In recovery from the holiday season, you may find yourself refreshed and renewed and looking to hold onto that sentiment for the remainder of the year. Or you may find yourself just as crazed, overwhelmed, and looking for something to make the new year much better than the one that has passed. Learning how to stay calm and centered in the midst of a season of stress, changes, or unpredictability is perhaps the most important skill most people never learn.
These skills are for you if you find yourself…
- Taking on too many tasks, stressing yourself out, multitasking and rushing to get everything done
- Unable to focus on conversations or the task at hand, you “zone out”, or are otherwise easily distracted
- Failing to differentiate what is urgent from what’s important, prioritize, or delegate tasks
- Struggling to control your impulses to regulate your internal state with sweets, social media, alcohol, snacks, TV, marijuana, drugs, porn, shopping, etc.
- Feeling fatigued early on and ending the day absolutely depleted
- Going to sleep too late or crashing too early
These experiences may indicate an internal state of disarray with regard to your thought processes and emotional reactivity. When you take the time to pay attention to your mental and emotional state, you may notice that you…
- Have been consumed by negative self-talk: either self-judging (“I can never do anything right”) or others-focused (“Everyone at work seems to be out to get me. What did I do to deserve this?”)
- Have been more reactive lately, and have found yourself in a pattern of responding to others without thinking or planning ahead
- Are constantly ruminating about the past or holding onto anxiety about the future
While you do not always need the excuse of a fresh slate to start a new habit, the new year does represent a great time to put new skills into action, and to create a wellness plan moving forward.
The following are some important tips to maintain an aura of calm and peace throughout the year to come.
1. Conscious Breathing
Practice cultivating an awareness of your breath in the present moment and observe the depth and rate of your breathing. You may want to practice simply observing the involuntary process of breathing, letting the mind follow the body, rather than the other way around.
Alternatively, you may find you want to take a more active role in the breathing process. Take deep, slow, rhythmic, breaths; in through the nose and out from your mouth. Breathe from your belly, filling it up on the inhale and releasing on the exhale. When you notice tension, take a few breaths from your chest first before moving your focus to the deeper, diaphragmatic breaths.
Ensuring that you make this into a regular habit is what stimulates, trains, and strengthens the parasympathetic nervous system response to stress, and increases your ability to be less reactive in the face of stress.
2. Tune-in to Your Body
Whether you make an effort to join a yoga class in the new year, or focus on some other form of exercise where you attend to the experience of moving your body, remember to cherish the body that you have, for the purpose that it serves you.
A good place to start may be simply beginning a stretching practice, where you begin your day by settling into your body, getting to know its parts, and the messages they have for you. Notice where your body holds tension, and make a note to send some extra love that way.
3. Ground Yourself in the Present Moment
Pay attention to the senses. Whether this means noting the areas of contact between your body and the chair or wherever you happen to be sitting, or specifically noting the edges of your nostrils where you can feel the passage of air on your inhale or exhale. You may even choose to settle your focus on the gentle rise and fall of your stomach as you breathe.
Practice being more aware of your surroundings, whether you’re looking for something new that’s escaped your attention in the past, tuning in to the rhythmic hum of the washing machine, or cherishing the taste of chocolate on your tongue.
4. Practice Mindfulness
For many of us, the thought of sitting still or focusing our attention on our breathing, and meditating seems all too difficult to do. On that matter, we may wonder how doing so could serve us any real purpose? Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) developer, Dr. Marsha Linehan, asked these same questions, the answers to which inspired her to translate Zen mindfulness practice into concrete steps and to be the first to infuse therapy practice with the idea of Mindfulness. DBT teaches us the skills of what to do to be mindful and how to do it.
Without attempting to assume control, simply notice what is within you, how you’re feeling, and what thoughts plague your mind.
Put words to your experience; to what is going on inside of you.
Allow yourself to experience the fullest extent of what is happening in the moment. Without trying to explain, rationalize or control the experience, simply focus on the present as it happens.
Within your mindfulness practice, work to rid yourself of the need to sort your experience into “good” or “bad”. Rather, by letting go of your evaluations, seek to embrace reality as “what is”, not “what should be”.
As the opposite of multitasking, one-mindedness is the art of letting go of distractions, and focusing on one thing at a time. And when distracted, returning our focus once again.
We continue doing what works specific to the actual situation that we are in, and relinquish our need to be right all the time, especially in service of our larger goal.