Martha Beck shares how you can manage stress.
The best way to manage your stress is to start with your body.
First of all, you take your attention off the situation that’s stressing you by getting some physical distance and this can be anything from going into your bedroom to be alone for a minute or even if you are in a meeting you can say, I need to take a nature break, and go be by yourself in the restroom. Get that physical space.
The next thing to do is to start breathing slowly and deeply. You will hear this often because we can control what happens at the most basic level of the brain by deepening our breathing.
That happens in the brain stem and most animals can’t control their breathing rates.
Now right around the brainstem there’s a part of the brain called the reptile brain, which reacts with fear to almost everything.
And once your reptile brain get stimulated you will be in stress and fear unless you can actually circumvent that by going to the one part of the brain that is deeper, which is the brainstem.
That’s what deep breathing does and that’s why you hear so many people from so many cultural traditions and therapeutic traditions recommending that you start by watching and deepening your breath.
At that point when your breath is slow and deep you start to notice that you only have to deal with the step that is beneath your feet.
You do not have to think ten minutes ahead; you do not have to think ten years ahead.
You can plan when it’s time to plan but when you do that plan in calm. Other than that just follow your plan one step at a time.
I call it turtle steps – you just take one tiny step knowing that you can pull back into your shell and reconsider before you take the next little tiny step and that’s the way long journeys are always made – one tiny step at a time.
Once you have taken control of the physical aspects of stress the next thing is to learn to observe your own thinking, because when there is no physical threat in the room the only thing you have to fear is the story you are telling yourself about something bad that’s going to happen in the future.
So, oh I won’t get enough sleep tonight; that’s a fear story. Oh, I won’t be able to pay the rent – fear story.
Maybe my sweetheart will desert me – fear story. All of these are about things that haven’t happened yet, or you can have a stress-related situation based on your stories about the past.
I didn’t have a good childhood so I can’t be happy in the future. That guy who took my parking space was a real son of a gun – those are stories about the past.
Animals live in the present and that’s why their immune systems and their circulatory systems are usually at rest. If we can stop thinking about past and future, and be fully present by watching the mind, because the mind never stops thinking.
The way we separate from it is to watch it without judgment. At that point our sort of natural instincts kick in, the body calms down and everything starts to look more friendly.
About Martha Beck:
Martha Beck, Ph.D., is a writer and life coach who specializes in helping people design satisfying and meaningful life experiences. She holds a bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies and master's and Ph.D. degrees in sociology, all from Harvard University. She has published academic books and articles on a variety of social science and business topics.
Her non-academic books include the New York Times bestsellers “Expecting Adam” and “Leaving the Saints,” as well as “Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live” and her newest book, “Steering by Starlight.” Dr. Beck has also been a contributing editor for many popular magazines, including Real Simple and Redbook, and is currently a columnist for O, the Oprah Magazine.