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6 Surprising (and Simple) Ways to Combat Stress Today

quick, straightforward approaches that anyone can use to get immediate stress relief.

Get a hit of calm chemistry

You tell yourself you should meditate, exercise daily and get more sleep. And you know it will help with stress.

But it won’t help you right at that moment when you notice your stress levels approaching high tide.

Thankfully there are many ways to stem the tide of stress in your day—quick, straightforward approaches.

Here are six sound, perhaps surprising manoeuvres for you to combat stress today:

1. Rise to a physical challenge.

Stress fuels worry and overthinking, which in turn worsens stress, which then worsens your negative thinking, and so on.

Stand up and balance on one leg. If that’s too easy, try it with your eyes closed.

This effective trick gets you out of your head and into your body. It deflects your focus away from your negative thought loops to meet the physical challenge. It will sharpen your concentration too.

2. Dose up on bonding.

The bonding hormone Oxytocin eases stress.

Get a morning hit of calm chemistry by hugging or kissing any or all available household members, including pets. Even imagining a hug with a loved-one can have the desired outcome.

Simple altruism may be more appropriate outside the home. Help out a colleague or a stranger in the street for an alternative positive effect.

3. Use some Mindfulness magic.

Stress activates survival mode in your brain and body, and it feeds on itself, ramping up and up.

Overpower your internal panic merchant with a basic Mindful activity: choose any mundane task that presents itself and pay close attention to every moment.

Feel the weight of the kettle in your hand, watch the water colour with tea and the steam rise. Notice the pang in your chest that wants you to hurry up, but choose not to react. See your tea-making ritual through with full mindful focus.

Your steady concerted effort to engage your senses, to observe yourself and your momentary activity, will wrestle mind and body back to a calmer state.

4. Try method acting.

Who would you prefer to feel like right now? A friend or character who exudes calm, confidence and control? Or perhaps you can recollect a time when you yourself possessed such qualities.

Act the way you wish to feel.

You know that experience where a picture, memory or song evokes a sudden powerful change in the way you feel? This is the power you’re harnessing, except instead of waiting for an external stimulus to trigger you, you’re taking the lead.

Call on your inner thespian, tap your recall and feel the difference that you want.

This method is a potent stress salve worth practicing.

5. Really connect in real time

On a day that hurtles along, thrashing you about in its wake, connection is an anchor.

Make a point of making eye contact whenever the opportunity arises. Notice that time slows just a little when you do. For double points, smile. Even if you don’t feel like it, chances are that the smile you get in return, will make you feel like it.

Instead of letting that call from a liked or loved one go to voicemail (because you think you don’t have time), answer it. Suspend your stress for a moment and listen. Listen and respond. Again time will slow, if you let it.

Once you master this intentional contact and experience it’s anchoring effect, make a habit of connecting with someone on your busiest, most pressured days. These real, real-time encounters can stop you from getting washed away with the stress current.

6. Change Channels

Stress gives you a one-track mind, making everything look like catastrophe. To regain a balanced perspective and see beyond the circumstances presently plaguing you, change channels.

Pause your high-pressure programming and opt for a brief interlude of artistic expression instead. Don’t panic – no skill or inspiration required, and anything goes. Sing your favourite song, in your head if you must. Play music and dance, inwardly if you must. Colour in your to-do list or decorate it with doodles.

Even a brief, barely-perceptible creative burst will release tension and coax relaxation.

Each of these powerful tricks works in a similar way. Each one acts as a circuit breaker that can halt your stress reactions and even counter them. They activate non-stress brain circuitry or chemistry. Make a little time and find the will, and any of them will help to turn the tide of stress.

Which will you use today?

The Simple, Surprising Mood Booster A Stranger Taught Me

The Simple, Surprising Mood Booster A Stranger Taught Me

“Shared Mindful Moments—find them anytime, any place”

His name was Karl—it said so on his a name badge. He was heavyset and middle-aged, unremarkable at first glance.

But then he smiled. He looked right at me and smiled. And his eyes twinkled.

It was disarming. It jolted me out of the caught-up world of my own head. I couldn’t help but to look back and return a smile.Continue Reading

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who can’t Stand Positive Thinking

By Author Oliver Burkeman

Have you ever noticed that when you are told to cheer up it makes your bad mood worse?

Likewise don’t you find perpetually upbeat people annoying?

Bad moods are normal, with or without rational explanation. And when we permit and forgive ourselves our bad mood — even better, when someone else acknowledges our upset, and is understanding — we feel better.

There is something wrong if a person appears always happy. I think we know this intuitively and are wary of an over abundance of positivity.

Yet we do tend to strive to be happy or happier. We want to know how to find happiness or more of it.

The dark side of happiness

Beware.

Get caught up in an endless pursuit of happiness and you are sure to suffer as a consequence.

Chasing happiness goes hand in hand with fleeing anything that looks like unhappiness: any thoughts, feelings and experiences perceived to be incompatible with happiness.

Avoiding “negativity” in others, in yourself and in your life is detrimental to say the least. In my work as a therapist I see the consequences of this avoidance take shape as depression, anxiety, addiction.

I touched on this when I wrote a post called: The False Promise of Positive Thinking. In it I recall many years ago when two young men contacted me about counselling within the same week. They had both been “dumped” by their girlfriends. I was disturbed to discover that both had begun taking antidepressants, despite experiencing the distress that any healthy person would experience with loss.

What a worry. How did we wind up seeking medication for a normal experience of hurt, accompanying a normal, surely unavoidable, life experience?

The antidote

Despite the claims, the wealth and mass followings of positive thinking self-help gurus, there is of course no magic bullet, no certain path to happiness.

Thankfully, however, there is: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, by Oliver Burkeman.

Author and writer for The Guardian, Burkeman, through his extensive research and self-experimentation proves himself as a worthy authority on happiness, nothing like the happiness gurus he pokes fun at. He explores and offers insights that really can help you to understand better the pathways to happier living.

The interview

Oliver agreed to an interview with me and generously answered all my questions about the book. I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion. Here are a few key points:

  • He explains how he’d begun to notice during the course of his research and writing that the “positive-thinking” type approaches didn’t work for him and weren’t backed by research, and that the opposite was true for the approaches that were about getting friendlier with negative feelings and experiencing. This noticing was what drove him to embark on the book.
  • He confesses that the book was also a personal quest, under the cover of journalism (and I admitted that this reminded me of how therapists embark on their own therapy under the cover of it being part of their training).
  • He speaks of learning of the powerful notion that distress arises from our beliefs about experiences, and that there is value in considering what is the worst that can happen, rather than trying to convince ourselves that all will be good.
  • We grapple with the seeming paradox that those living with greater material wealth and relative safety experience greater struggles with happiness, compounded by feeling bad about feeling bad.
  • He speaks too of another approach having a powerful effect on him — the approach to life which embraces the celebration and confrontation of death, adding that he himself is still working on this one.

Do listen to, enjoy and share the interview. And add: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking to your holiday reading list. Your hunches and scepticism about positive thinking will be confirmed, you’ll have a good laugh, and be challenged to value the negative path to happiness.

Lessons from a Master of Change — A Conversation with Zen Habits’ Leo Babauta

Leo Babauta's new book Mastering the Art of Change

Zen Habits blogger and author Leo Babauta has written a new book: Zen Habits — Mastering the Art of Change. In his usual minimalist, unpushy tone he suggests it’s “ about the nature of change and finding peace and contentment in life”.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Leo about his forthcoming book, about his own experiences of significant life change, and lessons from helping others.

Click below to listen and enjoy!

The Mindset Shift You Need—To Feel Better and Thrive

There is a hidden ingredient in wellbeing.

Obtain it, toss it into your life’s mix and you will feel better.

Research shows that with it, you will experience less depression and anxiety. You will be more resilient and at less risk of suffering the ill effects of stress.

I admit however, that I rarely speak of it directly and openly because my own prejudice tells me it sounds too warm and fuzzy to be taken seriously.Continue Reading