Sometimes it all seems like too much. Whether this happens to you once in a while or almost every day at some point, it can be very helpful to have some ways to calm yourself down. Here are some suggestions…
1. Take 10 slow, deep breaths. Allow those breaths to reach all the way down into your gut (diaphragm) area. Put your hand right there –that place that if someone were to punch you they’d knock the wind out of you— and feel your hand rise with every inhale, and fall with every exhale. Do that for 10 breaths.
2. Invite your thoughts to hitch a ride on your breathing, as if your breathing were a wave, or a train, or a car, or an [insert your favorite thing that moves that you can hitch a ride on]. Give your thoughts a place to rest, a place to put their feet up, and enjoy the ride.
3. Notice your thoughts AS thoughts rather than hooking into or engaging their content and story and following them unconsciously down that same old same old rabbit hole again. That worry about ___? Hello, Thought. That urgent push to do something about ___ right this very second now? And hello to you, too, Thought. That regret about how you didn’t ____? Ah, there there, dear Thought. That looming and quickly approaching deadline for ___? I see you, Thought. If ___ really is something you need to address, it (and you!) will be much better off for you having calmed yourself down.
4. Don’t take your thoughts personally. Did you make that thought cross your mind? No. Neither can you make that thought disappear. Thoughts come, thoughts go. Don’t take them personally. Notice them as thoughts. Let them come and let them go. If you have trouble not taking them personally, imagine your thoughts running around in a big field somewhere. My thoughts, when I do this, look like wild horses. They can run around but I don’t have to run around in the field with them. I like to sit on that bench there under the big tree while they do their thing, thankyouverymuch.
5. When there is a thought or a family of thoughts that has got you by the throat and is not letting you sleep or breathe or enjoy your otherwise good life, dammit!, write the stressful thought down on paper and practice meeting it with inquiry and understanding. “My boss is a jerk.” “My child should get off her iPad.” “He doesn’t understand me.” “My children should call me.” “It’s too late.” “If I don’t have a child, my life has no purpose.” What’s your stressful thought? Write it down. (My favorite way to practice inquiry on stressful thoughts is called The Work of Byron Katie. Google it!)
6. Close your eyes, breathe and take a moment to notice where in your body you sense or feel the upset. Is it heavy in your chest? Is it a lump in your gut? Is it thick in your throat? Is it fuzzy behind your eyes? Is it a pressure in your temples? Put your hand there and say, in your own way, I see you there, I see you. And breathe.
7. Feel the support of the ground under you. During overwhelm and upset it can feel like our mind is a kite on a flimsy thread in a windstorm. Rather than being that precarious kite, turn your awareness toward the ground under the feet of the person holding the kite. Stand or sit tall and strong like a mountain and breathe into that ground. The ground never went away, you just forgot it was there. Let the ground support you.
8. Notice the pull of gravity. As long as we live upon and call this dear planet Earth our home, we get to enjoy the force of gravity that keeps us from floating up up and away. The force of gravity is such a part of our reality, we GET to take it for granted. Take a moment to appreciate that there is always this force pulling you back to earth, back to home, back to ground, back to body. The pull of gravity toward ground is with you whether you notice it or not (whew!) — calm comes in noticing it.
9. Practice being sensual. Turn your awareness toward your physical body. Take a moment to touch, to swallow, to yawn, to smell, to taste, to hear…and notice. Our senses are something else we get to take for granted. Take a moment to notice the world through your body’s senses and allow your thoughts to come and rest in your body.
10. Let your body work up a sweat doing something physical. Allow the muscle of your heart to pump up its volume while you work it for 20 minutes. Maybe you’ll dork dance in the kitchen, maybe you’ll walk around the block several times, maybe you’ll run, maybe you’ll bike to the store instead of driving, maybe you’ll put on your favorite music and jump up and down… Work up a sweat, shake up the thoughts and let the ones that no longer serve (if ever they did) float away. Thought? What thought?!
11. Practice the art of not being impressed by your thoughts. Sometimes a very juicy thought comes along, a thought that is really hard not to lasso in and call your very own. Practice the art of noticing and not being impressed by your thoughts, no matter how juicy or enticing. That thought about that same old thing that always bothers you? Hello there. No biggie.
12. Bring to mind the calmest and most loving person, place or thing you know. Allow yourself, in your mind’s eye, to sit in this person’s, place’s, or thing’s presence with your upset. What are the qualities of this calm person, place or thing? Go there, be there, rest there. How are they (how is it) with your upset? By imagining it, you are practicing it.
I’m about to tell you something very secret: there is an old-timey village in the mountains that I sometimes go to in my mind’s eye when I’m very upset and it all feels too much. In this village there is a group of wise old women — their laps are wide, they have chin hairs and don’t care, their eyes are fierce and ever so kind at once, and they have all the patience and wisdom (from eons of experience) in the world. They are never in a hurry. Sometimes they do a drumming and dancing ritual around me, sometimes they go off and concoct or cook me a magical brothy thing or potion for what ails me, sometimes they chant sounds in an ancient language to put me to sleep, and sometimes they hold me while I cry. They see me; they honor me; and they are never, ever upset by my upset.
13. Practice the tenderest kindness imaginable toward yourself today and give that kindness a physical expression. Maybe you’ll put your hand on your heart or reach your arms around you and squeeze the remarkable being that is you. Notice you. Even and especially when you are at your most upset, anxious and stressed, take a moment to notice how you are showing up and doing the best you can. Hooray! I, for one, am so happy there are people like YOU in the world.