keep calmHappy Saturday everyone! We are nearing the end of our wholehearted living series with only two more guideposts to discuss after this week. Incase you are just tuning in; we have been covering Brene Brown’s 10 guideposts for wholehearted living. In setting the premise for this series, we had discussed the development of secure attachments in our relationships, and how learning to live a wholehearted life can lead us towards security, connection, and intimacy. This week we are focusing on guidepost eight “Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle.”

The first time reading this chapter, those words rang over and over in my head; “letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle.” They are so simple and so necessary. We are the busiest, most over caffeinated, hyped up on sugar, over scheduled, social media addicted culture that has ever existed. Is it any wonder that so many people struggle to manage their stress and anxiety? Obviously the degree of anxiety experienced varies from person to person, but we all experience elements of anxiety at various times in our lives. According to “Anxiety is NOT a disease, illness, or biological condition you inherit or contract. It’s also not a result of a chemical imbalance or biological problem in the brain. Anxiety… is a condition we cause. Anxiety only lingers when we don’t understand it or know how to reverse it.” I’m not going to get into the long-standing debate of nature verses nurture, I think that both can play a role, but the moral of the story is that anxiety should not and does not have to control our lives.

So how does one go about reclaiming their life from the grips of anxiety? Dr. Brene Brown suggests cultivating calm and stillness. When a busy, over scheduled person hears the suggestion to be calm and find stillness, chances are they think of sitting in a room doing nothing, being absolutely bored out of their mind. Dr. Brown defines and helps to clarify what calm and stillness look like. Calm is about “creating perspective and mindfulness, while managing emotional reactivity” (p 106). It is about being able to take a step back from the situation, see all the variables and be able to “self-talk” your way through every situation with realistic and grounded thinking. Stillness “is not about focusing on nothingness; its about creating a clearing. It’s opening up an emotionally chatter-free space allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question” (p 108). Stillness is about finding space for yourself in all the busyness. It’s about carving out a peaceful space, where you can reflect, engage your creativity and process your thoughts. Awareness of self and of our thoughts can be life changing if we can work up the courage to confront them!

How can we get achieve stillness and calm in our lives? Here are a few practical suggestions to get us started:

Take Care of Your Body

I am no health and fitness expert, but based on my experience working with clients, there are a few key health components that help us to stay calm and in control of our emotions and reactions. First and foremost is sleep! Scientific research has shown us that lack of sleep can cause depression, anxiety and a slew of other disorders. Sleep disturbances need to be treated before any psychological symptoms because sleep plays such a major role in our psychological functioning. Secondly, eating healthy is a really big component. Constantly taking in sugar and caffeinated food and beverages creates a feeling of anxiety and restlessness in people. Some drink coffee all day and then take sleeping pills to get to sleep at night. Pushing your body to such extremes is bound to causes restlessness and anxiety. Lastly, you could try reducing your caffeine intake by a coffee a day or by substituting one for decaffeinated. This can help to reduce that shaky, zingy restless feeling.

Learn to Turn Off Autopilot

We all have an autopilot switch and it turns on almost as soon as we step out of bed. We get up, brush our teeth and get ready for work, all while lost in our thoughts and disengaged from what our bodies are actually doing. Mindfulness is a new buzzword that really helps to foster focus and engagement in our lives. It takes us from being lost in our thoughts to actually being engaged in what is going on in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness and the ability to disengage our racing thoughts and just be present is the very essence of stillness. Mindful activities can include doing puzzles, yoga, having a conversation with a friend (without technology), going for a walk or a run. Truthfully, any activity can be turned into a mindful activity if we can switch off autopilot and be presently engaged with all of our five senses in what we are doing. There are tons of mindfulness resources that can be found online, just ask your friend Google.

Bring Calm and Stillness to Your Thoughts

Everything can be going well around you and your life could be perfect, but if your thoughts are racing and self critical, you will never find peace. I have honestly learned that peace comes from within. We have to learn to bring calm and stillness not only to our lives but also more importantly to our thoughts. This involves our self-talk, the constant brain chatter that we are listening to all day. If our inner voice or self-talk is in panic or is extremely critical, calm and stillness are almost impossible to find. BUT we have control over how we talk to ourselves! We can learn to develop compassionate self-talk. When a thought or an assumption goes through our mind we often believe it without hesitation, it appears as truth to us, but we need to learn to question these thoughts in order to uncover realistic thinking and remain calm. Here are just a few examples of questions we can challenge our panicky or critical thoughts with:

  • What’s the worst thing that can happen?
  • Has this been my experience or the experience of others around me?
  • Am I expecting more from myself then I would expect from others?
  • Are my expectations realistic?
  • How do I know that assumption to be true?

The topic of anxiety and bringing calm and stillness into our lives/relationships is such a huge subject, one that I will likely elaborate on at a later date. If we can learn to harness our anxiety and embrace calmness, our relationships and lives would be so much more fulfilling—we would be a step closer to wholehearted living.  I would love to hear ways that each of you have learned to develop calm and stillness in your own lives. Please come back and join me next week when we will discuss guidepost 9 “Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting go of Self-Doubt and ‘Supposed To.’”