This morning I set my Contigo down on the bench in the coat room. I leaned over to grab my phone before heading out the door to teach a yoga class and as I picked it up it flashed todays news headlines. I yelled at it, “You! Shut the f*ck up!”
I already read my daily news email, it’s all I see on social media when I posted my new reel, and then my phone flashes more news on the war on Ukraine. It was 9am and I was already at my capacity. My heart and mind were too raw to take in any more.
Keeping up to date is valuable, knowing what’s happening in the world is important, and keeping your nervous system chill in the midst of it is critical.
I’m reminded of a Dharma talk from Jack Kornfield where he talked about darkness. He said 2 things:
1) Do no let the outer ignorant darkness take over your heart and poison you.
2) Do not avert your gaze. Do not let yourself turn away because you cannot bear it.
He then asks the question, “What are we to do about it?” And answers with, “Mourn and weep, yes. But also, stand up for a better world.”
There is so much practical and evidence-based wisdom here to break down:
1) Protect your heart.
Please, do not binge on the hard stuff. When we are stressed out bodies release a cascade of hormones that effect almost every system in the body. It hinders the prefrontal cortex (the executive function of the brain that is involved in decision making, reasoning, and being a nice human), and activates the amygdala (which is the nasty anxious part of us trying to get away asap). If you overexpose yourself to the horrors in the news creating high levels of stress – poisoning your heart quite literally – it’s not possible to make good decisions or stand for a better world because you are caught in the trance of a stress response.
2) Honor your capacity.
Self-awareness helps you notice when your exposure is becoming too much. Do something to intervene before you reach capacity. There is no reason to overload yourself, trust that you are getting what you need, and you don’t need all of the details to be informed. Protect your heart and mind.
3) Use regular interventions to siphon off stress.
I often say in yoga that sensation is the language of the body. This means that to calm the body, we must do things that are physical to also calm it down. A few research based techniques are deep breathing, yoga, exercise, shaking, dancing, laughing, and crying. All of these are physical ways to siphon off stress to keep it from accumulating. They don’t take long to be effective, and the more often you do them (pick one and do it daily), it rewires neuropathways, so you become more efficient at relieving stress.
I began today’s class with a deep breathing exercise, and it instantly shifted my state from feeling anxious and overwhelmed to calm and clarity. An easy one to try goes like this:
1) Inhale to a slow count of 5, filling your lungs and belly fully.
2) Hold the breath for a count of 5.
3) Exhale for a count of 10.
Let’s face it, everyone has had an intense few years and now there’s that much more piled on top of it. I feel like I’ve been learning how to live with an injury and now also learning to live with an injury while getting belly punched repeatedly. It just feels like too much.
We can’t change the external stressors around us, but we can learn ways to reduce the stress within us with small yet mighty daily habits to keep us mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy. I highly recommend you choose something and make it a part of your daily routine, whether it’s a walk after work, a few minutes of breathing, or a quick yoga practice. It helps, research says so.
Lastly, when Jack Kornfield says, “stand up for a better world” he’s also referring to meaning. Meaning is what you have when you feel like your life matters and is a powerful (and proven!) intervention for stress.
Meaning is not something we find or seek; unlike what the self-help books piled on your nightstand will have you believe. It’s something you make. Research says it typically falls into 3 categories: pursuit and achievement that leaves a legacy, service to the divine or other spiritual calling, and loving emotionally intimate connection with others.
Meaning is not passive, it is the “standing up” part. You have to be engaged with it. It’s your “something larger than you” that you are actively working on or with.
For me, my something larger is you. You are my inspiration and reason for being here. If I can help you lower stress, love yourself more, and live with freedom and authenticity, then we can change the world together.
I love you. I got you. Tell me in the comments how you’re doing.