In a short 18-month period, beginning in 2012, we tragically and unexpectedly loss three family members. First, my wife Angela's 26 year-old sister Charly died in a car accident, leaving behind her two year-old son. Just four months later, my mother Mary died from congestive heart failure. And then within a few months of my Mom's death, Angela's younger brother died suddenly.
Each of these family members was a precious person and we loved them dearly. We were grief-stricken, heartbroken, absolutely brought to our knees. Our survival and moving through this very difficult period was due to our spiritual practices and beliefs as well as the psychological practices of mindfulness.
Angela and I recently did a TEDx Talk on mindfulness entitled "Defusing Stress With Mindful Mojo." In our talk, we discussed proven strategies to reduce stress effectively. These mindfulness strategies are well-established and research-based.
You never really hear anyone say, "I need my life to become more hectic, more stressful!" In this very intense age, people are searching for relief from their high levels of stress.
Did you know that stress is the #1 health epidemic in the United States? And if that isn't enough, the World Health Organization (WHO) informs us that by the year 2020 (just 2.5 years from now), stress, anxiety and depression will be the #1 disability in the world! This epidemic is costing American businesses $330 billion a year. The impact on employees is evident. Seventy-five percent of employees report that stress is adversely affecting both their professional and personal lives. In fact, it's so serious that 1 out of 12 employees has considered suicide. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Mindfulness or what we call mindful mojo really can truly make a difference. Think of mindful mojo as calm and dynamic energy. By practicing mindfulness, you transform your stress so that you have a greater sense of calm,clarity, energy and creativity.
When you get overwhelmed with stress, the emotional parts of the brain take over the rational parts of the brain. What we've observed, in both our professional and personal lives, is that when you are stressed, you end up not being able to think straight. You can't remember. You tend to make poor decisions. Below are a few hacks (from our TEDx Talk) to overcome stress:
Practice deep belly breathing and relax the body.
Try this now: breathe in through your nose into your belly filling it up like a balloon. On the exhale, breathe out through your nose or mouth as your belly flattens toward the spine. Do that very slowly three times. You can even release an "ah" sound on each exhalation. Feel a difference? This simple technique alone can lower you stress level because it engages the parasympathetic nervous system eliciting the relaxation response. Try this next time you're in a grocery store line, a difficult family situation or traffic. Now try this: With both feet grounded on the floor, systematically relax the body. Slowly scan the body from head to toe, relaxing each part as you proceed : the face, neck and shoulders, chest and belly, arms and hands, hips and pelvis, legs and feet. Do you notice a state of increased relaxation? By gently placing your focus on each part of the body, you cause it to shift from a held tension state into a more relaxed condition. When you are relaxed in your body, you are more effective in everything you do.
Unplug from technology.
This is a difficult one as technology is such a blessing and a bane at the same time! You can become easily overwhelmed and overstimulated with too much communication and information. This results in wasted time and poor decisions. By taking brief breaks, you'll return feeling calmer and clearer, with more energy and creativity. Make a pact with yourself to initiate break times throughout the day away from all technology. Just making this adjustment will go a long way in lowering your stress levels!
Work with your thoughts.
Scientists tells us that we think about 60,000- 70,000 thoughts a day and most are repetitive! These are looping thoughts predominantly focused on the past or the future. You can "drive yourself crazy" with all the chatter in your head. Through our coaching work over the past few decades, we have found that most people have a critical, judgmental voice in their heads. It might sound like "I'm such an idiot," or "I don't have what it takes," or "I'm too overwhelmed." Ever have a voice like that? We can relate to it ourselves. As teenagers, Angela struggled with depression and I struggled with anxiety.
While we have had a tendency toward these patterns during extraordinary times of stress, we have overwhelmingly experienced profound transformation through mindfulness practices. As teenagers, we learned to meditate, and it has served us well ever since. Through practice, and over time, we learned that we are not our thoughts! You are not your thoughts. They are just thoughts. Think of them as clouds floating by. Lean back and witness them without fusing with them. Don't let your thoughts think you. Take charge. This is where your authentic power resides.
Implementing these strategies on a daily basis really can really make a difference. From a place of self-honor, self-respect and self-care, utilize these practices to transform your stress states into peace, happiness and well-being. The hope for you is that by consistently implementing these strategies, you will experience a calmer, happier, and more positive life!