Tag Archives: stress

Under Pressure

This morning, I travelled to Dublin for a seminar which was cancelled. I arrived home with a free day to spare. It occurred to me that I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t set aside much time for fun and relaxation. I’ve been occupied with work, courses and going to the gym. And even when I have a couple of hours in the evening, I haven’t been able to sit still long enough to watch a movie or even a television programme.

It’s good for our ego when we’re busy. Society is so obsessed with doing doing doing. Laziness is frowned upon. One must constantly be striving, improving, achieving and accomplishing. People love to tell us about their hectic schedules and full timetables. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of nonaction once in a while. In fact, the Chinese insist upon it as part of their medicine. Resting, relaxing and doing things we enjoy is all part of boosting our Yin. In everyday language, it’s called having a work-play-rest balance.

We all know how it is when we have too much on. We become cranky and overwhelmed. Little things get to us. We’re irritable and exhausted. Everything takes more of an effort. And when we do take a break, it’s extremely difficult to switch off and unwind. That’s why holidays are vital as it can take a while before the body and mind fully relax. It’s also important to set aside some time to be quiet and alone on a regular basis. Perhaps in the countryside or by the sea. And away from your phone and internet.

This week, the importance of self-care has become very apparent to me. If we don’t look after ourselves, how can we hope to be of any use to anybody else? It’s like when the air hostess advises us, in case of emergency, to apply our own oxygen masks before attending to young children. Otherwise, nobody would survive. This is not being selfish. This is being smart.

Being nice to yourself comes with extraordinary health benefits. So this afternoon, I’m going to light my stove and curl up in a big blanket with a mug of tea and a couple of episodes of Modern Family.

For more on boosting Yin energy, read here.

pinterest.com

pinterest.com

The Sound of Silence

On January 31st, I made a list of goals for February. One of those goals was to sit in silence for five minutes first thing every morning. Since before Christmas, I’ve been emphasising the importance of silence to my Positive Living group. However, even I hadn’t managed to set aside just five minutes each day.

For the last nine days before I get out of bed, I’ve been giving gratitude for about five things in my life. This instantly brings me joy. Then I wash my face and, if my body feels the need, I do a bit of yoga. Next, I move into the living room and sit in silence for about five minutes. I don’t switch on my phone until I have completed this ritual. This really centres me for the day ahead. And if I feel unsettled in the evening, I give myself time to sit in silence and observe what is going on for me. This allows me to get in touch with my body and the subtle messages it’s giving me. Often, I feel compelled to write afterwards or I get an idea for a class or a solution to a problem I’ve been mulling over. Other times, I simply enjoy the space and quiet I’m giving myself. I feel an expansion and a blurring of all those things I used to think were so important. There is freedom and peace and connection in these moments.

Last night, I did a meditation with someone who said: “Your mind is just another organ. You can’t stop it from thinking. Just like you can’t stop yourself from breathing. The trick is to focus on the breath. Allow the thoughts. Do nothing. Try nothing. Just observe.” We sat in silence, focussing on the breath for at least 15 minutes. The time flew. And I felt totally relaxed. When I came home, I didn’t open the laptop straight away as I usually would because I just didn’t need the noise.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to improve health and mental wellbeing. It lowers blood pressure and boosts the mood and immune system. When we are stressed, our breathing speeds up and we find it difficult to take a deep, satisfying breath. Meditation helps us to unwind. When we relax, our breathing slows down. This benefits the heart and blood flow to the organs, which in turn allows for healing to take place.

When we meditate mindfully, the idea is not to change anything. We don’t attempt to slow the breath or change or banish the thoughts. It’s all about awareness. Observe the breath. Bring awareness to the sensations in the body. Allow the thoughts to occur. And when we don’t attach to the thoughts or bodily sensations, they will move on like clouds in the sky.

Many people who are trying to change their lives for the better come to the realisation that happiness is a choice and that their negative thinking is impacting their lives. Therefore, they try to change their thoughts. While I believe that it is beneficial to introduce gratitude for all the good things in our lives and focus on that which brings us joy rather than pain, I also feel that it is counterproductive when we begin stressing over the negative thoughts we are having. Awareness is key. Don’t judge your thoughts or deny the parts of you that you perceive to be “bad”. Simply observe, let go and focus on the breath…

"You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour." Old Zen saying

“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Old Zen saying

Image: bendalayoga.com

For more on meditation, check out: https://betterthansurviving.me/2012/03/04/time-takes-from-the-essence/

You’ve got some nerve!

To a certain extent, nerves are a good thing. They push you to prepare yourself for an impending event. However, when the nerves begin to negatively affect you on a physical and mental level, you need to make a change.

Worry and stress can have extremely detrimental effects on a person. Your breathing becomes more shallow, your insides feel like they’re in a heavy-duty liquidiser, and the looming event flashes before you at random intervals, dragging with it an inescapable blast of panic. Negative thinking and forecasting skip alongside the toxic nerves. You imagine every possible worst case scenario. You’re filled with an uncomfortable sense of heat. Your heart beats rapidly like the tapping of storm-chased raindrops against the window pane. Your chest constricts. Sleep evades you.

Worry grabs hold of your windpipe and threatens to strangle you. This scarily strong demon is extremely difficult to shake off. For the most part, nerves are useless and destructive. I say “for the most part” because we all need a certain amount of nerves to get us through situations that require us to perform.

This week, I was asked to give a talk to a group of sixth year boys. Public speaking. Acting confident and knowledgeable. Flashbacks of being called Tits Galore by teenage lads the moment I began to mature. The idea of it terrified me. However, the fact that I agreed to do it demonstrates the recent rise in my confidence. I realise that I am no longer a self-conscious, super-sensitive teen. I don’t care what the fellas in the class think of me. I just want to pass on some interesting information to them. And if I relax, it could even be an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.

Having said that, I still suffered a small dose of nerves, which is normal. Luckily, these pesky flutters are no longer debilitating. I recognise and acknowledge them and use them to my advantage. If I felt no nerves at all, I wouldn’t have read up on the topic or organised myself for the class. I was also perfectly aware that the run-up to the day would be more difficult than the actual event. So, any time I felt a sharp pang of anxiety, I immediately batted it away before it dug its dirty claws in.

After all that, on the morning of the talk, I got a call to inform me that the class had to be postponed. I felt a mixture of disappointment, relief and dread. Part of me just wanted to get it over with, which proves that the anticipation of the imagined scenario bothered me more than the event itself.

Luckily, I hadn’t stayed up the previous night fretting as it would have been a total waste of time and energy. Even if it had gone ahead, excessive anxiety about it would still be pointless. Nervousness sickens you, and robs you of your appetite, peace and enjoyment.

Now, I have another week to wait. It is in my hands as to how best to proceed. I can stress about it for another seven days. Or I can not. Simple as that.

What to do when the nerves are getting on your nerves:

  1. Bludgeon the anxiety the moment it threatens to attack.
  2. Prepare adequately for the upcoming event.
  3. Be confident- repeat affirmations, play your favourite songs, dress up nice, talk to people who respect and believe in you.
  4. Breathe.
  5. Recognise how talented and intelligent you are and acknowledge all you have to offer the world.
  6. I know it’s scary but head straight for the eye of the storm. In other words, just do it. You will be relieved and proud of yourself afterwards and your confidence will soar. And events you once stressed about will feel like a light summer breeze in comparison.

Photos:

photo_doc-93DDE20E82C52910C12572C1007F7915.html

shawnabrooks.wordpress.com

green.myninjaplease.com

Dying at the hands of Yes

It’s a pretty dramatic title but every time you say “yes” to doing something you don’t want to do, you’re killing off a part of yourself. You’re telling yourself that you’re not important, that you won’t listen to your wants and needs, and that you don’t value your own opinion.

Take note of how many times you’re asked to do things over the course of one day. It’s mind-boggling. Please come to my party. Will you do my fake tan for me? Could you collect me from the airport? I need you to work late tonight. Would you mind covering my shift on Saturday? Could you baby sit on Friday night? Would you like to go to London this weekend? Do you wanna go for coffee/lunch/dinner/drinks???? You’d gladly do most of these things because you want to help/be nice/have fun. But you simply cannot do all of them, unless you have endless reserves of time, money, energy, and patience.

You must train yourself to pick and choose what you say “yes” to. And, even more importantly, learn how to say “no”. At first, this will be alien to you, so you may have to employ the white lie tactic. You’ll worry that your friends and family will hate or disown you. Realistically, they probably won’t like the new you very much. They certainly won’t recognise this strange creature who puts herself first. Who does she think she is?! But they’ll soon get used to the fact that you have a life and that you’re not willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice.

Learning to say “no” (without feeling guilty) will soon start coming naturally to you because you respect yourself and value your health and happiness. And you’ll find that the less you do of the things you “should”, and the more you do of the things you actually want to, the more present you’ll be and the more you’ll enjoy things. And when you decide to help out your nearest and dearest, you’ll be doing it because you want to, and not just out of guilt. Your loved ones will sense a change in you. You’ll be less tired and cranky, your eyes will sparkle, and you’ll laugh more. As a result, people will appreciate your company even more.

Peer pressure is one of the darker sides of not being able to say “no”. Many’s the teenager who starts smoking, drinking, taking drugs, mitching off school, and even bullying other kids because of peer pressure, and because they feel they have to say “yes” to be accepted.

I had the awful habit of saying “yes” to everyone and everything. I wanted to be liked, to be nice, to be cool, and I had (and still do, to a certain extent) the reckless (now more carefree) mentality of Ah sure, why not?! This was particularly evident in my interactions with the opposite sex. I agreed to dates with guys I wasn’t sure I fancied. And things went further than I was ready for on more than one occasion.

Once, I was so drunk that I kissed a guy, then spent the rest of the night hugging the toilet bowl. The persistent fella managed to obtain my phone number from a mutual friend and proceeded to ask me out the following day. I could hardly remember what he looked like and I didn’t even know if I liked him, but I felt bad for ditching him. So I agreed to a date. And then to another and another and another. A few months later, I’d convinced myself that I liked him, even though he was bitter and negative and we fought constantly. Thankfully, it didn’t work out.

Now, I only say “yes” to the things I think I’d enjoy, or to the things I have the energy for. I do what feels right for me. Last summer, I thought long and hard about the type of break I wanted. I decided that a relaxing sun holiday in my father’s homeland, with my mother and my sister, was just what I needed.

Antiparos, Greece

Read on for some strategies for getting out of the clutches of Yes:

1) Ask yourself some serious questions

If you find yourself agreeing to help your second cousin twice removed move house, even though you’d packed the car for a trip to the sea-side, and you haven’t seen the woman in 15 years, and she has the largest couch ever known to man, and you put your back out just last week, you need to ask yourself why you’re such a “yes man”. Is it because you desperately need everyone to like you? Is being seen to be nice that important? Are you afraid of becoming a bad person? If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, your self-esteem is need of a serious makeover.

2) Let go

If you’re the one who can always be counted upon to say “yes” to every request, plea, and invitation, you’re pretty much guaranteed pain and discomfort. You may observe a tight ball forming in your middle, which is the hurt and disappointment, anger and resentment that’s been building up over the years. You may not even be aware of this but you’re furious that your friends and family are constantly making demands on your time and energy. I’m always running rings around myself for them. And the one time I ask for something, they can’t even bother themselves to help me! They are so selfish! If this sounds familiar, you’ve been a “yes man” for way too long. Just because you don’t think enough of yourself to say “no” once in a while, doesn’t mean that everyone else is such a doormat. Luckily for them. We usually get angriest at people for the behaviour that’s most unlike our own. I’d never act that way! Surprisingly, this could be the behaviour you’re most resisting in yourself. You’d probably love to be able to tell your second cousin twice removed to go eff herself. And you can. In slightly more PC terms. And maybe take some time to chill out first. Acupuncture is great for relieving stress and releasing negative emotions. Alternatively, get a massage. Take a bath. Have a good, long sleep. Relax and let go…

3) Listen to your body

You’ve been asked on a wild girls’ night out. You’re ridiculously hung over and you have to finish a 10,000 word thesis in the morning. But it’s the only night Steph can get a baby sitter and Rebecca needs some cheering up after the break-up and Lorna’s desperate to meet a man. You have to go out! There will always be a million and three excuses as to why you simply have to do something. So, you usually suck it up and say “yes”, even though your body’s crying with exhaustion. Listen to it before you collapse. That should be good enough reason to say “no”.

4) Listen to your gut

Every answer you need to know is within yourself. So, don’t be afraid to ask. And don’t forget to listen. The moment I realised I had put my “yes” days behind me was a few months after graduation when I received an important email from my supervisor. He was wondering if I’d be interested in trying to get my dissertation published as a journal article. He added that it would require more research. I was honoured to have been asked. My work was obviously pretty good. I drooled at the potential prestige and was about to type “yes” when I paused and really thought about it. I hadn’t even been passionate about the subject matter. I had just done it because it had to be done and was relieved when it was all over. Did I really want to do more work on it? The answer was “no”. If I’d listened to my initial gut reaction, I would have immediately known that this definitely wasn’t for me. I struggled momentarily with what others would think. She’s some eejit passing up an opportunity like this! But I ignored my doubts and listened to my gut, and for the first time in my life, I didn’t automatically say “yes”. I was proud of myself.

5) Ban “yes” from your vocabulary for a while

If you say “yes” to absolutely everything, you’re going to get into some serious trouble. In the film Yes Man [SPOILER ALERT], Carl went from living a lack lustre life to becoming a “yes man”. Saying “yes” all the time pushed Carl to learn Korean, get promoted, and fall in love with a quirky musician. He was also robbed, arrested, and beat up. Great plot for a movie but dangerous in real life.

Inspired by Jim Carrey’s shenanigans, I toyed with the idea of saying “yes” to everything for an entire week. That night, I went to the local pub. After saying “yes” to several pints, shots of tequila, and cigarettes (even though I’d quit), a creepy older man, who’d been harassing me for the past two years, asked me to go home with him. I realised that saying “yes” to absolutely everything wasn’t exactly hilarious.

So, when someone asks if you want another drink, which would make it your seventh of the night, and you know if you drink it, you won’t remember the lock-in or the table-dancing or the messy journey home, and you’ll probably wake up some time in the late afternoon, still wearing your stilettos, just say “NO”.

6) What do you want?

Would you like to go for a two-hour walk with your extremely draining neighbour or would you rather take a power nap? Do you want to join the college gang on another trip to Ayia Napa or would you really like to save up for a flight to New Orleans or India? Are you just saying “yes” because it never occurred to you to suggest something of your own? Maybe you’ve been following others for so long that you don’t even know what you enjoy. Now is the time to start exploring your own tastes in food, music, and movies. It’s exciting to finally be able to explore and develop your own personality and passions.

Since I’ve started getting to know myself better, I’ve come to the gleeful conclusion that I like red wine, The Coronas, old man pubs and lemon cupcakes…

theanniescupcakes.com

The unexpected: balding eyeballs and sheep poo

This was taken before...

Everything finally seems to be in order. You’re feeling great, you’ve discovered your passions, and found your niche in life. You’re enjoying yourself and living in the now. You’re perfectly content with your partner or your single status, and you’re more at ease with life and they way you live it.

You’re moving along at a steady, comfortable pace when suddenly, some unforeseen circumstance throws a pothole in your path and gives you a serious jolt. And everything you’ve learned and implemented whooshes out the door. You instantly morph back into that stressed out, negative, completely un-zen like creature you’d been trying so desperately to shake off.

The unexpected can surprise you in any form- a death, a job loss, a life-threatening illness. Even the less serious but equally unexpected things can shake you to your core.

I was finally feeling good about myself. I had let go of control and was starting to enjoy life and love myself. Until one day recently, as I cleaned my flat, I managed to get bleach in my eye (I never claimed to be the sharpest tool in the shed). And just like that, half my eye lashes vanished. I felt as though I’d lost my femininity and charm. I might as well give up on finding a man, I thought dismally. I’d pass by the mirror and burst into tears at the sight of my freakishly bald eye.

“I can hardly notice when you wear eye liner,”  a close friend tried to mollify me.

“But I can’t wear eye liner all the time. What if I want to have a shower with someone?” I blubbered.

“You don’t even have a boyfriend.”

Yeah, thanks for that. After a couple of days of feeling sorry for myself, I decided that this must have happened to teach me a lesson. There was still clearly a certain amount of shallowness lurking within me. I still had a terrible time allowing others to see my imperfections. I still believed I had to look good to be liked, loved, and wanted. I thought I had become more enlightened but I still had a way to go. I promised to never again complain about my short, straight lashes. I thanked my disappearing lashes for teaching me more about myself. And I felt grateful for what I had and also for what I didn’t have (alopecia or cancer, for example).

With every lesson learned, the universe will test you. Which brings me to today. I had a couple of hours off before work, so I borrowed my aunt’s car and drove out to the plains of the Curragh. I felt good about how I was dealing with things and interacting with life. I marvelled at the blue blue sky, lifted my face to the sun, observed the grazing sheep, photographed the trees, and lost myself in the music pounding from my iPod. Until I realised I’d lost the key to my aunt’s car.

I flew straight from the present moment into a tornado of panic, worry, self-flagellation, and an endless string of curse words. I was propelled into a near future where I was walking the streets, freezing and starving and in desperate need of a shower. I no longer noticed the sun, sky, trees or sheep. And my music annoyed me so much that I had to switch it off.

All I had on me was a camera, an iPod, and a hankie. And the Curragh was unusually devoid of people. My options were to wave my hankie in the air, while taking multiple photographs with the flash on, and blasting The Beatles’ “Help” on full volume. Or I could retrace my steps as best as I could remember.

Unfortunately, I was searching for a single black key that happened to look very much like the sheep droppings that carpeted the vast plains of the Curragh. I eventually came across a chap in army attire, who told me he wasn’t allowed carry a mobile phone. I just had to laugh.

So, armed with my sense of humour, the seeds of a lesson that had to be watered, and the makings of a relatively humorous and thought-provoking blog post, I made my way back to Newbridge town. My aunt wasn’t at home so I called into her neighbour, a woman I had done a course with about a year ago. What was it her name was? Maureen? Unexpectedly, a strange man answered the door. He looked red-faced and hostile. I was thrown.

“Is Maureen there?”

“Maureen who?”

“That might not even be her name. I took the car. It’s not mine. The key’s in the Curragh. There’s so much sheep poo…” I babbled.

“Who are you looking for?” Silence. “Do you have her name? What’s her number?” Eh… “What do you want?” Oh God! “Do you want to use my phone to call this Maureen character?”

“Yes!” I finally managed to splutter.

“Okay, come in. My wife Pauline will be down in a minute.”

“Pauline!” I shrieked. “That’s her name! I’m Sharon,” I muttered, relieved that something was starting to make sense.

With that, Pauline sauntered in.

“Siobhán!” she called me. And her husband snorted.

And so, after telling my aunt the embarrassing news, I sat back with a cup of tea and a choccie biccie and listened to this couple’s tales of travel in South America. When my aunt returned and we rescued her car with the spare key, I enjoyed a long, hot shower.

The car key is still missing but I’ve gained some insight as to how I function. I’m happy with myself and with life so long as it’s running smoothly. It’s easy to be fully aware and appreciative of the present moment when everything is going the way you want. But when life happens, when you come across an unexpected fork in your journey, it is then that you need to take a moment to be still before deciding which route to take. The unexpected is what we call life. According to John Lennon:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

So, the next time a  volcanic ash cloud or snow storm disrupts your travel plans, a shocking event occurs, or you receive some bad news, you miss the bus, your friend cancels on you last-minute, your eye lashes fall out, or you lose your aunt’s car key in a sea of sheep poo, here’s what to do:

  1. Release control
  2. Go with the flow
  3. Believe that everything happens for a reason
  4. Observe what unfolds instead
  5. Unleash your sense of humour
  6. Accept the situation
  7. Check out what lesson you’ve been sent
  8. Learn from it
  9. Move on