A dear family member visited us recently and it was wonderful to catch up. Between drives around the countryside and (of course!) Niagara-on-the-Lake vineyards and the Falls, we enjoyed chatting about the family, our kids, her role as a popular Executive and Leadership Coach and other mundane things like my retirement lifestyle and activities that help keep one engaged, busy and entertained.
During the course of our broad ranging topics of conversation, the subject of stress came up and how some people feel ill-equipped to deal with these problems. It seems that “Work-life balance” remains for the most part, an oft-repeated mantra that is considered a magical panacea to relieve the burdens of the daily routine; very few people actually know how to apply this balm to alleviate their stress. There is such a pent-up need for guidance that often times people seek help from a Leadership Coach instead of approaching a Stress Counsellor or a Psychotherapist.
Life is fast-paced today and it is not unusual to get swamped simultaneously by many pressing and time-conflicting demands. Office work deadlines. Kids’ activities. Public transport and traffic delays. Preparing meals. Laundry and cleaning activities. Family and friends’ getting together. Intended to help one relax, often times even a vacation can add to the stress.
Meditation is now a universal family buzzword. Today, there are more Gurus touting the “right path” than those actually practicing it! People enrol in Art of Living classes, Vipassana, specialized breathing and meditation techniques, Yoga or Tai-Chi, chanting and “laughing” sessions etc. We are constantly seeking any crutch that would help us negotiate the road bumps that suddenly loom up as we journey through life. YouTube and other mediums help to keep us updated on the “most liked/reviewed” techniques; a meditation practice that we swear by today is easily discarded for something new that becomes topical and finds favor at a future date. It is mind’s nature to be fickle. But, it is naturally frustrating if “Zen-like peace” is not achieved even after carving out 10 whole minutes from our busy day to practice chanting “Om” the right way, or spending an expensive 30 minutes sweating through a Hot/Bikram//Goat Yoga session!
Everyone has their own preferred method for relieving the stress in their daily life. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Going for a walk, listening to music, talking to a friend, sitting in silence, exercising in the gym and so on.
Over the years, I adopted several coping techniques that have stood me in good stead. I am happy to share some of these:
- During my first year in Canada as a jobless newcomer, I read voraciously. In one of several books and accompanying audio recordings by motivational speaker Tony Robbins, I discovered a helpful approach to counter moments if/when one is feeling low. Walk into the washroom and look at yourself in the mirror. Register how your face looks when you are feeling low/sad/depressed. Then, consciously recall a good joke or a time when you shared a good laugh with someone. Notice how your eyes light up and the lips pucker upwards in a smile at the mere thought of the good time. Shout out a crazy expression (like “KAWABANGA!”) and associate it with this “happy” image and register it in your memory. Thereafter, any time you start to feel low, shout out “KAWABANGA!” and your mood will shift immediately. Try it out.
- Another variation is to stand before the washroom mirror, but instead of looking at the facial image, stare deep into the reflection of your eyes. You will notice all other thoughts disappear and you start to feel ridiculous for carrying the “sad sack” look.
- Become the “Island in the Stream”. Think of the waters rising constantly (like the work pressures) rushing at you from all directions, but parting to go around while you stand rock solid, like an immovable island.
- When pressures start to mount, take time out for yourself. It takes only a few minutes for a kettle to boil, but it is time enough to help you simmer down. I would go to the office pantry or the kitchen if at home, half-fill the kettle and set it on the stove to boil. Very consciously I would stand close by, listening intently to the changing sounds: of the bubbles starting to form and erupt, gentle wisps of steam beginning to emerge from the spout, the gradual build-up of a crescendo until the moment when the water boils over and the noise then subsides into a gentle bubbling murmur. Forcing oneself into this inactivity zone, helps one become the “island in the stream”.
- My favorite stress buster is to watch kids at play. It never fails to lift my spirit. These days, the mere memory or thought of my grandkids at play is enough to make me smile.
Above all, it helps to remember that “this too, shall pass” as life’s journey unfolds. A favorite song from the movie Safar (Journey) sung by the inimitable Manna Dey comes to mind:
“Nadiya chale, chale re dhaaraa; tujhko chalnaa hoga …”
[The river flows, as does its current; (so too) must you move along …]