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How to stop stress and clear your head…
How do we stop stress during those days that seem to go from bad too worse? We start by examing just what happens during that big stress mess…
I have not meditated for over 2 weeks. It sucks. I have been tripping over, dropping things, bumping into things, spilling things and just being all-around clumsy. I have completely contradicted my previous post and have been very much lost in my own head. So much so that on my train journey to visit family a couple of days ago I missed my connecting stop by 2 or 3 stations, hopped off at the wrong station, then ran across to the other platform, lugging my suitcase along, stressing that I was going to miss another train, only to stop and realise that actually, I needed to be on the platform that I just came from. Great. Naturally, I lugged my stuff back across the connecting bridge and did manage to finally get on the right train, but it’s safe to say I have been in a muddle. It’s even safer to say, I miss my meditations.
What’s been happening to me is something that I like to call a spiral, a mental mash-up of thoughts, worries and stress all spinning around in my mind. It is something that we humans frequently fall victim to when we become busy, late or under pressure. Unfortunately for us, this spiral will often be driven by stress and negatives, therefore we spiral downward, in a metaphorical, mental freefall, completely out of control, while fighting to gain control in the wrong way. I’m sure we can all relate to what a mental spiral is, but for clarification let’s think of it as a very, very long spiral staircase in our heads, that I started off walking down at a leisurely pace but ended up sprinting down in terror.
The mind can often work in this way if we allow it to. One bad thought leads to another. Worry leads to more worry, fear to more fear, stress to more stress. Our minds can begin to run rampant, out of control, into this negative spiral. If we fail to stop our stress, before we know it we’re bumbling down a spinning staircase at full speed, heading for rock bottom. Or maybe we’re just missing a train, but either way, we’re not having a great time.
It might seem hard to believe that so much could go wrong for us in one day, one hour even. We might think it is just some fluke day, where the world was against us, or that it was karma or perhaps just pure coincidence. Though it actually makes perfect sense that we had an awful day, week or even month when we consider it within the idea of the internal and the external. The idea that we influence our external surroundings, as well as ourselves, with what we think and feel on the inside.
This idea has come in different forms and under different names throughout the years, whether in Christianity as ‘treat others how you would like to be treated’ or in the modern-day as ‘The Law of Attraction’. Whatever we call it, the underlying principle is the same. What we give out, returns back to us, what we give, we receive, what we are thinking and feeling, is determining our life experience right now. It is not quite so black and white as that, but essentially that is the idea, and it is an idea that can be seen evidently in a downward spiral.
If we adopt the idea that we are the creators of each bad thing that happened to us that day, then we can see it is our reaction mentally and emotionally to the first negative in our day, that sets us up for the second. If we create and receive with our internal thoughts and feelings, then what are we going to get with anger, frustration, irritation and stress? Simply more of the same. Anger, frustration, irritation and you guessed it, stress. The exact opposite of what we want, but the complete replica of what we are thinking and how we are feeling. To make matters even harder for ourselves, a spiral always seems to get worse with every step we take down the staircase. We are actually making it worse ourselves because each reaction builds on the other. Our thoughts, our feelings and frustrations become more intense and more negative, so we give out more intense stress and get back more intense stress each time, as we spiral into the mental abyss.
An apt way to think of it is being wound up, like a toy car. If you’ll allow me an analogy, imagine, in our heads, that instead of a brain we have a wind-up toy car, that acts as our mind. It begins completely still. We wake up in the morning and we stub our toe, we react, let’s say angrily, and this is effectively us winding up our toy car. The toy car now becomes an angry toy car, with a frown on its face, a big loud engine and lots of horsepower, revving away in our skull. This angry car can only drive us towards more anger, it knows no other destinations. So away we go, and each time we reach destination anger, we wind up our toy car again with even more oomph until we eventually crash and burn.
In real-life terms, we go on and on until we haven’t got the fight left in us to keep being angry, so we give up. It is only then, when we actually give up the fight and let go of the anger that we stop our stress end the spiral, no longer being a slave to it, to ourselves. When we simply stop and breathe, when we let go of the burdens we have been carrying, our mind lightens and our problems lessen. So why do we wait until we are completely burned out, to pause and take a breath? Why not stop the stress straight away or before it even begins?
If left unchecked the mind will begin and continue to spiral, but there are easy ways of stopping it or preventing it in the first place. The spiral staircase or our angry toy car do not represent our lives, they are not outside of our control, nor is there nothing to be done about them. They represent our minds, neither is real, the staircase nor the car. The only place that they can exist is in our heads and in our heads, we are in control. Or at least we can be if we try.
This brings us back to the beginning, to meditation and practices like it. Meditation stops a spiral. If done properly and regularly, meditation will prevent you from spiralling altogether and stop stress from driving your life. Mindfulness of any kind will achieve the same thing, lifting the veil and waking you from a modern-day nightmare. Though we are not all zen masters, thankfully we don’t need to be. In fact, simply spending time alone, away from our worries and stresses can be considered as meditative and can stop us from tumbling down a metaphorical spiral staircase. When we spend time alone, away from our worries and stresses, away from our busy lives, our minds begin to slow down, to catch up, and we allow ourselves to breathe. I found during my spiral, to clear my head, a long and solitary walk worked well. When there is nothing in sight or in mind that can wind us up, our toy car runs out of juice and comes to a standstill, to stillness. By removing ourselves from our stresses, even just for a few hours, our minds become calmer, relaxed and more peaceful.
With this peace we begin to let go of some of the junk in our heads and in doing so, our loads become lighter, our heads become clearer and we are able to think with more purity. When our heads stop spinning and become still, we can have a beautiful perspective on life, a truer perspective. What may have seemed a huge problem 10 minutes ago, now seems like an insignificant detail. Where before we saw only problems, we now see solutions, where before we saw horror, we now see beauty, where we saw darkness, we now see light, where we felt stress, we now feel peace. With practice, we can quickly turn a stressful mind into a peaceful one. Spending time alone is a great way to start this practice, to unwind and to pick yourself up from the bottom of that spiral staircase. We can heal our minds with something so simple and easy, as some alone time. So perhaps this week, give yourself a break, take some time to yourself and find some peace, so that you are able to stop that stress before it even begins.
If you are interested in learning how to meditate check out our page on the topic. We also have a post dedicated to the benefits of meditation as well as one discussing just what mindfulness is. I’d definitely recommend giving both a try, but as I said, for anyone and everyone, alone time can work just as well, if spent in the right way, in peace.
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And lastly, if you’re looking for some more official advice, the NHS has a good list of 10 tips to help stop stress. Find it here.