We have to take stress out of life and life out of stress, and do it as soon as possible. Unattended, stress raises blood pressure, accelerates heartbeat, increases inflammation that pushes us into anxiety and depression. Irritation over trivial things, feeling overwhelmed, saying the same words accusingly over and over again, simmering anger that refuses to die down, headaches and lower backaches are some signs to watch out for. In this state, you will upset your family members and colleagues with your offensive words and behaviour. Your spouse will maintain a distance, ditto your friends, at least, most of them. Under stress, the mind paints monstrous pictures of all the people you interact with. Somebody has ‘cheated’ you, another is ‘corrupt’ and so on — your feelings become facts in your perception.
Cycle mindfully. Armchair-cycling is a lovely stress-buster. It’s so simple and effective. On the 32nd minute comes a perceptible lightening. Just as clouds are shifted by a strong wind to reveal the vast sunlit sky, the dark perception is lifted from the mind to give us a glimpse of its natural, open radiance. Here, it is important to remember that whatever our circumstances, our open, sky-like mind is always there. It is only a 32-minute ride away. And just as clouds are not part of the sky, our perception is not part of our mind. It only hangs there, a puff of smoke which can be dispersed.
As you cycle, let your mind be full of emptiness. In the beginning stages, you can count the rotations. In time, the mind lets go the numbers and what is left is a wonderful awareness. In this state, you can cycle for an hour without even realising how the minutes have ticked by. When the mind suspends thought, the brain gets a welcome break from anxiety, pressure, stress and pain.
Tackling tremors. There are two kinds of anxiety. One is caused by what you’ve gone through earlier. Say, you went for a walk in the park and a huge snake slid across your path causing you to turn tail. The next day, when you go for your walk, there’s a tremor in you. Will that snake cross your path? This is an anxiety from anticipating that things won’t go well — such as a job interview or a meeting with a client. If this happens despite having cycled in the morning, say “Cancel. I am well-prepared and I’ll do well!” The tremor subsides and you stride with a friendly air into the interview room. “Cancel” is a powerful word. Please use it.
The other kind of anxiety is a fear that rises by itself even before you see or think anything. You have to force yourself to go for a walk. You ‘see’ problems where there aren’t any — you feel you don’t have enough money though your bank balance is healthy, you feel you will be sacked by your boss any day, you have a sinking feeling for no apparent reason. This kind of anxiety comes from having an excessively intense way of looking at life. The best way out is to relax.
Restore balance. Have a refreshing bath. Rinse your face in cool water. Keep a cold napkin on your forehead or on the nape of your neck. Take breaks between tasks and allow your body to slump in a relaxed position. Yes, cycle daily. Do stretch exercises with a terra band. Listen to music. Read inspirational writing. Listen to motivational talks. Take charge of your investment. Tighten your belt. Simplify your life. Attend fewer functions. Get into a hobby that channelises your intensity and makes you feel good. Essentially, create an environment where you are relaxed. Meditate. Do slow breathing. Drawing up a blueprint for a relaxing lifestyle may take some time and a lot of letting-go, but it’s worth it — you get a balance for your buck, in a manner of speaking.
Our perspective darkens because we are not living our truth. How do you know you are living your truth? When you are relaxed about it, when your brain — especially its limbic system that makes stress feel like a crisis — is relaxed about it.
Look at stress not as an enemy, but as an unexpected ally. For example, a tight deadline can be stressful, but it makes me push aside trivialities and focus on what’s important, strengthens my will power, concentration, hones my ability to analyse and express myself through writing and gives me satisfaction in completing what I’ve started.
In this context, a parent who has a difficult child told me, “He is teaching us patience. And since he’s a slow learner, he is teaching us how hard work can bring decent results.” She stopped feeling stressed when she changed her viewpoint. The mind is vast and sky-like. Keep it open and unclouded. It understands, learns what strength, determination, motivation, concentration, endurance and acceptance are through stress and helps us experience satisfaction, contentment, happiness, humour and joy.
A stressful situation is not a crisis. Don’t let stress daunt and dent you, rather, let it make you ask creative questions: “What can I do to make things better?” “What am I not doing that I’m being reminded of?” As James Carroll says, “There are times when we stop, we sit still. We listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper.” Stress has fangs only if you give it power over you. De-fang it by not feeding it fear. Sometimes, you may need to consult a psychiatrist and be prescribed anti-anxiety tablets. Don’t be fazed by them — they teach your hyper brain what it feels to be calm.
One of the greatest favours stress confers is making our mind more supple, humbler and more poised. It becomes a liferider — moving gracefully with the ups and downs of existence. Life is wonderful, then heavy, then wonderful. In between, it’s blessedly ordinary, routine and okay. Be wildly loving in its wonderful phases, tender and thoughtful when it’s heavy, enormously grateful when it is routinely ordinary. This is how we learn a new language called wisdom and shape out a beautiful beginning from an end. And we understand our truth: that the light at the end of the tunnel is always there. The tunnel is only our perception.
The writers are authors of Fitness for Life and Simply Spiritual – You Are Naturally Divine and teachers of the Fitness for Life programme.