While our lives are fast-paced and filled with all kinds of pressure—work, family, and otherwise—so much of the stress that each of us experiences on a daily basis can be eliminated.
“Just let it go” is overly simplified advice for anyone whose mind is on overdrive, but we can adopt new lifestyle practices that settle the mind. With this stronger mind, we’re able to better deal with stress that might otherwise overwhelm us.
These practices come from yoga and ayurveda, the ancient Indian “knowledge of life.” They work. I speak from experience, and I’m sure that the millions of people who have been using these sciences to keep them healthy for thousands of years would agree too.
So, how do we strengthen the mind? One of the first shifts we should all try to make is to stop multitasking. This is especially difficult for us women. We’re programmed to multitask—baby in one hand, stirring spoon in the other. We’re capable of doing a million things at once.
However, we shouldn’t do a million things at once. Multitasking weakens our focus. It aggravates our vata dosha, the energy of movement that (when imbalanced) can make us feel overwhelmed, anxious, and yes, stressed.
The culprit of most of our modern multitasking is our phones. In nearly everything we do, our phone is by our side—ready and practically invited to divert our attention away from the task at hand. That little ping of a text or glow of an incoming email will always win over our focus. Hence, the action step here is to put the phone on silent and keep it aside while we’re working, studying, or watching a movie.
Aside from disconnecting from the phone, we can also cut back on modern multitasking habits like working while eating, eating while walking, and thinking about one thing while doing another. With practice, the power of attention grows and that stressful scattered state becomes a rarity.
Choosing the right diet is another way we can prevent unnecessary stress and also help to overcome it. There are certain foods which yoga explains as being sattvic, or promoting a peaceful mind. Foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, ghee, milk, and dates are all sattvic and quite grounding.
On the other end of the spectrum are foods that are canned or processed, meat, spicy foods, and caffeine. These can either overly stimulate the mind or bring it to a low, dull state. Anyone who generally feels stressed should work on reducing (or eliminating) these foods from their diet and incorporating more of those which are sattvic. Fresh, gently spiced, and primarily vegetarian food is the way to go.
And then there’s breathing. The connection between mind and breath cannot be overemphasized. I noticed in myself that whenever I was feeling overwhelmed, I unconsciously clenched my belly. I stifled my breath and unintentionally added to my own stress, since shallow breathing signals to the body that it’s under threat. I’ve since become aware of how many of us carry this pattern, and it requires our attention to undo.
I find it helpful to check in every now and then and become mindful of the belly. Only by bringing in awareness can we break the habit of stifling or holding our breath. If we are clenching the abdominal muscles, we need to consciously soften. A few slow, deep breaths into the belly can help. I like to check in several times throughout the day. Once we reestablish proper breathing habits, we allow our prana—or vital life energy—to freely flow, relieving stress when it’s taken over.
These habits can truly make a difference in our ability to prevent and cope with stress. They’re small things, yes—but as we see in ayurveda, it’s often the seemingly smallest changes that make the biggest difference. How we eat, breathe, and live can either weaken the mind or make it strong, and these three practices are amazing for building up our mental ability to deal with stress.
Author: Julie Bernier
Image: Flickr/Martin Cooper
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina