The past two weeks had been challenging and exhausting for me on various fronts. It was one of those periods where my world kept spinning out of control and few things made sense. Some say it's simply the workings of plain old life (i. e. never smooth sailing!). Whatever the cause may be, I've decided to use this storm to evolve into a greater person than I was. I learned that thriving in life isn't about praying for still waters, but about learning to ride the storms and to appreciate the highs and lows of each wave.
To be alive means that there would be days, weeks or months like these where our problems seem insurmountable or every day feels like a journey through an obstacle course. Sometimes resolutions or positive progress can happen quickly. Other times we can only keep plodding forward in faith and with patience. We may not be able to eradicate the difficulties immediately but we can ease it, make the expedition more bearable and keep going in the right direction.
Below are 9 simple ways that help me to feel better in under 3 minutes.
You can practice them anywhere and anytime. All it takes is a desire to feel better regardless of the circumstances. Are you ready? Let's get started!
1. Change your posture
When we are feeling tensed or negative, we tend to shrink in stature. We slouch, hunch our shoulders, fix our gaze on the ground when we walk, sit with our arms crossed or tuck our legs tightly to our bodies. Our bodies become small and compressed. This in turn impacts our breathing and intensifies the anxiety.
Picture a ballerina and try straightening up your back like you're held by a thread from the top of your head. Stand/sit tall with your shoulders pushed back into a pose of openness. When standing, keep both feet firmly on the ground, instead of standing on one feet. Look up into the world, maintain a level gaze and start turning any quick shallow breaths into slow deep ones.
2. Practice deep belly breathing
Close your eyes. Inhale through your nose to a mental count to four. Feel your belly expand. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Now exhale through your mouth to a count of eight and feel your belly contract in the process. Repeat the process for four breaths in your first month and increase that to eight breaths in the second month. The aforementioned 4-7-8 breathing technique is developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. He recommends doing it twice a day to feel the tranquilizing benefits to the nervous system.
3. Zoom out and see the big picture
More often than not, we get stressed out, anxious or feel frustrated because we keep repeating a scene or negative story in our heads. Whenever you catch yourself doing so, stop and zoom out from that unconstructive mental image. Picture instead where this problem stands in the grand scheme of life. Remember that your life comprises of many areas – work, money, family, friends, love, passion/hobbies, social contribution and more. One problem in one or some departments of our life does not negate the goodness and blessings in other parts.
Similarly, ask yourself if you're giving too much weight to the issues. Will they matter 10 days, weeks, months or years from now? Next, take a step back and reflect if you're overreacting or being overly negative. Be careful that what you fret or feel frustrated about is the truth, not your pessimistic opinion of the situation.
4. Focus your thoughts on what you can do
When we face problems, our focus falls on the grave consequences that await us. Rather than let fear grip us, actively seek out what we can do. Direct your thoughts to how you can improve the situation. Ask yourself questions such as “Is my understanding of the situation accurate? “, “Is there another perspective? “, “What can I do to improve things? “, “Who do I need to talk to? “, “Any new skills I need to develop so I can cope better? “, and more.
Through this simple exercise of diverting your attention to something constructive, you'll effectively shift from being helpless to being empowered. As you work on developing the skills needed to overcome the issue, you'll be well-prepared when a similar situation happens in the future.
Break into a small smile and feel the difference almost instantaneously! Do not force a big smile. Keep it faint and natural. If you struggle with the exercise, try picturing a relaxing scene like a day out on your beach or try recalling recent happy moments. This act releases tension within your body. Hold the smile as long as you can and try to do it often during the day when you are going through a stressful time. It's a simple practice yet works wonder every single time.
6. Turn on the music, sing and dance!
There's nothing like letting music heal the soul. Do you need to cry, shout, sing or dance it out? Blast songs that allow you to release the emotions that are pent up. It's liberating and cathartic. Create your personal “911” playlist of songs you can “speed-play” for every state of mind you're in — happy, sad, angry, bored and more. Better still, swap playlist with a friend and expand your options while bonding with your friend through music.
7. Have a big glass of green juice + Vitamin B
When under pressure, stressful emotions can create acids in our bodies. A quick way to alkalize our body back to balance and to restore depleted nutrients is to take vitamin c (kale, orange), zinc (ginger, parsley, carrot), magnesium (parsley), potassium (spinach, banana) and beta-carotene (carrot, parsley). When I run out of leafy greens at home, I drink liquid chlorophyll and it feels almost just as good! Supermodel Miranda Kerr swears by this superfood and you can read all about the benefits of chlorophyll here. Another supplement I take regularly during challenging times is Vitamin B as it tends to deplete quickly when we are stressed.
8. Call (not text) your favorite cheerleader friend
Good friends can either lift us up or bring us down. On a blank piece of paper, draw a circle and write inside the circle names of friends who are supportive of your goals and dreams and help you to think positive when you feel all hope is lost. They are your cheerleaders in this game of life. Outside of the circle, write names of the people who spread negative energy via whining, gossip, criticism or fatalistic outlook. It doesn't matter if these people are family members and close friends. When you're feeling overwhelmed or alone, ring up your favorite cheerleader friend. There's something healing about hearing the voice of someone with a sunny disposition. Even if we don't get to see them, their positivity rubs off on us simply by talking to them. By the time you're done with the quick call, you'll feel your world has become a tad brighter.
9. Recall how you overcame a similar instance in the past
When things go wrong, we sometimes get obsessed with how terrible or hopeless the situation is. We forget past incidents where it felt impossible to until it was done. We forget how strong and resourceful we were and can be when we steer our minds from endlessly ruminating to conquering a difficulty. On your smartphone, write a list of all the proud moments when you doubted your ability and succeeded through sheer hard work, strategic thinking and persistence. Whenever you face a crisis of confidence, refer to this list and recall the warrior within you. It's ok to mess up. We can't win every battle in life, but if we stay on track, we might win the war.
What's pulling you down these days? How do you cope when life gets overwhelming or challenging? Share with us your experiences, tips and thoughts below.