Title: How to be Calm in Your Heart
Life is Stress
I don’t know about you but the heavy traffic and crowded restaurants and crabby grocery shoppers have me at my limit. Yeah, we love the “season” too, it brings in the people and revenue…but please…go home already! Not really. Here’s another angle:
“Strive to be a non-anxious presence in an anxious system” my coach had said during a wilderness hike in the high mountains of California. “Families, corporate teams and community organizations often develop fear, turbulence and dysfunction when anxious and become less effective.” A “non-anxious presence” (coach, parent, manager, guide, therapist) can bring welcome clarity and resilience.
On retreat, I learned to calm my thoughts and relax my body using my breath awareness and exercises to release tension held in my body. The result was an immediate increase in mental focus and available energy. No experience since has more powerfully changed my view of helping others. Lowering and strengthening our basic “emotional set point” can bring calm and greater awareness during stress and experiences of high emotion, especially sorrow, frustration and anger.
The Lizard Brain
Being highly aware is a great habit. Constant “hyper-vigilance”, not so much. Some of the primitive parts of our brains, like the tiny, almond shaped amygdala, promote a constant state of readiness below our awareness. Like other animals, we are hard wired to maintain a state of alert, like a “force field” carried unconsciously using energy wastefully. Research has shown that it can elevate pulse and blood pressure, increase emotional sensitivity and cause pervasive worry, including excessive rumination over past events. No surprise that depression is so prevalent in our culture.
While these natural bodily reactions served us well when dinosaurs threatened, they’ve remained a vestigial, “out of whack early warning system” with nothing real to fear. Some people “medicate” this discomforting “uptight-ness” with alcohol, drugs and caffeine, even food…thereby shortening lives and reducing the quality of experience. We can manage anxiety naturally with guidance and practice. The benefits of regular, methodical slowing down and increasing our sensory perceptions are many and can bring about rapid feelings of strength, energy and enjoyment.
Peace is Every Step
Try it next time traffic grinds to a halt in front of you. With red brake lights as your cue: Relax your hands and shoulders. Breathe deeply. Be grateful for life. Notice the sky and trees. Remind yourself that this will soon pass. Go about your journey more mindfully. The late and great Albert Ellis of REBT Therapy fame suggested we take an approach called ULA, or “unconditional life acceptance”. Whatever happens needn’t bother me. (much)
The increased capacity for self-regulation of physical and emotional states I’ve gained from practicing a few basic disciplines like yoga and meditation has increased my strength, patience and my ability to listen. The awareness has shaped my life and professional practice profoundly. Our kinder, resilient, more generous “Buddha nature” lies within us. I think of it as our “higher power”. We can access this unique and life changing force with every breath and every step.
If you’d like to be stronger, less anxious, more focused and more in charge of your life, perhaps we can help. John Davis, LMHC is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in private practice in downtown Delray Beach. He can be reached at 561-213-8030…better yet, text him for an appointment!