A version of this post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.
I try not to let stress run my life. Good decisions are in short supply when I come from a place of stress. But there are also physical symptoms related to stress, which I used to ignore. The practice of mindfulness has helped me identify the physicality of stress and how it affects me.
I woke up today with a lot of negative self-talk. My negative thoughts were also driving a nauseous feeling in my chest and causing heart palpitations. The fight or flight mechanism was kicking into overdrive. All of a sudden, consternation and anxiety from other external sources were overwhelming me and I had trouble separating myself. This led to a desperate desire to escape work and leave behind the tidal wave of ‘to-do’s, trying to find every reason to do so, including blaming my illness.
Rather than finding gratitude and peace in my day, I became a victim of a silent war I hadn’t even asked to participate in. My emotions were swirling and something had to give. I made a conscious decision to meditate, however, this time, the formula had to be different.
With each “in” breath I asked for guidance and insight to regain my perspective. With each “out” breath I identified something from the overwhelming pile of tasks that were making me feel terrible and started to (mindfully) write them down on a fresh piece of paper. My prepared to-do list had obviously become unproductive and starting fresh seemed far more reachable.
After each item, I took another “in” breath. It wasn’t always easy. My mind would start to race and rush to the next item; however, that was stress making the decisions – the screaming voice I was hearing was throwing a tantrum because there was no way to finish my tasks. Something needed to stop that voice and it wasn’t listening to me. I started visualizing the “in” breath drowning that inner voice.
The forced breathing required me to think about what was actually driving this response. In fact, for the first time I was able to catch the exact moment where I had begun reacting to the world from the animalistic portion of my brain. I started to realize how exhausting yesterday was and that this false sense of urgency and failure stemmed from that. Today is different already!
Today I am committed to isolating my mood from those around me. My to-do list isn’t any shorter, but my expectations of what will get done are more realistic. Priorities for the day have been mindfully set and I can now focus on making real progress, instead of a mindless stress response.
The biggest defeater of my earlier negative self-talk and inner voice is progress in the face of chaos. My heart has already started slowing down and my nausea is subsiding. Stopping, even for a minute, has given me the chance to make today incredible.
Is stress ruling my life? Not today.