It’s not the lack of awareness that makes me feel like my life is on overload, but rather feeling like I’m caught in a whirlwind created by forces beyond my control. Playing catch up, running around and feeling stressed out most of the time takes its toll on me. It affects my health, my mood, my relationships, and my general sense of well-being.
My perpetual “need for speed” and conditioned expectation for immediate fulfillment of my desires generates feelings of impatience and frustration towards my circumstance and my personal abilities. The sense of insufficient time, money, energy, resources, etc. leads to a false sense of personal inadequacy. “I’m not enough”–smart enough, wealthy enough, lovable enough, successful enough, good enough”, etc.
Since there’s little chance that things are likely to slow down in the immediate future, does this mean that I’m doomed to a future of living in a state of being overwhelmed?
Not necessarily. It depends on whether I view myself as a helpless victim in a world spinning at warp speed, or as an active participant with the power to influence the course, direction and pace of my own life. Making the choice is the easy part. Embodying the principles and practices to construct such a life is the challenging part. It’s difficult but not unattainable.
Two key factors in the process of redirecting the rhythm of my life are learning to ignore cultural, or social expectations, and surrounding myself with individuals who have a similar perspective. Taking control over the quantity of content and the rate of movement in my life in the face of my job, family, social life, and other commitments can seem like an overwhelming prospect… But it becomes a lot less daunting when me and “my people” share that common goal.
Here are a few suggestions that I have used to make the process easier:
- Checking in with others.
When I am consumed by playing catch up on my to-do list, I generally have little motivation or energy to check in with the people I am closest to, to inquire into their well-being. My primary relationships can be my greatest source of support and paradoxically, they can be the ones that I am most likely to take for granted and perhaps neglect. The act of checking in with my people doesn’t take a long time, and merely inquiring about how they are doing (with a genuine interest in actually hearing their answer) is an expression of sincere interest and concern that is undoubtedly beneficial to both of us.
Yes, I know we’re all always doing this naturally, but 99.99% of the time we’re not aware of our breathing.. Simply bringing consciousness to my breath, even for a moment or two, is enough to center myself in the present and disengage from the chatter that fills my mind most of the time. The same chatter that activates anxiety and distressing thoughts with which I easily become preoccupied. Becoming conscious of my breathing is an effortless and nearly instantaneous means of interrupting the grip of negative thought cycles.
- Turn off the TV, laptop, tablet, cell phone and all electronic devices.
Create an inner sanctuary. I make my internal world a place that offers a respite from the external visual, auditory, and other sensory stimuli that are so prevalent in our world. I choose to focus only upon the kinds of thoughts or mental images that promote feelings of peace and well-being. This doesn’t mean that I go into denial or ignore legitimate and actual concerns that need to be tended to, but that I set boundaries around chosen times in which certain activities are off limits.
- Practice humility.
I remind myself that I am more than this bundle of desires and beliefs encapsulated in a body. Reminding myself that although I have a physical presence, I am much more than that. Remembering my true nature and affirming my relationship with all the other beings with whom I share this wondrous planet is a powerful antidote to the state of forgetfulness that I can fall into when I lose sight of my interconnected relationship with the cosmos.
- Reporting what I am experiencing with emphasis on what I am feeling in the moment.
It’s a good idea to do this one on a regular and frequent basis, and it doesn’t take much time when I focus primarily on the nature of my experience rather than explanations or other unnecessary commentary. Sharing my experiences with others who can receive it without judgment or unwanted advice often helps to validate and legitimatize it. It also deepens the experience of emotional intimacy between the two of us.
- Have fun!
While this isn’t an excuse to be irresponsible, it is a reminder that it’s not only okay to experience pleasure and fun, but it’s as important as anything else in your life when it comes to restoring balance and well-being. If my experience of life generally feels grim or oppressive, I not only won’t have much fun, but I find it difficult to manage the commitments that I have chosen to take on. People who feel victimized by their obligations rather than having a choice about them, tend to burn out much faster than those who know that they have not only chosen their commitments, but they have the power to choose how they feel about fulfilling them.
- Practice gratitude.
No matter what is going on in my life, no matter what the circumstances or conditions are, there are always things for which I can be grateful. Choosing to focus upon what I am grateful for rather than what I wish were different has a profound impact upon my mood and my sense of inner peace. This doesn’t mean that I ignore or choose not to attend to legitimate concerns, but only that I don’t allow myself to become consumed in feelings of resentment, self-pity or resignation. It’s simply a matter of where I choose to direct my attention at any given moment. (I have a previous post titled “A Gratitude List Can Change Everything” if you would like to read more on this subject.)
This list is by no means complete, but it’s a good place to start. Remember that one of the greatest gifts that you can give to your loved ones is your own happiness and you won’t have much of that to give if you’re checking out of life due to stress. Give yourself the gift of peace of mind and practice self-care by checking in rather than checking out. Often. Do it for yourself, and do it for your loved ones.