An Invitation to Stillness
Written by Jackie Mulligan
“Not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize”- Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness
This time of year, it can be especially challenging to manage stress. The season can be overwhelming: finals week for students, end of Q4 for businesses, extra social gatherings, travel plans and financial strains. We receive many invitations to divert our attention throughout this season, but many of us are missing the biggest invitation of all: an invitation to be still.
When experiencing stress, people report symptoms including:
– Feeling overwhelmed
– Brain fog and decision fatigue
– Poor digestion
– Racing heartbeat
– Frequent mood swings
– Physical fatigue
– Waking up throughout the night
– Racing from one obligation to the next
– A constant sense of urgency
Sound familiar? As a society, we’ve become addicted to stress-sustaining habits. We accept demands to do more, be bigger, faster, and multitask to increase our productivity. We’ve started to believe that the busier we are, the greater our value. We’ve confused being busy with being productive. We are getting it wrong.
“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” (Thoreau). What are we busy about? We might stop and consider if we’re being deliberate in everything we do throughout the day. Are we acting with clear, focused intention and attention? Are our engagements habitual or purposeful? Is our time spent allowing us to value those we hope to celebrate most this season – including ourselves?
We might consider how our ancestors lived for thousands of years by replenishing, restoring, and recovering over the winter season. They weren’t racking up debt to add more unnecessary objects to their lives; they weren’t walking around like zombies glued to electronic devices. I invite you to join me in rethinking the holiday season narrative pushed onto us by our careers, families, and personal expectations and allow ourselves a big timeout. But how?
Here are some strategies that might help us slow down when life seemingly speeds up:
– Eliminate unnecessary tasks and “obligations”: Saying “no” does not need an explanation.
– Plan for margin: We tend to underestimate how long things take us to do or how long it takes to get somewhere. Allow for transition time and plan for possible delays. If it takes us thirty minutes to drive to work, plan for forty-five. This allows time for the unexpected road detour or gas stop without adding stress. We may even arrive early!
– Identify your triggers: Pay attention to what causes stress and anxiety in life. This takes courage and often requires honesty in giving up things we are attached to while creating new, healthier habits. Check out this recent blog post: The 3-Step Process to Turn a Bad Habit Good.
– Cut down on caffeine: Reread the previous bullet. I repeat, sometimes we might [temporarily] give up attachments. Chances are, we are stimulated enough.
– Surround yourself with people who raise your spirits and give you energy: Have you ever noticed that you leave some people or situations feeling drained? And others where you feel energized, empowered, and joyful? Which ones would you rather be around? Choose wisely.
– Ask for support: Sometimes, life derails us with things that are beyond our control. Enter: the power of community. Ask for help and support. We don’t have to do it all on our own.
– Create a routine: Our brain likes a plan, especially under stress. Creating predictability and consistency with what we can control (meal timing, sleep, work schedule) can help offset unexpected stress.
– Manage perfectionism: Allow yourself permission to approximate. Explore the balance between “all-or nothing.”
– Train smarter, not harder: Think about your overall health as a bank account. If you withdraw too much, you’ll end up in the red. Things like high stress, inadequate sleep, inconsistent food intake and continuous high intensity training can compound to ensure poorly managed health. Take care of yourself, by making deposits. You may want to consider low to moderate intensity training that you enjoy like strength training, yoga or hiking to invest in yourself during busy seasons.
– Breathe: Simply inhaling and exhaling is one of the fastest ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and shift us out of the ‘fight or flight’ stress response towards relaxation. It improves attention and fine-motor coordination to get us out of our heads and back into our bodies and the present moment. One of my favorite stress-relieving breathing practices is alternate nostril breathing.
– Gratitude: Starting or ending our day with five points of gratitude can change our whole perspective and mindset. Gratitude is the attitude!
– Unplug as often as you can: Power down, presence on.
The honor of your presence (not presents!) is requested to share in the celebration of the season and yourself. You are cordially invited to do less, rest, restore, recover. Be still.
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