Think back to January 1, 2020. What were your New Year’s resolutions, goals, or aspirations? For me, 2020 was the year I was going to take running seriously again. I signed up for the 2020 San Francisco half-marathon and was looking forward to training for it. My wife and I were planning to take a nice family vacation over the summer. Because our son will be starting college in the Fall of 2021, we wanted to take him on a number of college tours during his Spring and Summer break. My wife and I were thinking that 2020 was the year we would finally start that bathroom remodel. My son was looking forward to his school spring service project trip. 2020 was going to be a great year! Life was good and only getting better.
Then the Covid 19 pandemic happened. At first, we thought this was no big deal. Just like Sars or the Swine Flu, this outbreak would also pass. Our Government would lead us through this crisis. But suddenly, our lives seemed to just stop. The economy shut down. We were on lock down. We had to stay home. Masks and social distancing became the norm. People started losing their jobs. Our society was facing a crisis the world has not experienced since the 1918 flu pandemic. Not to be outdone by the pandemic, our national Government made things worse by sending out mixed messages. Phrases like “it’s a hoax”, “masks don’t work”, “it’s nothing more than the flu”, only added to the collective stress and our feeling that this situation was not getting better. Instead of working together to defeat the virus, America was fighting with itself. Federal government vs State government. Republicans vs Democrats. Mask wearers vs non-mask wearers. Science vs conspiracy theories. While all of this bickering was going on, people were getting sick and dying at an ever increasing rate. A feeling of sadness, dread, and hopelessness seemed to permeate all discussions and interactions. Oh, on top of everything else, this was an election year. We had to live through the campaign rhetoric, the debates, and finally the election. Just when we thought it was over, it wasn’t. Joe Biden won the election but the President said if it wasn’t for “massive” voting fraud he would have won. He was cheated out of his election victory. The Courts concluded there was no evidence of voter fraud but by then it was too late. The President created another unnecessary fight between those who falsely claimed the vote was “rigged” and those who defended the legitimate voting process. When will all of this this end?
When I speak to people about how they are feeling, the common response has been, “I’m managing but I’m feeling stressed”. After the year we’ve been through how could we not be stressed? While reducing the amount of stress in our lives during this time can be extremely difficult, there is a way that we can.
Throughout 2020, I’ve found that one of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety is to practice mindfulness. Being mindful means to live in the present moment. Often times stress is caused by worry. Obsessing about or living in the past causes stress. Worrying about the future and fretting about things you cannot control also causes stress. When we are mindful, we let go of the past and do not dwell in it. When we are mindful, we recognize that the future is unknowable and out of our control. When we are mindful, we are focused on the here and now. This might sound little far-fetched but believe it or not, mindfulness can be done easily and as part of your daily routine.
Below are three tips that I’d like to share with you on how to incorporate mindfulness in your daily life that will help you relieve your stress:
Tip #1: Meditate Regularly
Mindfulness is practiced through meditation. I suggest that you start of each day by meditating for three to five minutes. Find a comfortable chair, sit still, and stare slightly downward. Take a deep breath in through your nose then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Do this while keeping your mind as empty as possible. To help you stay focused, say “I am calm” to yourself when you breathe in. When you breathe out, say “No more worries” to yourself. You are breathing in positivity and breathing out negativity. At the end of this three to five minute session, you should feel a sense of tranquility and will be better equipped to take on your day. You can practice this anytime of the day whenever you are feeling stress or overwhelmed. Ideally build a meditation schedule where you meditate in the morning and before you go to bed. As you get more comfortable, you can increase the time you meditate to 10 minutes or more.
Tip #2: Exercise with intent
Mindfulness can also be practiced through exercise. If you are like most people, you have probably grown accustomed to exercising with earphones on. This is great and make exercising less boring and makes the time go by faster. While I don’t recommend that you abandon this method, I do recommend that you add two to three days of walking, jogging, or cycling (outdoors preferably) without your earphones on. Instead use this time to focus on yourself. Just like when you meditate, focus on your breathing only. Relax your mind and remove all thoughts that you are having. This is the time to fully disengage from the noise and be in the moment. While you are at it, take it down a notch. Relax and enjoy the moment. Relieve yourself of the pressure to do your personal best. The optimal time to exercise is in the morning before you start your workday. You will find that after you exercise, you are calmer, more focused, and relaxed.
Tip #3: Sleep well
Mindfulness can also be practiced while we are sleeping. You should strive to get around 8 hours of sleep each night. Sleeping improves your immune system and gives your brain the rest it needs. However, with our elevated stress level, getting an adequate night’s rest is easier said than done. Sleeping, like meditating or exercising, becomes easier when you set good habits. First of all, condition your body to go to sleep around the same time each night. So, if you need to wake at six am, make a habit of going to bed at 10:00 pm each night. This doesn’t mean you jump in bed at 10:00 pm. This means, lights out at 10:00 pm. Because most people do not fall asleep the minute their head hits the pillow, I recommend going to bed 15 to 30 minutes early. Relax your mind and body by reading a book rather than looking at your electronic device. Reading helps calm the mind while looking at your phone stimulates the brain and actually keeps you more awake. When you finally do turn out the lights, I recommend you do a few meditative breathing exercises. Inhale deeply through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Do these five to ten times. You might surprise yourself and fall asleep before the tenth time! The reason for the breathing exercise is to help you relax. Lastly, I recommend that you remove all electronics from the bedroom like your phone and iPad before you go to bed. This will help remove the temptation of looking at your device should you wake up in the middle of the night. If you do get up and can’t get back to sleep, try doing a few deep breathing exercises. If you still can’t’ sleep, get up and read a book until you become drowsy again. Tossing and turning will only further elevate your anxiety and make falling asleep even more difficult.
This year will truly be a year to remember as it has heightened everyone’s anxiety and stress level. While many things are out of our hands, practicing mindfulness is a way for us to maintain control of our emotions and how we react to our environment. Along the way we can also find inner peace and happiness.
This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information, and provided by Attune Financial Planning. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information only.