How to Create a Stress Plan With Mindfulness Practice
Updated: Aug 14, 2022
“Have the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Life is full of inconveniences and minor frustrations. You've been there and I've been there. Sometimes we let these less-than-ideal circumstances roll right off our backs. Other times, they get the better of us, sucking all the positive energy out of our being.
Did you know when we let these moments completely overwhelm us, it throws off our endocrine system and takes a toll on our health? And is there anything we can do to stop it?
When it comes to life's hiccups, the biggest source of agitation for me is public transportation. No matter how well I plan in advance, I always seem to find myself delayed because of mass transit. With every passing moment that puts me further behind schedule, my frustration grows, until my blood starts boiling at all-time highs.
During a recent trip to New Orleans, I managed to hit delays in both directions. What I'd hoped would be a relaxing trip became a bit more challenging. There's nothing worse than letting all your worries slip away on vacation, only to quickly lose that polished, calm demeanor at the airport terminal because your flight is delayed indefinitely.
Despite finding myself in these situations regularly, I too often forget that disruptions from Mother Nature are out of my control. Mindfulness practice helps me shift my perspective, allowing me to access peace and ease, even during periods of turmoil.
STORY OF A FARMER
One of my greatest mentors, Radhanath Swami, shared the below story about a farmer, his neighbor, and perspective in his second book, The Journey Within:
One day, the farmer’s only horse breaks out of the barn and runs away. Seeing this, the neighbor cries out, “Bad luck! You lost your only horse.” The farmer shrugs. “Bad luck, good luck. Let’s see.”
A few days later, the horse returns to the barn with a wild mare it met in the mountains. The neighbor is nonplussed. “Huh. I guess it was good luck after all that your horse ran away. Now you have two.” The farmer shrugs. “Good luck, bad luck. Let’s see.”
The next day, the farmer’s son tries to tame the wild mare. She throws him and he breaks his leg. “Bad luck,” his neighbor laments. “Your only son broke his leg. Now you have no one to help you with your work.” The farmer shrugs. “Bad luck, good luck. Let’s see.”
Soon the country goes to war, and all the young men are sent off to fight. All are killed—except the farmer’s son, who was not drafted into the army because of his broken leg. By this time the neighbor knows better than to judge the situation. Instead, he asks the farmer, “Is this good luck or bad luck?”
Looking up at the clouds, the farmer rubs his chin and replies, “Over the years I have discovered that we can’t always judge a thing at face value. The sun lies behind both white clouds and black ones. If we’re grateful, patient, and faithful during bright periods and dark, the light of grace will shine upon us.”
PRACTICE IN ACTION — MAKING A STRESS PLAN
As we're doing the inner work to shift our perspective, it's important that we're also proactively addressing our stress triggers with mindfulness practice. Below are a few supportive steps to help you get started:
Identify the underlying cause of your agitation by keeping a stress journal. What sets you off and when? It could be transportation delays, like me. Or it could be last-minute changes in plans, deadlines, feeling overscheduled, etc.
Create a stress plan to predict the trigger and experiment with ways to avoid it. This could mean leaving earlier to ensure you have plenty of time on your commute, improving your time management so you aren't cramming to finish work at the last minute, or learning to say no to certain projects or invitations.
Test your plan in real life.
Allow yourself time for reflection and review. What about your plan is working? Where is there still room for improvement?
Tweak and test again.
On days with inclement weather, I now buffer extra travel time and set the expectation that I may arrive late. Bringing a snack or downloading a podcast or two ahead of time to stay relaxed in the event of delays is also a good idea.
Always bringing a phone charger with you is another way to stay calm no matter what the day throws at you. We carry around personal computers that fit in our pockets which means we can always use unexpected downtime to check email, listen to music that calms us, or connect with loved ones.
Many of our emotions are linked to our perception of the world around us. Instead of allowing myself to spiral because of a delayed flight, I used the extra time to write this post and catch up with my mom. Without my mindfulness practice, I might have gotten swept away by my frustrations, becoming a version of myself I don't want to be.
In any “bad luck” scenario, it’s easy to become the victim. I challenge you, however, to not let these situations get the best of you. I know for me, the delay itself isn't the main cause of my suffering; it's that I don't like the person I become in the face of the inconvenience. The sour mood seems to last for hours, well after I've boarded the flight. At my worst, I'll offload my anger onto someone I love, someone who is not at all to blame. Positive attitudes are contagious, but, unfortunately, so are negative ones.
The next time I'm stuck on the subway or delayed at the airport, I'll remember this reflection. I'll think of the fact that while we can't control our external circumstances, we can choose how we respond.
What about you? What small step can you take to identify and rise above one of your common triggers? What would your stress plan look like?
Interested in learning more helpful tips like these? Schedule a breakthrough call with me today. We'll work to identify your personal triggers and help you experience more joy and higher energy levels while being even more productive than you are now.