“To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of a hectic life.” ~Jill Botte Taylor
I used to be a stress bunny. Something was always driving me to want to do better—to be more, to have more, to compete and win at everything.
I thrived on pushing myself, thinking achievement was a great thing.
I was also restless. I always had to be going somewhere—doing something—never sitting still. I was bored, frustrated, and trying to find happiness outside myself.
One day after I graduated from college, I became totally paralyzed by a rare syndrome and landed in the hospital. The doctors couldn’t tell me when or if I would ever walk again.
I soon understood why I pushed myself so hard. I was running from myself so I didn’t have to face all the inner thoughts that were fueling my stress.
Suddenly I couldn’t even walk away. I still wanted to run, but I was forced to lie there—tortured by my own racing thoughts.
Talk about stress! This frightening experience taught me many valuable life lessons. One of them is that stress has no redeeming value. You can live a much happier, more successful life by transforming your stressful inner thoughts.
Tying Our Emotions to Specific Outcomes Trips Us Up
We’re all striving for certain things in life. Security, love, happiness, purpose, success, and independence are among our top goals, however we define these for ourselves.
We live our lives trying to find happiness. But, as John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.”
Sometimes our disappointments can be extremely jarring, like when I landed in the hospital. Other times life is on a roll, and we become elated. But then things turn, and we’re headed for a crash landing. Life’s ups and downs can be so distressing.
When we feel like we’re being torn apart, we learn to protect ourselves by not getting our hopes up about anything. But then we’re living a life of resignation, which isn’t fulfilling, either.
Tying our emotions to all the ups and downs is like stepping onto a perpetual roller coaster, riding through multiple dips every day. Why live with that kind of stress when a better alternative exists?
How to End Stress and Achieve a Life of Peace and Balance
Wayne Dyer said, “Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.”
If that sounds like giving up or giving in, that’s not what Dyer meant. He was referring to the flow of life. We can train ourselves to take advantage of this flow and stay in balance regardless of any temporary elation or dismay.
1. Loosen up on expectations and attachments.
When we expect something great to happen, we begin to set ourselves up for the roller coaster. We’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t happen, or happy if it does. Pair that with being emotionally attached to the outcome and wham—there’s an even bigger charge. You just stepped onto life’s roller coaster.
If you realize every situation offers growth and opportunity, you can more easily live without expectations. You can feel confident being open to whatever happens, knowing that you can appreciate good events and accept the challenge of things you feel are negative.
Some of us have a general fear that bad things might be just around the corner. Try to detach yourself from fear of what might happen and experience life as it unfolds.
2. Remember, nothing is permanent.
When life is great, we hope it continues forever. When we’re in a dip, we can’t wait until it ends. But nothing is permanent. That’s hard to remember when we’re stuck in a bad situation and hard to accept when life is good.
Reminding yourself that all things must end (and new situations will replace them) is a great way to begin detaching, and maintaining balance no matter what.
Being paralyzed and not knowing what was in store was terrifying. But I faced each day with hope that the paralysis would stop progressing. When it did, my doctor told me I had actually willed it out of myself because nothing he had given me had the power to stop it.
3. Catch yourself when you’re judging and evaluating.
Life just is. It’s easier to relax and meet it with a smile when you can. If you practice living and being in the moment, rather than evaluating how everything is affecting you, events will lose their grip.
Human beings experience physical pain differently than animals do. We exaggerate pain by thinking about how bad it is and how much we don’t want it. But we can get control of our pain by focusing on the actual size of the area it covers and how it truly feels. Observing instead of judging can help us see reality.
The same applies to events we label as bad. Next time, try to take your focus off of feeling bad long enough to assess the reality. Then shift your mind to finding a positive aspect of the experience or thinking about something good that is also happening.
For example, when I was still adjusting to being paralyzed and in the hospital, coworkers and neighbors who I thought were just acquaintances came to see me. I was amazed that so many people I hardly knew cared about what was happening to me. Experiencing this was a great comfort.
4. Use the signs life provides to guide you.
Life is like a flowing river. We can do three things when we jump in: We can go with the natural flow, letting the current carry us forward; we can try to go upstream; or we can hang onto a rock to try to stay put.
If we go with the flow, we’ll be carried along peacefully. If we try to go upstream, we’ll have a real battle on our hands. If we hang onto a rock, we’ll risk being battered against that rock.
Why not take the easy route and go with the flow? This doesn’t mean you can’t shoot for your goals. It means be aware of signs that your chosen path is on or off target. If you’re struggling too hard, try a different approach.
For instance, if you’re beating your head against the wall trying to convince someone to love you and it’s not happening, try finding a different wall with an open door.
5. Find the natural flow of life.
With more practice, you’ll begin to see solid evidence of the flow of life. Experiment to find it so you can really trust and let go.
Maybe you have far too much on your plate for one person to handle, and you always end up completely stressed over not being able to get things done. This is so common today.
Stress further slows your progress as you worry about whether you can ever catch up.
Try stepping back, relaxing, and taking a bigger view. Focus on believing that everything will get done in its own time if you take one step at a time. When you do this, you’ll find that things will fall into place with less effort on your part. You’ll experience the flow of life.
Every day, give yourself a simple list of two important things you want to work on that day. This will ensure that you get to those two important items, which likely isn’t happening if you’re reacting to all the little distractions. Doing so also allows time to handle most of those little items too.
I’ve done this for several years, and I’m amazed at how much more I accomplish, with less stress.
Ending your stress is in your power—what a relief!
I survived my ordeal with paralysis and healed perfectly in a few months. This experience was a wake-up call that taught me to stop stressing so much, appreciate life, and live it to the fullest. To do that, I slowed way down and learned what a gift it is to live in the moment, open to whatever life brings.
Like any major challenge, the experience showed me how strong I can be. This helped me reduce general fears of what might happen in the future.
It was a great reminder that even horrible situations are only temporary, and since I can learn so much from them, it’s better to look for the lessons than to focus on how bad things seem.
Life can’t always be just the way we want it. But if we go with the flow and work with each situation as it is, we will often be surprised that things turn out better than we wanted.
A balanced life that is far less stressful makes everything more enjoyable.
Balancing woman image via Shutterstock