How do I find that holiday calm now the holiday’s long-gone?
Did you open the new year with a glorious, wide-angle view of a landscape full of exciting plans and good intentions for the future? To work smarter, live better, be calmer? Is that landscape already obscured by a whirlwind of anxiety-inducing conflicting priorities, challenging deadlines and daily stresses that make it apparently impossible to achieve those intentions?
Where did that wide-angle come from?
Perhaps you were lucky enough to spend Christmas – I know, seems like a lifetime ago already! – socialising with friends and family, or having quiet time and space for yourself, spending time outdoors in the company of nature or maybe participating in some competitive or extreme sports.
Gradually you noticed an absence of anxiety, which perhaps you hadn’t even been aware of, and discovered yourself really being ‘present’ in those experiences, focussed completely, without distraction, fully able to enjoy them. (That feeling we have – that it seems like only five minutes since we got here but a whole afternoon has gone by – is a great indicator of being present in this way).
And as you noticed this you also became aware of how clear-headed you were… and then as if by magic – very little effort required – that wide-angled landscape of opportunities for the new year, new decade, presented itself.
Now the focus has narrowed
But already it’s February, and all those stresses that existed last year are still present. Anxiety returns, the wide-angle is replaced with a narrow focus on each of the priorities for which there’s never enough time, that focus constantly shifting and mostly distracted. It feels like those plans and intentions must have been made in somebody else’s head!
So what’s going on?
In our holiday mode of clear-headed calm we’re in our Observing Self, a state where the neocortex – the rational part of our brain – can operate unencumbered by excessive emotional interference. In our Observing Self we’re able to view life objectively, to break up emotional responses, to recognise and consider alternative paths, to ask “Is this the right way?” and “What other possibilities are there?” From here we can form that landscape of great ideas and intentions and act upon them.
Conversely in the ‘February’ state – stressed, anxious, overwhelmed – our limbic system is in charge; there’s no access to our Observing Self, those plans and intentions are out of reach.
Here’s how to get them back!
The key to accessing our Observing Self is always to reduce our level of emotional arousal – which might sound like a challenge from February’s point of view – but we are already equipped with many tools to help us achieve this
I like to use these two:
- 7/11 breathing. You’ve probably seen articles promoting breathing techniques as a psychological ‘trick’, but it’s important to understand that they actually produce a bodily response that lowers your anxiety in a very physical way. When you breathe out you stimulate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, its relaxation response, and thereby lower your blood pressure, heart rate and emotional arousal.So when you breathe in for a count of 7 and then out for a count of 11 (hence the name) the longer out-breath makes this technique especially powerful in engaging that relaxation response and quickly reducing feelings of anxiety.When you do this note that your breaths should be deep and diaphragmatic, that’s to say they should push your stomach out, rather than shallower higher lung breathing.
What I love about this technique is you can do it anywhere, even at the desk, and no-one will notice! Give it a go…
- Separating myself from the anxiety. If I ask myself “How does anxiety fool me into thinking in such black and white terms?” I’m immediately identifying the anxious feeling as something external; it is not me. This frees me immediately to take some control over it and to move into my Observing Self. Instead of thinking “This job’s too huge, too complex, I’ll never be able to do it!” I can ask myself “How do I break this task into sensible chunks so that I can prioritise and organise and deliver it successfully?” I’m accessing that wide-angle view.
What I really like about this technique is that I’m actually achieving two things with it – as well as reducing my current anxiety, I’m also plotting an effective route through the task and thereby minimising the chances of future stress.
Why not take the time to try this and see it work for you…
Hopefully, these tools will work as well for you..
..as they do for me. I’ve been in the February state, I’ve overcome it with these simple techniques, and on more than one project I’ve had colleagues ask me how I manage to remain so calm and level-headed!
If you’d like more help in overcoming stress, anxiety or depression you can take the first step by getting in touch with me below..
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