Unfortunately it sometimes feels like life gets the better of us. There’s just too much to do, not enough time and we don’t seem to be getting any closer to our goals. But the thing is, there’s no need to wait until the weekend, or your next Christmas break to feel better. Here are some things you can do right now to let go of stress, plus find the renewed motivation to keep going!
Breath is the most fundamental expression of life force. As the Dalai Lama once said, it’s also the most obvious and natural bridge between the visible and invisible worlds. Remember that in any circumstances, the ability to create peace is available to you – simply by focusing your awareness on your breath.
Try taking a few slow and focused inhalations; breathing into stillness, and breathing out into spaciousness. Imagine that you’re inhaling life, vitality, joy, creativity and anything else you need in that moment. Exhale your tension, worries and fatigue. Feel your body release and start to let go. Observe how the breath starts to naturally lengthen and grow steady. Notice the growing pause at the end of each inhalation. Follow your exhalation breath to its final moment and observe it float away into emptiness. Notice the growing pause at the end of your exhalation and find solace in its peace.
Sounds too simple? Try it, you’ve got nothing to lose! You can do it anywhere, at any time, and the people around you don’t even have to know what you’re doing. Aim for at least five deep breaths and see if you feel differently. You might be surprised!
It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel like smiling at all, just hold your smile for a few minutes and notice what happens. Researchers from the University of Kansas have found that even fake smiles can help reduce stress. We usually smile when our mind sends the signal that something good is happening to us, but it works in reverse, too. Your smile sends a signal to your mind that everything is ok in your world and your stress starts to dissolve.
If this feels too forced for you, really make yourself smile! I’ve created a ‘things that make me laugh’ folder on my computer. It’s full of the hilarious videos and photos that never fail to make me smile or laugh. I highly recommend this practice; it’s a quick and perfect antidote to stress!
When you exercise your body releases endorphins, which reduce your perception of pain and trigger positive feelings in your body. Even if you don’t feel like you have a lot of time, try a quick yoga flow or going for a brisk walk.
A movement practice will allow you to feel centred in the world, and to reconnect with your body. In one sense, the whole of life is movement, and to have a space to practice movement with awareness is ideal.The practice you choose is way less important than choosing one that resonates with you on any given day. For example, if you’re feeling like you need to let off some steam, try going for a long walk! Experiment and notice what happens when you give yourself fully to each moment of exercise. Some other great activities for stress relief are swimming and Tai chi.
Sunshine makes the world seem brighter. It’s even better if you can go to a park or a beach nearby. Not surprisingly, science confirms that natural environment contributes to the feeling of happiness and the happiest locations, as found by one UK study, are marine and coastal areas.
If we allow it, nature always gives us perspective. Connecting with it daily, makes a great practice for grounding and removing stress. A study conducted found that a ninety-minute walk in nature decreased brain activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a space highly active when dwelling over negative thoughts.
You might not have ninety minutes, but any time in nature is beneficial. If possible, connect your bare feet to the earth when walking outside or sitting in the grass. Feel the heaviness of your soles and weight against the ground, and notice how mother earth always supports you.
While these are effective ways to reduce stress quickly, practicing them over time and making them your immediate go-to when stress arises, will definitely help you achieve a more sustained sense of balance.If you’re feeling inspired… Happy Buddha retreats offer exploration of more of these practices, such as yin yoga, music meditation and sound healing. Be sure to check out it out!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2014… but we’ve added to it!
Tatiana is a freelance writer and a mum of three living in Sydney. After a 10-years’ break, she has just returned to full-time work. She is still finding time for yoga, meditation and mindfulness, which is making a huge difference to her sanity and her enjoyment of life.