Sometimes, despite your efforts, stress “happens anyway.” Co-author Sam Bracken had a difficult childhood, but he turned his life around. He was conceived from rape and his mother “dumped” him at an orphanage when he was four. At age five, a boy who later became his stepbrother lit him on fire. His stepbrother and stepfather continually abused him. However, he got out at age 18, earning a football scholarship to the Georgia Institute of Technology. When a shoulder injury sidelined him in his sophomore year Sam nearly lost hope. His coach encouraged him to take stock by recording his feelings in a binder with four tabs: “Mental, Physical, Emotional” and “Spiritual.” Following his lead, improve these aspects of your life with the following exercises:
• “Mental tranquillity” – Use mantra meditation, guided imagery (visualization plus relaxed breathing) or breathing in rhythm with the ocean to achieve mental tranquillity. Visualization involves picturing something calming and trying to engage all of your senses around that image. Visualization can alleviate a variety of symptoms and situations, including chronic pain, headaches, asthma and substance abuse, and it can improve athletic performance. To practice mantra meditation, sit in a chair with your eyes closed and silently repeat a word such as “one, relax, peace” or “calm” over and over for four to five seconds. Let your mind wash over you mantra and pull your thoughts back to it when they drift. Try this for 10 to 20 minutes daily at least three or four times a week. Don’t be worried if your mind wanders as you repeat your mantra or if you fall asleep. Allow yourself enough time – at least two minutes – to return to your previous state.
• “Physical tranquillity” – Use exercise and relaxation to become more physically tranquil. Reduce stress with 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise, especially after a stressful event. Notice how you feel afterward. Relaxation techniques may include breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga, which also can improve muscle strength, flexibility and balance. Practice these methods in a quiet room with no distractions for 10 to 20 minutes a day. Getting more sleep also relieves stress. To improve your sleep quality, go to bed earlier, let food digest for three to four hours before going to bed, keep your room dark and don’t use electronic devices in bed. Short naps of 15 minutes or less during the day can provide a quick recharge. Or try this method: Lying on the floor; put your feet up on a chair. Feel your breath moving through your midsection. Move your neck from side to side; focus on your muscles for 10 minutes. Take your feet down, slowly roll into a fetal position and slowly rise.
• “Emotional tranquillity” – Seek “no stressful connections with other people.” Reach out to those who help you feel relaxed; get together with friends. Service is another way to reduce stress. Helping others doesn’t have to be complex: Assist a neighbour, spend time with friends, run errands for someone in need, or give donations or gifts.
• “Spiritual tranquillity” – The effort to cultivate inner peace may incorporate religious worship or time alone to reflect. According to an English university study by Dr. David Lewis, people felt a 68% decrease in stress after only six minutes of reading a “good book.” While popular novels offer a good way to unwind, classical literature lets you ponder bigger questions. “Listening to music drops stress levels 61% on average.” Classical music, especially Baroque music that has a slower beat and New Age instrumental music, are more relaxing and reduce stress effectively.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” (Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor). Hugely stressful events, or “crucible experiences,” such as a natural disaster, financial ruin or a major illness give people the opportunity to reflect on their lives and make changes. Many people report a renewed perspective after undergoing a difficult time. Before she became famous for writing the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling was a poor, depressed, divorced single mom. In a commencement speech she gave at Harvard, titled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure,” she said three things helped her see what mattered: her daughter, an old typewriter, and a big idea.