The Art of Calm

June 14, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The general level of stress among our communities is steadily climbing. This isn't just a local phenomena tucked into a few select corners of the planet. Everyone can feel the pressure of negative behavior that's shoveled out by groups as small as one, as large as billions. Know it or not, the negativity of one entity affects everyone on a global scale. Information about how to be a balanced person does exist, but in general it's withheld and hidden, partially by intention, partially by mistake. In any case, the issues we face are intricate. That means the breakdown of systems built on poor behavior takes time because the solutions also need to be intricate. 

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Is there anything we can do right now? 

Of course we have to chase bad behavior. Let me be clear... the best solutions involve destroying bad behavior through education, not destroying people. But until those seemingly far off days arrive, there are immediate solutions that can help just about anyone. And before you start thinking "You don't know my situation buddy!", let me explain where I'm coming from. I won't give all the details, but I will tell you I either deal with, or have dealt with, serious chronic pain, financial crisis to the point of losing almost everything, near homelessness and a slew of other chronic stresses that are often difficult for others to imagine. So when I tell you that we all have the ability to bring calm into our lives, no matter what, I'm completely aware of how impossible that can feel. And yet I've done it through goal-oriented vision, an unshakable belief that there's always a way and sheer stubborn headed will.

Canyon Rainbow BCanyon Rainbow B

Why would I call "Calm" an art? 

Anything that is not done by a formula is basically art. Because there is no formula for stress relief that fits every single person, each plan has to have it's own creator. And that's not all. Every moment offers a new twist on the last. Every stressor has it's own time of arrival and it's own environment. Therefore, we have to twist, turn, roll and duck with awareness, intention and individuality. In the same way a conventional artist wields a paintbrush to shape a painting, the emotion-induced human has to use breathing and self control techniques to reshape their thoughts. 

Easier said than done! 

Definitely easier said than done, especially the first few tries. Unfortunately the alternative is to keep letting stress overtake you. It ends up inducing chemicals in the brain and body that cause damage, shorten life span and kill positive moods. 

The good news... practicing the techniques of being calm are like driving. At first it's a slippery, nail-biting learning curve. "Oh no, I forgot what to do when I see that street sign?", "How many car lengths between me and the next driver?" or, "I just passed a cop. Oh $#!!, was I doing something wrong???" (That last one may never wear off.). After a while things like stopping at stop signs, yielding when it's called for and using a parking brake become second nature. The same thing applies to techniques used to calm the self, except they bring relief instead of causing stress. 

Details, give me details. 

I'll jump right in. The following is a list of ways you can help calm yourself in any situation. My suggestion, pick one, do it for a few days or weeks until it's easy to remember, then add another. The more you engage on a regular basis, the more "Obie-Wan Kenobi" you'll become. Ol' Ben will be proud of you and you'll feel more like leaf in a stream than a stop light in a hurricane. 

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Use your breath

The most basic, easy, memorable and private way to calm yourself is deep breathing. As trite as it may sound, it works and there are some very technical and proven reasons to do this. First off, let's look at how to do it. There are several ways and if you go to your favorite search engine and type something like, "breathing techniques for relaxation" you'll find many. 

My favorite for general calming effect is to take a slow, deep breath through the nose, 2-3 seconds in, then slowly breathe out through the mouth, 2-3 seconds out. One reason I like this one, it's because you can do it in public and most people won't know you're doing it. The benefits include being more calm, detoxification, natural pain relief, more mental clarity, better sleep and more. Do this at least once or twice a day for between 5 and 20 minutes. 

Bonus points

  • Concentrate on everything about your breathing, not just the timing. Think about how the air feels when it enters and exits your airways and lungs. Remind yourself that you're breathing in, then remind yourself that you're breathing out as you're doing each one. This engages the brain with the activity and helps control and calm your mind, giving you at least a bit of time to take some focus away from causes of stress. 
  • While breathing in, imagine you're breathing in something positive, something you can use more of. While breathing out, imagine breathing out something negative, something you can use less of. This might sound crazy, but it adds more control to your mood. I like to imagine I'm breathing in things like strength, tolerance or calm, then breathing out things like anger or ignorance. 

Tactile help

Physical sensation can often be calming. You can go big, like getting a massage or sitting in a hot tub. But, unless you're a cartoon, massage tables and hot tubs don't fit in your driver's seat or your classroom chair. Therefore I'll offer one very easy, simple thing that helps me, and, like the breathing technique it can be done almost unnoticeably. Just take the end of any finger and slowly, lightly rub it in circles around the end of your thumb on the same hand. Do this for at least a couple of minutes, at least once or twice a day. More is better.

Bonus points

Research shows that each finger has an attachment to a different part of the body. Therefore, rotating and rubbing each finger may be beneficial.

Let it pass through you

This is one of the most profound, yet simple and definitely more challenging techniques. Be aware of the stressor, but let it pass through you. In other words, pay attention to the fact that it's there, just long enough to know it. Then, immediately stop concentrating on it and give your focus to other things.

Bonus points

You can imagine the bothersome issue as something fluid, like water or smoke that can flow through or around you. 

Massaging the palms

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This one is easy and carries all sorts of benefits including better circulation, headache relief and a general calming effect. Gently massage the palm of one hand with the thumb of the other. Work all areas for at least 5-10 seconds each. 

Bonus points.

  • For specific headache relief, find the most tender part of your hand between the thumb and forefinger. Gently pinch and hold the area with the thumb and forefinger of your other hand while you take a few slow, deep breaths. Next, do the same on the other hand. 
  • Roll a golf ball between your palms for a few minutes while deeply and slowly breathing. You can also use one hand to work while rolling the ball with your palm against a desk or table top. To be more quiet, you can get ahold of a firm, rubber or foam ball.   

Where and when

These skills are not just good for calming yourself in tough moments. They're also good prevention. We usually don't realize a stressor is just around the corner until it's finally right in our faces. Studies show that, every-day, seemingly innocent things can cause us elevated levels of stress. Take your home or work computer and communication system, for just one example. The EMF's (Electromagnetic fields) that come from computer monitors, cell phones, WiFi routers and cell towers have been proven to induce stress and even put people into fight or flight mode. The foods we eat, water we drink and lots of other environmental factors can also contribute to elevated levels of stress. This means that we're often more close to the edge than we realize. It also means that our bodies and minds are being worn down at an accelerated level.  

The point? It's hugely beneficial to use anti-stress techniques any time of day. Reducing stress is important whether your personal skies are bright and blue, partly cloudy or when you're watching your hair turn grey (the ones that you're not pulling out).

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Practice makes perfect

Any new skill has the potential to be put on the shelf shortly after a failed test run. The good news when it comes to self calming is that these techniques have been tried and true for countless years, decades, even millennia. Keep in mind, today's stressors are intricate issues that have taken a lot of time and steps to create. Therefore, calming them in our own minds can also take many steps and a lot of practice. But there's more good news. Simply trying these things can bring relief, even at a beginner's pace. Once you get one technique down you'll have a solid tool. Each tool you add helps build an artist's kit, one that can be carried any place, any time. There's nothing to buy or carry and there are no negative side effects. 


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