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January 27, 2014

Stop Stressing Me Out! (How To Take A Mental Break During A Crisis).

At some point, all of us will face some kind of crisis in our lives.

Let’s face it: we’re all going to lose a loved one or experience some great loss or change that will be emotionally devastating.

This is unavoidable—this is life.

But what about the smaller crises of the everyday sort; the moments that leave us feeling exhausted, worn out, and helpless? Financial hardship, work-life drama, losing a job, and personal conflicts with family and friends are all examples of personal crises any of us could face on any given day.

We sometimes get so caught up in these experiences that, try as we may, we can’t take a break from them. They can trigger an avalanche of negative emotions that seem to tumble through our lives, completely out of our control.

But are they really out of our control? Are we really the helpless victims of circumstance? Or are there ways we can skillfully handle these kinds of situations?

Here are a few tips on how we can take a break during a crisis.

Physical and Mental Health

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

We’re so busy in this modern world. We are always chasing deadlines, planning, moving, and achieving. Often times, we don’t even have the time to take care of our basic health needs. We don’t eat well. We don’t rest well. We neglect our bodies to the point that we can become susceptible to illness, fatigue, and mental depression.

If we’re continually run down in body and mind, the added stress of a personal crisis can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. At the very least, we can find ourselves so exhausted that the prospect of “one more thing” can lead us to throw up our hands in despair.

But if we take preventative measures to ensure that we are in good physical and mental health, this can be avoided. Healthy diet, exercise, and paying attention to our mental state can ensure that when a crisis does come, we will have the strength to face it.

Attitude is Everything

Cultivating a positive attitude in life can be a very powerful way to deal with any impending crisis.

This isn’t just about putting on a happy face. Take stock of the good things in your life on a daily basis. If you’re reading this article, not only do you have access to technology and information, you have probably had enough to eat today. You have reasonably good health and many, if not all, of your basic needs are being met.

Often times we forget how fortunate we are. We manufacture crises out of boredom or habit. But when we realize that much of our lives are actually spent in relative peace and comfort, and celebrate that fact, we will be more likely to keep that sense of contentment and equanimity even when times of real crisis arrive.

So we’ve taken care of ourselves and checked our mental attitude. But what happens when a crises comes anyway?

Be Mindful

The first step of taking a mental break during a crisis is to be aware that a crisis is occurring. If we are able to simply be mindful of what is happening, we will at least have a chance to see if there is an opportunity to take a break.

Take a moment to notice what is going on. Is the situation a threat to life and limb? If not, then maybe it’s not such a crisis after all.

Next, take some time to simply notice the negative emotions arising in your mind: the fear, the anxiety, the resistance. Watch the emotions come and go without chasing after them or letting them avalanche out of control. This will give you the power to distance yourself from the crisis and take a break from it.

Relax the Body, Slow the Breath

When we’re faced with any kind of crisis, our fear and anxiety will naturally and instinctually manifest in our bodies. Our muscles will tighten, our breathing will become shallow and fast. This can become a self-perpetuating state that prevents us from handling the crisis skillfully. We can get caught up in it and lose any control we might have had.

Once we’ve become mindful of the crisis and taken a step back from it, we can redirect our minds towards relaxing and letting go. Take a mental scan of the body. Notice where there is tension and consciously let the muscles relax. Disengage from the fight or flight state of being.

Next, bring your awareness to your breath. Slow it down. Breath deeply into your abdomen. letting air fill your lungs and belly for as long as you can. Exhale, mindfully and slowly, imagining that all the tension, fear and worry surrounding the crisis is leaving your body and dissolving harmlessly in the space in front of you.

Do this for at least three cycles of inhalation and exhalation, noticing the breath slowing down until you feel completely safe and relaxed.

It’s All Impermanent

Now that you’re a little more relaxed, the negative emotions of fear and uncertainty will have less power over you. The crisis may even already seem like it’s passing you by.

Take this time and space to reflect on the impermanent nature of, not just the crisis, but of all things. Everything we see, touch, and experience is in constant flux. Everything is always changing. Whatever the crisis, even if it’s something as serious as a tragic loss of life or property, it will eventually pass.

Take comfort in this and let go.

As we said before, crises are a natural part of life. We will all face them from time to time. But we don’t have to be at their mercy. By practicing the above techniques, not only can we learn how to take a break from a crisis, we may also discover that we are not so helpless after all.

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: elephant archives

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