It’s the time of year when cheery seasonal songs remind us that “It’s the most wonderful time of year” and that it’s time to “Deck the hall with boughs of holly.”
I don’t know about you, but it hardly seems that the world is wonderful right now or that the majority of people are in a celebratory mood. It seems to me that many people are burdened with sorrow and stress due to global turmoil and uncertainty.
But the goal of this email is not to remind you of the darkness, but to bring you a bit of calm and reassurance. I’m writing to tell you that with a little practice and a bit of patience, each one of us can bring peace into our hearts and minds, even in the midst of darkness and chaos, and we
can even share this peace with others.
We are wired to survive
But first, let’s talk about why we’re feeling so distressed. Anything real or perceived that threatens our survival is menacing to our inner-peace. Unfortunately, the body doesn’t discriminate between short-lived stress and extreme stress. Stress switches on the survival brain and swiftly takes us to flight, fight, or freeze mode unless we know how to interrupt the cycle.
An extreme stress response is crucial if we wake up in the middle of the night in a burning house, but not so much if we’re just stressed about a looming deadline at work or an important meeting with a supervisor. Living like our house is on fire takes a serious toll on relationships and our well-being.
An over-the-top stress response robs us of our inner-peace and distances us from creativity, empathy, light-heartedness, and presence when we need it most.
But the good news is that you have more influence over your inner-peace than you may think, even when you’re in the midst of an all-out stress storm. The key is to interrupt hyperactivation of the survival brain to avoid sending shock waves through the nervous system. By doing so, you shield your inner-peace and, over time, weaken your own reaction to stress and stressful moments.
3 ways peace can start with you
You can’t stress your way out of stress. The goal is to self-regulate and get back on course to well-being. It’s important to understand that it’s not all in your head; it’s in your body, too.
1. Get curious not furious:
You can guide yourself back to a state of calm with somatic awareness. Somatic awareness involves directing your attention inward to engage the relationship between your mind, body, brain, and behavior.
The next time you’re feeling triggered by someone in your entourage, get curious and ask yourself how you know you’re feeling upset. Is your heart beating out of your chest? Are you literally hot under the collar? This is your body throwing up red flags. Your ability to pay attention to these cues is the first step out of the stress zone and back into calm.
2. Evaluate the threat:
In a triggered state, tunnel vision takes over. This is part of your primal protective wiring. Is the person in front of you, the one pushing your buttons, really a threat to your safety or merely a thorn in your side?
You need to really think deeply on this, because your brain could be confusing past stress with today’s stress. Your stress brain has no awareness of time. As far as your stress brain is concerned, the stress of today and the stress of yesterday are the same. The person causing you angst today is just a different version of the person(s) who caused you angst last week, last year, or last decade.
The next time you feel angry or sad because of something someone said or did to you, evaluate the threat. Again, get curious and ask yourself what else might be at play. Are you letting something from the past make you feel stressed today? Hopefully, the awareness that comes with evaluating the threat will help you choose the best route back to peace.
3. Use seeing and sensing to slow things down:
Simple acts of seeing and sensing can bring you back to the present and offer relief to your body-mind system. These simple acts pull your stress brain back to the present and help you respond in the most effective manner (without drama and too much emotion).
When your stress brain is activated, your entire body-mind system speeds up. Watch someone moving or talking a mile-a-minute and you can bet their brain is too. Use seeing and sensing to slow down your entire system. Look around you and let your eyes fall upon something pleasing. Maybe the view out your window? A beautiful painting hanging on the wall? The friendly face of a colleague or friend? Next, notice what’s happening in your body. Once you remind yourself that you are safe, that you are loved, those distorted, fear-induced feelings and thoughts should diminish and even disappear.
By seeing and sensing safety, you bring yourself back to a place of relative peace and well-being.
These three tactics are just the beginning of how somatic awareness can help to create more peace–for you and for the world. Survival may be the primal brain’s first order of business, but you don’t have to let the primal brain rule your life. Your stress response is as unique to you as your fingerprint. Practice with small stressors, then work your way up to bigger ones. See how long you can maintain peace and then be sure to share it with others.
I wish you a very peaceful holiday season and a joyful new year.