This post is based on my speaking engagement format, so it will read a bit differently than other posts. There will be snippets of stories sprinkled throughout versus a central story with a related theme.
ANXIETY & STRESS
We Americans are an anxious bunch. We have societies, associations and institutes that study and create solutions for our levels of anxiety and stress. There is the American Institute of Stress, The Stress Management Society, The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), American Psychological Association, and Social Anxiety Association to name a few.
The statistics on anxiety and stress are staggering. According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older or 18% of U.S. population. Therefore, close to 20% of our adult population has an actual anxiety disorder such as PSTD, OCD, agoraphobia or depression.
Based on a 2014 study, the American Institute of Stress found:
- 44% of Americans feel more stressed now than they did 5 years ago
- 3 out of 4 doctors visits are due to stress-related illnesses
- 1 in 5 Americans experience extreme stress – shaking, heart palpitations, depression
For our children, a 2010 study of 1,100 families by American Psychological Association found that:
- 38% of kids (ages 8 – 17) surveyed have trouble falling asleep
- 33% have frequent headaches
- 31% have frequent stomachaches
These figures based on the 2010 study could actually be understated as the trend for our stress levels is going up not down. If almost ½ of the US population feels that our stress levels have increased in the last 5 years, we need to take a look at what is happening.
Taking a macro view and looking at the root of issues, there are three trends that may relate to our increased stress levels:
24/7 Fantastical News Cycle
The news goes on and on and on – always – 24/7. You can get news anytime of day and night and although that may not be a bad thing for most people, it is if you are one of those people who cannot put it into perspective. The news is not delivered in a calm, cheerful manner. It is not typically good news nor is it relevant in most cases. It is LOUD and disturbing and stimulating with BIG RED letters highlighting BREAKING NEWS with banners flashing across the bottom of the screen. The news is meant to create excitement and drama, so it is no surprise that it is stressful to so many.
Complete Disregard of Free & Family Time
When did it become the norm for our children’s sports teams to play teams that are 2+ hours away? When did it become acceptable to have games on Friday nights, Saturdays and Sundays? When did we give permission for coaches to schedule practices during the prime dinner hours?
Our children are over-scheduled and therefore, we are over-scheduled.
I can look out my back window and see many play structures that stand empty while parents are driving their children from one practice, game or dance lesson to another. I can drive down the street and not be concerned about a child running out to chase a ball. I can open all of my windows and hear nothing except the birds chirping.
How terribly sad.
Right now, I am looking into the backyard at our play structure and seeing it’s broken tower, cracked slide, and crooked slant- all beautiful signs of its overuse.
Call me crazy but I think children have more fun playing in their own backyard than sitting in a car for 2 hours to play in a soccer game for an hour. I know I am in the minority on this one. If my two children’s unflappable natures are any indication though, I’m good with that.
Technology & Social Media
Let’s look at the technological advances in communication and then let’s explore social media.
The advances in communication loosely followed this path:
Regular mail -> telegram -> telephone -> express mail -> fax -> email -> cellular telephone –> text messaging
These advances have made it easier, faster and more convenient to connect with others for work and play. This is both good and bad. The good is obvious and the bad perhaps less so. With all of these advances, we really cannot step away from our connections and therefore our responsibilities. Working hours have increased, expectations for response time have decreased, and our health and wellbeing is stuck somewhere in the middle.
Let’s roll in the social media connection platform. First there was My Space, which gave way to Facebook, then Twitter, then YouTube & Instagram, and now Snapchat. (I am only including the major players in each category.)
With social media, we have gained the ability to reach out to a significant number of people we may not usually connect with and gain a sense of the happenings of their lives. This is all great news, however, the speed and expectation of connection is creating a burden that is unsustainable. With Facebook, the life of the newsfeed is a few days at most, with Twitter, it’s only a few hours, and with Snapchat it’s 7 seconds. Being connected requires constant attention with the focus more on “Oh no, what am I missing?” then how great it is to reach out periodically to keep in touch with others.
We are just getting a glimpse of the price of staying technologically connected with everyone over time. It is looking like the stress and anxiety of making sure we are not left out is actually creating depression when we do feel left out. It seems to me that the very connections we are artificially spending more and more time to maintain are costing us our sense of connection with ourselves and the people most close to us.
In looking at the trends creating more stress in our lives, I have not included significant issues such as the economy, the war on terror, infectious disease, or life changing events. Each of these has the ability to increase our stress levels even more.
We need CALM. We need CALM badly. We need CALM more now than ever before. Our children need CALM. They need it NOW.
So how can we create CALM without adding more to our daily schedules? How can we begin to relax without learning complex techniques or changing our life styles?
Let’s look at 10 quick & easy tips on creating CALM that can fit into your back pocket. You can pick and choose the tips that speak to you and disregard the ones that do not. There will not be a test at the end or a contest to see who remembers the most. These tips are for you and only you, (well, perhaps your family too) and the tips will be right here if you want to refer back to them.
I am including a high-level list for you to highlight and print for a quick reference guide.
- Breath – 1, 3, 10
- Mantra – Calm/Patience
- One Moment Please
- Rescue Remedy
- Lost Time
- Unwind It
10 Quick & Easy Tips for CALM:
These 10 tips are to use when you need to press the pause button, to settle yourself, or to hit the reset button.
For a MP3 files of our breath sequence, visualization or quick meditation, click on the link to our Bulletin page:
(We needed a static page due to audio file size. They take a few moments to load onto the page. Click on play button once you see the time fill in on the right hand side. Breathe while you wait!)
- Breath – 1, 3, 10
This first tip is the magic bullet, the golden nugget or the Holy Grail. Seriously, this is it. If you take NOTHING else away from this post, please take this first tip.
There is no right or wrong way to breathe. If you breathe into your belly, your diaphragm, or your lungs, it’s perfect. There is no force or direction here. Just let your body breathe the way it wants.
Breath – 1 is the pause button. When you take one breath, you are creating a moment of pause for yourself. Try it right now. Inhale and exhale.
Breath – 3 is settling your body. When you take 3 breaths, you are not only creating a moment of pause, but you are actually settling yourself a bit. Let’s try it. Take a breath in and breathe out. Now again, take another breath and out, and one more, inhale and exhale. You probably can feel the breath spreading a little relaxation throughout your body. For me, I feel a slight tingling in my toes.
Breath – 10 is hitting the reset button. Taking 10 breaths feels weird. Yes, I just said that. It feels as if you are breathing for too long and it feels as if you should stop at 6 or 7 breaths. Don’t stop until you get to 10 breaths. You will feel better after 10 so complete the set.
Let’s do it right now to see how it feels.
Breathe in and then out.
Inhale and exhale.
Take another breath – in and out.
Inhale and exhale.
Breathe in again and now exhale.
Breathe in gently and exhale.
A few more, inhale and exhale.
Inhale and exhale.
Breathe in and out.
One more, inhale and exhale.
How do you feel? For me, it makes me relaxed yet gives me energy to continue with my day.
Taking 10 breaths is perfect at two different times of day. The 1st time for parents of school-age children is at pick-up time. For every parent, there are 2 days in 1, everyday. No wonder we are tired and stressed! I am not even counting the microburst in the morning when you get your kids to school on time. If I added that, we would have 3 days in one and that is unthinkable! The 10-breath trick helps reset and recalibrate your energy from the day you have just experienced without your children to the day you are going to experience with them. You have activities, sporting events, dinner, homework, showers or baths to look forward. You have a long journey over the next 5 or 6 hours, so you need a pick me up. Ten breaths will certainly help.
Conversely, the other time of day for 10 breaths is if you have trouble falling asleep. Taking 10 breaths relaxes your system and quiets your mind.
Breathing is free, portable, quiet, and private. It is a good thing for a body under any typical scenario. So, take 1, 3 or 10 breaths, just remember to breathe.
We all need to remind ourselves of things at different times throughout the day. We may need patience at the grocery store as the bagger is shoving heavy food items on top of delicate ones. We may need calm as we are cut off on the road only to have that person stop completely in front of us at a yellow light. We may need silence as we are taking our teenage children to school and their energy is not pleasant, to say the least. We may need wisdom when we are asked about a particularly tricky question. We may need joy when we are looking at the never-ending piles of laundry and dishes.
We can employ a silent and quick mantra that we say to ourselves over and over until we have paused enough to handle the issue in front of us. We can say:
I am patient. My patience is rewarded. I am patient right now.
I am calm. I am peaceful. I am relaxed.
Silence is the best gift I can give my child(ren) right now.
I am wisdom. I have the answers I need right now.
I am joy. I am uplifted. My work is light and my heart full.
These mantras work to give you a pause moment when you really need one.
If you need more than a pause and actually need to settle, then combine one of these mantras with 3 breaths.
- One Moment Please
We may however, need to ask for one moment. We may need to gather our thoughts and make a few decisions, usually all at once. Our goal is to respond to the questions, instead of reacting. When we react to our immediate family, it is to say “No.” Think about it. Are your children asking to go to bed earlier, for an apple, to study more or to do more chores? Not usually. Usually, they are asking to stay up later, for a piece of candy, or to do something that will affect you negatively in some way.
“Mom, can we build a fort in the dining room with all of your china on the table?”
“Mom, can we eat all of the candy in the house?”
“Mom, can we stay up to watch Jimmy Fallon?”
“Mom, can we use all of your makeup and nail polish, get it all over our rooms and then not clean it up?”
So naturally we have an automatic no reaction when a question is posed, especially by one of our children. However, we may want to have a minute to actually hear the question and then formulate a response.
Conversely, our reaction to a question posed from someone outside of our homes is “Yes.”
“Will you chair the auction this year?”
“Would you donate to our cause?”
“Will you be able to bring 750 cookies on Thursday night?”
Sure! That would be great! I would love to do all of these things without even finding out how much time and effort will be involved, how much money you need, or who else will be sharing in the fun. Again, perhaps a moment to think about our answer would be in order.
We need to be able to say, “One moment please.” “Would you give me a moment?” “Excuse me, I need to think about this before I commit.”
Practice. It gets easier when you practice.
- Rescue Remedy
Who knows there is a handy little bottle known as Rescue Remedy that helps calm your body? It is made by Bach Flower Essences and it is available at many supermarket chains, such as: Shaw’s, Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, and your local health food stores. It is also available online at Amazon.com, iherb.com or vitacost.com.
It comes in a spray, drops, pastilles, gum, cream or melt away drops.
It can be used during the day, before bed, for adults, children and even for pets.
If you have any questions, talk to your doctor, nutritionist, or pharmacist.
One interesting thing about anxiety is that it feels very similar to excitement. With anxiety, you feel your heart rate increase, your body start to vibrate, and your thoughts coming faster. You actually feel those exact same things when you are excited.
Anxiety and excitement are two sides of the same coin.
My daughter went to her first middle school dance the other week and she was worried. When she came to me to tell me that she was nervous, I asked her if she was also excited.
“Are you excited too?”
“Yes. I am excited about dressing up, about hearing music, about going with my friends and about getting really good snacks.”
“Then what is making you nervous?”
“I don’t know, maybe it’s just that it’s new.”
“Oh, so you’re nervous because it’s something you have never done before. Think about how much fun you are going to have at the dance. I think you are more excited than nervous. Let’s concentrate on being excited and think about how great it’s going to feel to be there with your friends.”
“Okay.” Off she went to the dance and she had a really great time. I think we need to remember that we get excited about things we are looking forward to, but if they are new to us, than we will also be a bit nervous.
Some anxiety is normal when we are stretching ourselves and living a full life. Separating the excitement from the anxiety helps us keep it in perspective.
- Lost Time
This tip is a total reset. It is one to use when we need to step away and be rejuvenated. Look at your calendar and mark off a few hours every week that you will NOT book anything. You will mark off this time just for yourself. You can do anything you want with it. But, you cannot give it away, do any chores or take care of business. You need to allocate this time just for yourself. Do something that will make you feel connected, relaxed and rejuvenated.
Take a long walk. Go to the beach, the woods or the mountains. Do yoga. Meditate. Read a good book. Garden. Completely unplug and let your mind wander. Take a nap. Breathe.
If you need a pause, then think of being in the zone. Let yourself remember what it is like to be carefree and completely alive. Remember skiing or swimming or skydiving. Remember a time of exhilaration and freedom.
If you want to settle and do not have the opportunity to do visualization, then combine a zone moment with 3 breaths.
If you need to settle or reset and can do visualization, then do that, as you will feel it throughout your body. Having your mind engaged is good for a pause, but you need to include your body to settle or reset.
Here is one such visualization:
If you want to close your eyes, feel free. If not, there is no requirement to do so. Now, get comfortable in your chair, relax your arms with hands on top of your thighs or whatever is most comfortable. Relax your legs and then take a breath and as you are exhaling, imagine yourself sitting in a very comfortable beach chair. It fits your body perfectly and you do not have to worry about how you are going to get out of it because it is the perfect height. You can feel the warm and soft sand on your toes and you burrow them into the sand. The sand feels really good on the bottoms of your feet. In your mind’s eye, you can see the beautiful turquoise color of the water. The ocean is gorgeous. The sun is glistening on the water, you can hear a few gulls, and notice a few sandpipers at the edge of the water. The waves are lapping gently on the shore. You can hear the surf; whoosh, whoosh, whoosh and you lift your face toward the sun. You feel it’s warmth radiant through you. You feel warm and relaxed and peaceful. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh…hmm…nice. What a wonderful visit to the beach. Take a breath and if you need to, open your eyes.
It is that easy. The important thing is to feel the vision throughout your body. You want to imagine sensations in order to relax your whole being, not just quiet your mind.
- Unwind It
Ever notice certain times a day when you are particularly wound up? Do certain things set you off? Do you enter some situations already amped up?
Take note. Think about these times, acknowledge them and try to create ease around them by changing something in the situation or accepting them for what they are and what they do to you.
For me, the foyer in my house has the ability to set me off every single day. We do not have a mudroom, so all of the jackets, backpacks and shoes end up in the front hallway. Adding to the mix is the highly efficient laundry room (read small) right off of the hallway and then think about winter time with the hats, gloves, snow pants, etc. This situation has the makings of going nuclear fairly quickly.
So, what to do? We are not going to expand the footprint of our foyer as it’s too costly and we are not going to move. My only solution – I need to chill. That’s right – I need to accept it and chill. (Just imagine the mantras I am saying every time I enter the house!)
If your child has issues with something completely new, take a few moments to talk it over to make it more comfortable. My two children are fairly open and adjust to new things and change fairly easily, however, my daughter’s best friend needs to have new things fully explained to her.
She is a confident, delightful and engaging child. She just wants to know what to expect. At the end of this summer, she was concerned about starting middle school. The middle school is a big, old building that combines 5 elementary schools of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. It can be intimidating.
We were driving home from the beach one day when from the back seat, I hear, “Katy, I don’t know where the stairs are in the school, so how am I supposed to get to the 2nd floor to my homeroom?”
I hear Katy’s reasonable response to explain exactly where the stairs are and although the school is big, the layout is straightforward.
“What time does school start? Are you taking the bus or is your Mom driving you? Where is drop off? Did you get your school supplies?” she continues in a rush and then adds, “But Katy, I don’t know where the stairs are.”
Oh, okay, she has a big concern. Her mother is wonderful and has probably talked her though each of these things, but her daughter needs more information than she has. She actually needs to SEE the school. She has been there before, but she needs to see the school right now.
So we drive by the school and as we do, I time how long it will take to get there. (I am anticipating the questions now). Then we park right at the drop off spot and look at the school. We talk about everything she has brought up and we talk about every other thing she brings up. We stay there for a good 20 minutes talking about everything and when I see we are only helping marginally, I say, “How about we car pool on the 1st day and Katy can walk you up the stairs to the 2nd floor?”
That suggestion creates the ease we were looking for and since then, we have been carpooling every day.
When someone is getting wound up, we need to identify it and then talk him or her through it. Sometimes it is easier to identify than others, and sometimes it is easier to talk them through than others. We need to use trial and error and keep trying. (We need to include ourselves in this effort as well as sometimes we need to recognize that we are wound up and need to be talked through it. Ask a friend. They are usually a bit more adept and patient than our families.)
There are foods that help ease stress. Okay, yum. If you have a nut allergy, then almonds are not for you. Regarding the chocolate, we are not talking about Snickers, Butterfingers or Three Musketeers. We are talking about organic dark chocolate. But, hey, chocolate!
- Almonds have vitamins B2 & E that bolster the immune system.
- Blueberries have antioxidants and vitamin C to repair and protect cells.
- Dark Chocolate lowers levels of stress hormones and the sugar elevates the mood.
When we picture ourselves meditating, we picture ourselves sitting in lotus position completely at peace. This is mindfulness meditation and is the most difficult.
If you are new to meditation, you need to ease into it. You need to take baby steps and start with something easier like guided meditation. For more information about meditation, check out https://www.meninthehead.com/meditiation-101.
Guided Meditation – Our Thoughts
Take a breath & close your eyes. You are going to breathe easily for the next few moments and let your body relax. As you are breathing you can feel the chair beneath you and against your back, supporting you beautifully. If you are not alone, you may hear the sounds of others in the room and you are comfortable with these sounds as you are completely safe and warm and welcome in this environment. You may even hear sounds of things around you, such as a heating unit, refrigerator, water running, or telephone. These are all welcome and make you feel you are part of a beautifully creative environment, but have no need to do anything right now other than breath and be relaxed.
As you continue to breathe in and out, you notice that there are thoughts still in your head. Your mind is not emptying, but it is still creating thoughts about things that are not part of this meditation. That is okay. Your thoughts are always welcome. They are totally welcome and we are so thankful for our thoughts. We can picture them in front of our faces, streaming from our foreheads or the top of our heads to form a line in front of us. Look at our thoughts. They are so beautiful. They are words made up of perfectly formed letters that are black or white, a particular color or many colors. Look at our words. They are so beautiful. We see them before us and they start to form a shape. It’s a ball and it is getting more and more form as we comfortably sit here and look at these beautiful words. When we breathe in, the ball stays in place, but when we breathe out, the ball moves a little further away from us. So we breathe in again to see what happens and the ball doesn’t move. It stays just where it was. As we breathe out, it moves a little further away again, so we do it one more time. We breathe in, oh it stays and we breathe out and it moves even further away. Now, let’s try something more. Let’s breathe in and this time when we breathe out, we blow out to move the ball further and further away from us. Now we notice the ball of words is very far in the distance. If we reached out our hands we could not even touch it. With each gentle breath, our ball of words is floating away until it disappears from view. Our gentle breath makes us relax even more and feel completely settled and centered and calm. How wonderful and how beautiful we feel with our thoughts having disappeared after floating peacefully away. Take a few more breaths and notice the seat beneath you and against your back. Notice the noises of the rooms around you and within this room. Take one more breath in and as you exhale open your eyes.
Welcome back. How did that feel? Did your thoughts go away? Is this one way you think you can use in the future to occupy your mind?
The goal of meditation is not to receive anything but ease and relief. There is nothing to do, but receive.
Each one of these tips is helpful if it speaks to you. I have noted which ones are good for a pause moment, to settle or to hit the reset button.
Tips for taking a pause moment:
- Breath – 1 breath
- One Moment Please
- Rescue Remedy
Tips for settling down:
- Breath – 3 breaths
- Mantra – combined with breath
- Unwind It
- Zone – combined with breath
Tips for hitting the reset button:
- Breath – 10 breaths
- Lost Time
Remember that the only tip I want you to take away, is the breath. The others are extra.
As always, I wish you joy and now I also wish you calm.
Remember to breathe,