“Every day brings a choice: to practice stress or to practice peace.” ~Joan Borysenko
Every day I meet with people who are stressed and want things to be different. I also encounter people who are so distressed they’ve accepted suffering’s dominion over their life. Almost all, however, are interested in the concept of change.
Still, taking small, conscious steps toward a healthier emotional, mental, and physical life can sometimes seem overwhelming. More people have told me “I’m so busy—I can’t fit one more thing into my day!” than not. But what’s the alternative? It’s being just happy enough to be miserable.
Take it from me. Early in my career, I decided to take a position with a new for-profit, up-and-coming business, determined to climb the professional ladder quickly. Immediately I moved my family from our safe, rural life to fast-paced, competitive Washington, DC.
I became obsessed with work, committed, and my boss recognized my energy level and capacity to manage by awarding me with, of course, more work.
At the time, I took this as a compliment; I saw it as evidence that I was achieving a goal. I did not recognize what my work was extracting from me physically, emotionally, and mentally until, ironically, I took a long overdue vacation.
Walking out to the pool, my wife mentioned that we had forgotten the suntan lotion. Offering to retrieve it, I suddenly began to feel dizzy as I approached the lobby, anxious waiting for the elevator.
I was sweating in the air-conditioning, and there was a sense of impending doom as I approached our room. I was afraid to walk inside, fearful there might be a blinking red light on my phone indicating a message from my boss about work.
Seeing no red light, I was able to breathe again and regain my balance. But the truth was clear: The red light was a metaphor. If I didn’t begin caring for myself, soon enough I would be in a van with red lights whirling all around me.
I was addicted to stress. Many of us are—we just don’t understand that reality until it T-bones us on the one day we’re trying to relax.
To gain control of my life, I had to take small, conscious steps to restore and maintain my physical, emotional, and mental well-being. I had to learn not just how to renew myself when I was in the “red zone,” but every day to prevent myself from ever reaching it again.
Recent studies indicate that most people unconsciously waste approximately 2-3 hours per day, but mindfully devoting a faction of this time to de-stressing and personal revitalization is easier than you might think.
It was my experience and the experience of others that led me to develop a set of daily rituals that take time but also give time—to restore the things that matter most in life.
Begin with the word RENEWAL.
There is one ritual I institute for each letter, and each is backed by extensive scientific and psychological research demonstrating its efficacy. The beauty of this is you can begin—and will see positive results—by incorporating just one into your schedule, with the goal of eventually incorporating all into the rhythm of your everyday life.
I suggest beginning with one and committing to it for one week before adding another. By doing so, you will gradually build a daily practice that will lower your stress and in turn boost your mental, physical, and emotional vitality.
R: Take a few minutes each day to reflect.
Turn off all electronic gear and take yourself off the grid. Sit quietly without any interruptions and let your mind unwind. Don’t become attached to any of your thoughts; just let them come and go.
E: We hear this one a lot—for a reason. Exercise every day.
A fitness center isn’t necessary, though. Take a walk during lunch or take the stairs instead of the elevator. This is not a weight reduction and muscle building routine; it’s about getting oxygen into your body and brain.
N: Make nutritious choices.
Begin small if you must—a piece of fruit instead of a cookie, or unsalted almonds instead of chips. You’ll feel good about your decisions, and your body will too.
E: Engage with someone you care about every day.
This is best done face-to-face, but a phone call will suffice. As you’re conversing, consider how much this person means to you. Your goal is to feel the love.
W: Take time to experience some wackiness in your day.
Find something that will give you a round of laughter—the more the better. Make it your mission to see the humor in the day-to-day goings-on of your life.
A: Find a moment for appreciation, too.
Every day, make note of the people, places, and things for which you are grateful. Each time you do this, you stimulate the production of a hormone called oxytocin, which has a neutralizing effect on the stress hormone cortisol designed to keep you hyper-vigilant (also anxious and distracted). So breathe, and give thanks.
L: Let go.
The simplest and yet most difficult ritual, and also one of the most important. We collect so much negativity from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep: anger, regrets, disappointments, and insults real and imagined. Never stop making it your goal to release grievances, forgive, forget, and move forward.
Only through conscious step-by-step actions can we renew our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual being and prevent stress from stealing our vitality and diminishing the gifts we have to give to the world.
Don’t by seduced by the delusion that being over busy is a measure of your worth and importance because, in reality, it is a path to regrets.
Photo by John Loo