain suddenly bombards you with thoughts about what you woulda’ coulda’ shoulda’ said during that argument yesterday or great ideas that will turn your whole life around AND save the world or the twenty- seven tasks you didn’t complete because you were trying to help the kids with a school project… or a million other things that our minds can come up with when we’re lying in bed and trying to relax and fall asleep.

In the world of transformational coaching, we call all this thinking, which has a tendency to turn dark, negative, and brooding, rumination or having ruminating thoughts.  Another term for this thinking-excessively with little control is “monkey mind” or “monkey chatter.”  In the Shambhala Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this sort of mental chatter is compared to having an untamed horse for a mind.  No matter how you look at it, rumination can get out of control and cause a lot of difficulty in life such as insomnia, anxiety, short temper, forgetfulness.  If left to fester and expand, rumination can lead down a slippery slope of temporary negativity into low mood, poor resilience, chronic stress, and even depression.

Of course, rumination doesn’t just happen when you’re trying to relax and go to sleep; many of us are plagued with ruminating thoughts during our wide awake time as well.  For example, how long have you obsessed in your mind over a stressful conversation that happened hours ago?  Or what kinds of thoughts take up space in your mind when you’re getting dressed in the morning and a certain pair of pants don’t fit right?

No matter when rumination gets in your way, though, there are proven techniques to help you regain control over your mind and discover your calm, peaceful center so that you can quiet that monkey chatter and choose a better direction for your powerful thoughts!

One easy way to put the brakes on rumination is very simple:  stop “just thinking” by taking specific action.  That action can be as simple as sitting down for 5 minutes and writing down what your mind is saying.  Just dump it all right out on paper.  It’s amazing how this simple act diminishes the hold negative thoughts have over us.  If it’s at night and you’ve already gone to bed, do yourself a favor by sitting back up, turning that lamp on again, and taking up pen and paper. When we write down all the stuff our brain is screaming to us, it helps externalize our experience and in this simple act, many people find immediate peace.

Sometimes our brain is just trying to help us remember important things; when we write those things down, we can refer to them later when we CHOOSE to do so, and our brain can stop reminding us and let us focus on relaxing.  This is especially helpful when your brain gets stuck in a loop about the minutiae of daily life:  schedules, tasks, 17 things you must remember before walking out the door Monday morning…whatever it is, write it down – just “brain dump” it out there onto the paper.

Another great thing about writing it down is that for many of us, our mind likes to pour out creative ideas or solutions to problems we had a month ago at random times.  If we take a few minutes to capture some notes about those ideas and solutions on paper, our brain can relax and move on.  Writing things down gives us a logical sense of closure.   It’s essentially clearing the cache in your mind like you do in your web browser.

If you find that writing is extremely difficult for you for whatever reason, I recommend keeping a voice recorder or using an app on your phone to just talk it out: literally speak your list or rambling thoughts into the recorder.  (Sometimes this works especially well for extroverts who don’t enjoy writing, but do enjoy talking!)  The outcome is similar as with writing it down because you have externalized the thoughts.

After you’ve taken the time to empty out some of the chatter, your mind can begin to relax and you can further help slow down any future rumination by taking advantage of that moment of spaciousness in your mind.  After writing or voice recording, take 2-5 minutes to focus on your breathing and calm both your mind and your body all at once.  If you take a really deep breath in and count to four – 1, 2, 3, 4 – slowly in your mind, then hold your breath for an equal 4-count, and then slowly exhale to a count of eight – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 – you will notice instant feedback from your body.  Repeat this breath at least 5 times and you will help relax your entire nervous system, which naturally shuts down all that spinning monkey chatter.

If you find you still have some chatter after doing this breath work, you may want to take a step further in your writing or voice recording process by making notes about some potential solutions or ideas if your mind is still focused on some sort of dilemma.  Some of us need to not just write the thoughts down, but also to do some creative problem solving in order to gain that sense of closure that helps us rest.  You can alternate between breathing carefully as described above and writing to maximize your level of control.  With practice, it all gets a lot easier and you can begin to slow the rumination periods over time.   Bonus tip for problem solving in your sleep:  Ask yourself a specific question about the problem and then go to sleep.  Write for five to ten minutes first thing in the morning, before you even get out of bed, and see what kinds of answers your awesome self has come up with overnight, like magic.

Experiment with these tools and make them your own.  Once you find out what works best for you on those nights your brain tries to hijack your calm and your sleep, keep whatever you need beside the bed and keep those ruminating thoughts from robbing you of well-deserved, and much needed rest, relaxation, and precious sleep.

Take care of you.  If you need more help, give us a call.  We’re glad you’re here.  Namaste.

Let Go of Stress: Redirect Your Energy

12-14undereiffeltowerby Vicy Wilkinson, MA Philosophy, BCC

Once we hear the message stress is trying to give us and we address it, it will often go away on its own. However, that is not always the case, especially when the stress we’re feeling is being prompted by extreme emotions like anger, frustration, jealousy, or fear.  Many times, it’s necessary to give ourselves a longer break and permission to ask for help from others.  This can be the harder part of alleviating stress in our lives: recognizing that we need help to do so.

There is a deeply ingrained sense of autonomy in most of us, especially once we’re professionals in our fields or we have kids that depend on us or we feel like we “should be” able to handle whatever life brings us.  This sense of autonomy is wonderful, but it can also be our worst enemy when it keeps us from asking for help when we need it and instead keeps us struggling along with our game faces on.  I am reminded of John Donne’s famous poem that declares no man is an island.  We are hard wired in our brains and nervous systems to learn from others, empathize with others, and receive empathy from others.  Interestingly, though, when we are stressed, the circuitry that helps us connect with other people is less accessible to us and when we are extremely stressed, we are all but completely cut off from this circuitry known as “resonance circuitry.”  That is why strong negative emotions can leave us feeling “all alone” on a planet that contains over 6 billion people.

What I mean is that stress makes us feel entirely separate from others, and it is actually the stress response itself that hinders our ability to ask for help!  So, much like tense muscles may be outside indications that you need to stop and breathe and address the stress, having a sense of “I can do this all by myself,” is a good indicator that you may actually be better served by asking for help from a friend or family member or professional of some kind.

Taking good care of yourself

Other than stopping to address stress and reaching out to others during stressful times, we can all better handle stress when we’re consistently taking good care of our own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.  Therefore, the best stress reduction plan is having a daily self-care plan that includes eating well, exercise for your body, playtime for your mind and your spirit, connecting time with other people (family, co-workers, friends, pets), and creating some time and space to “just be” in your life and to connect to your own sense of the Divine, whatever that may be.  That “just being” time might be time for yoga or mediation, or it might be for gardening or playing music or taking a stroll somewhere you enjoy.  A lot of the things I’ve listed above are things that many of us feel are “nice to have” things, but what I want to emphasize is that they are truly “need to have” things if you really want to learn to live without a heavy burden of stress in your life.  As I often say to both my clients and students, the best time to learn to swim is not while you’re drowning. Therefore, the best time to get stress under control and to set an intention to let it go when it arises is when things are going great and you’re enjoying your life!

After all, we are human beings, not human doings.  So take time today to let something stressful go and reclaim some of your human-ness.  You’ll feel re-energized and revitalized!

STRESS: Learning to Let it Go

Vicy Wilkinson, MA Philosophy, Wellness Coachby Vicy Wilkinson,  MA Philosophy, BCC

Having spent the majority of my life until my thirties “stressed,” I feel like I have some expertise in the field beyond all the studying, training, and experience in helping the clients and students I serve.  Because of my expertise, I offer this simple advice:  let it go.  The advice is simple, but HOW to do so is elusive for most of us.

It’s easy to SAY, “I’m going to let this go,” but just because we say it, doesn’t mean our bodies and brains automatically respond and “just let go.”  Nope.  Not at all.  Instead, our bodies have a tendency to tense up tighter – I always feel it in my shoulders and in my jaws – and our brains tend to keep on going over and over whatever it is that has us all stressed out in the first place.   If we do immediately let it go, it’s often by distracting ourselves temporarily with something – a task, a cookie or twelve, a conversation, television, music, or a stiff drink.  Unfortunately, the stress remains in spite of our distractions and eventually creeps back into our immediate consciousness and there we are again:  stressed.

So, what CAN we do to let it go?

Let Stress GoTo really let stress go, we have to become consciously aware of it so that we can specifically address it in some way and then replace it with something that’s simply not compatible with stress, like relaxation, happiness, gratitude, joy, or love.  The key in real stress reduction, then, is consciousness and a willingness to stay present with the stress.  Many times, the stress we feel has a very specific message and no matter what we do to relieve the stress, it will come back (again and again!) until we hear, acknowledge, and act on the message it’s trying to give us.  Once we’ve heard, acknowledged, and acted on the message from stress, it’s a lot easier to make a choice about how to replace it with an incompatible state of being… and keep ourselves relatively stress-free.

Find out more about acknowledging stress messages here.

Listening to Stress: How Can We Hear the Message?

12-14_VicySmilesby Vicy Wilkinson, MA Philosophy, BCC
The Wizard

When we’re feeling very stressed, we tend to run in autopilot mode, moving rapidly from task to task with mindless drive towards some mysterious finish line when we can finally achieve the ability to relax.  This very behavior is a great place to begin with listening to stress.  When you find yourself in this “driven” state, it’s a really good time to just STOP for a minute.  Take some deep breaths.  You can even breathe in a special way to immediately create an internal relaxation response in your body:  inhale as you count to four and then exhale as you count to eight.  Do this 3-5 times (minimum), which will take you about a minute.  You may not suddenly feel like you’re on vacation, but you will have created a little “speed bump” in your stress pattern which will create a space for a deeper awareness about your state of being.

Rowing for joy healthAfter a few breaths, spark up some internal dialogue with the stress you’re feeling.  Literally ask yourself, “Why am I feeling so stressed right now?  What do I need that I’m not getting?”  Keep breathing until you get a response that actually addresses your needs, and is not just a repetition of the voice you’ve been hearing in your head all day while you’ve been running from task to task, which usually sounds like a cross between a talking to-do list and a drill sergeant who found a tape of every bit of conflict in conversation you’ve had over the past year.

It is when we take the time to create a bit of space – empty space – that a new pattern or idea or possibility can emerge from the gloom of stress.  In doing this stress-disruption procedure one day last week, as soon as I stopped for a few breaths and asked why I felt so stressed right then, I got immediate feedback:  I needed to eat.  I was feeling stressed because I’d gotten up just a bit late that morning, which made me just a bit late for rowing class, which made me late for…,  you get the idea.  And in all that rushing and lateness, I’d not sat down and eaten a proper meal.  My body was physically stressed.  As soon as I addressed this need, I still felt motivated to keep working, but I no longer felt the urgency and “drive” that was tensing up my body and making me feel pushed and uncomfortable.  As a bonus, I got a lot more done during the next few hours, too, without feeling stressed at all.

Learn more about conquering stress in this article Let Go of Stress:  Redirect Your Energy.