Burdened with a stressful life? No time for yourself, no fun in your days? All the experts will tell you to meditate, take yoga classes, get a massage, become mindful, learn to deep breathe, and get centered on the present. Good advice, and it helps, but you may be among those who just can’t seem to find the time to learn meditation.
First time meditators generally are disappointed. It takes practice—lots of practice—to learn to quiet your mind and receive the stress-reducing benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices.
Author and psychotherapist Ashley Davis Bush may have the answer to a busy person’s prayers for stress relief with her new release, Shortcuts to Inner Peace: 70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity. With her own busy life as a professional therapist, wife, and mother of five, Bush admits she struggled to find meditation time, too.
Then she had an epiphany of sorts—doesn’t everyone, even very busy people, find the time to brush their teeth, shower, use the restroom, and all the other routines of daily life? Sure, we all find time for those necessities, they’ve become habits. So what if we had short stress-reducing activities that we could use while doing our necessary daily habits and routines?
That’s the theme of her book, resulting in 70 shortcuts you can use to prepare yourself in advance for those stressful moments in your busy day.
Before describing her shortcut strategies, let’s explore stress and why the traditional recommendations for stress relief often fail us.
What is Stress?
Stress is a reaction to a stimulating event. Most of us have automatic reactions to certain types of stimulating events, reactions which bring our minds and bodies into stress-mode; adrenalin pumps, blood pressure increases, and we focus on the fight or flight reaction built into our genetics as a survival mode. But most of the stress inducing circumstances we face are not life threatening, but health threatening.
You’re running late for work, but traffic grinds to a halt on the freeway—you’ll be late and your customer hates that. Or this scenario, you’ve just enough time to make the appointment with a crucial customer so you load your presentation on your flash drive to get underway, but your computer locks up—no presentation, late for the customer, chances of a sale go down the drain.
We’ve formed habitual responses to these types of stimulating events—anger, frustration, ranting, and blaming ourselves and the world for conspiring to bring failure into our lives. While it would be nice to stop and meditate while the computer decides whether it will free up or die, meditation takes time, the lack of which is part of the problem. What’s needed is an habitual response to potentially negative stimulating events that is quick, easy, and effective. Habitual response is the key phrase here. Unless we’ve routinely practiced responses, they won’t be habitual, we won’t remember to use them, and if we try, we won’t have practiced them enough to be effective.
The Stress-Reducing Shortcuts
What if every time you washed your hands you repeated a phrase or two, such as: “go with the flow, accept what happens and move on,” or “send my negative reactions of anger, swearing, and vindictiveness down the drain, wash them away?” How many times does a person wash their hands in a day, five, ten, twenty? Repeating these phrases ten or twenty times a day for two or three weeks will habituate a stress-reducing reaction to the next negative event. Computer freezes? Frustration goes down the drain, figure out how to get it up and running. Stuck in traffic? Anger goes down the drain and you have some time to recall your last vacation.
Shortcuts to Inner Peace offers seventy shortcuts from which to pick; all are brief and tied to everyday events to make them easy to practice. For example, Morning Glories, named after the flower which opens up each day, helps us practice starting each day with a positive expectation, welcoming a new day of being alive.
These shortcuts work because—once habituated—they interrupt the negative unconscious reactions we previously had to stressful circumstances, providing tools for redirecting us to more positive, supportive thoughts and reactions.
Bush calls this process awareness, redirection, and restoration. Awareness of our unconscious negative reactions to an event helps us see a potential downward spiral of anger or anxiety and interrupt it. Redirection results when we notice the unwelcome reaction and consciously redirect our thoughts to more positive, supportive ones. Restoration of calm and peace results.
Once you understand the process, design your own shortcuts. Each night when I climb into bed I recall three good things that happened during the day; recalling the goodness of even the most mundane event is relaxing and affirming of my appreciation of life. My wife, upon entering a local supermarket, typically overflowing with food choices, never fails to appreciate the abundance of our lives.
Tying everyday occurrences to reminders of what’s really important in our lives is a great way to stay centered and focused on the wonders of being alive. Some of Ashley Davis Bush’s shortcuts are sure to work for you.
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