Want to reduce stress in your life? Try practicing and embodying key virtues and beliefs that lower your anxiety levels. A virtue is a character trait or even habit that is deemed morally good. Virtues, when practiced, benefit us individually and collectively. They are the corner stones of society. Not only good for the world we live in but good for our mental health. Kindness, patience, empathy, charity and forgiveness have all been proven to naturally decrease stress, release feel good hormones into the system, engage the parasympathetic nervous system and improve your connections, productivity and wellbeing.
The problem is that modern day life makes practicing good behaviour very difficult. Let’s be honest when time is tight and expectations on us run high we can become emotionally reactive. Caught in the slip stream of negative thinking and responses. Responses that ignite stress, anger and conflict.
Here are 4 key virtues to mindfully embody in your daily life to reduce stress.
One flaw in our perception is the separateness of ourselves. We go about our daily business believing that ‘I’ and ‘you’ are separate from each other. That the way I treat you or ideas I have about you are outside of myself. We look at superficial measuring sticks and ignore the great big universal elements that knit and weave us together.
We have a disconnection that breeds intolerance. Labelling ourselves with separate tags building walls and creating divisions. We go about our daily business constantly rubbing up against my perception of your agenda. Sensitive to an isolated set of associated beliefs. Becoming indignant at your Facebook post and cutting you off at the lights. Don’t we all need to get to work? To feed our children? Make that difficult school drop off?
The antidote is interconnectedness. The ability to see beyond your own limited agenda and accept that we are all connected in our wants, desires and suffering. Giving way to you because I acknowledge your need. Seeing things from your point of view can only reduce our escalating stress. Stretching your perception to envelope the needs of others and acknowledging the collective need. Connection is the seed bed to tolerance. Tomorrow when you leave the house practice an awareness of how we are all connected on a human level. Studies show that connecting with others counters harmful stress levels. Make the effort to connect with friends and family and join groups around a hobby or interest you have.
As our ability to communicate on a global scale has sky rocketed so too has our inability to accept others opinions. It’s almost as if the human brain actively seeks out the slightest whiff of something to get disgruntled and stressed about. Our tolerance towards others beliefs is diminishing. Where has our objective reasoning disappeared to? Negative judgements about ourselves and others can blow up in an instant, fuelled by an extensive array of internal triggers. It causes blood pressure to rise, shallow breathing and the fight or flight response is set into action.
The antidote is non judgement. A practice that is harder than it sounds. Diffusing negative judgements is all about maintaining awareness. Recognising when a judgement arises and not acting on it. Be aware of the physical sensations in your body. Slow your breathing and remain an observer of your reactive thinking rather than becoming entangled in it. Acknowledging and ‘naming’ a judgement is a step closer to diffusing it. If the judgement comes from a place in the past, acknowledge that and think about an appropriate antidote such as forgiveness or acceptance. If you are being intolerant of another’s actions purely because of how you feel about your own inactivity, see the truth of that and set some goals towards your own progression. With practice you will come to recognize when your intolerance stems from negative judgement and dissolve that tension in your body.
It’s become a fast paced and frenetic world. Our expectations are of instant outcomes. Our pace is fast just like our food and fashion. We wait for no one and no one waits for us. Less time equates to less patience. People irritate us. Get in our way. Eat up our time. We feel pressured by our goals, left feeling there’s no time for others. Time for ourselves. Unfortunately, this leaves us frazzled. The expectations of ourselves have reached dizzying heights and our expectations of others only just below that. The pace with which we live our lives is disorientating and stress inducing. It leaves no time to rest and digest, instead our bodies stay in perpetual fight or flight mode pumping cortisol around our systems, leaving us tired and anxious.
The antidote is practicing patience. A study conducted in 2007 by professor Sarah Schnitker and Psychology professor Robert Emmons. Found that patience people can cope better with stressful situations, experiencing less negative emotion.
Patience means slowing things down and changing our expectations of ourselves and others. Manage your expectations and allow more time to get things done. Take a few things off your list. Allocate time for proper rest and be patient with yourself. Pay attention to the constantly berating voice in your head and change it to a kinder one. Try not to take shortcuts and engage in therapeutic activities and hobbies that take learning and practice over time. Stop and breath, deep, cleansing breaths in your day and allow patience to become a virtue you possess.
Life is filled with drama. Inside of these daily struggles we are attempting to live and strive, focusing on the next goal with the clock ticking. It is sometimes difficult and taxing. Situations that require compassion become stressors. We react to others problems with annoyance and fail to see their perspective through the eyes of kindness and care. Life can make us insular, disconnected from ourselves and those around us. We spend less time caring for ourselves allowing stress to build and dictate our health and wellbeing.
An antidote is compassion. To be kind to others. To be kind to ourselves dissolves the stress that builds through our lack of care and intolerance. To detach from drama frees you from adversity and judgement. It releases negative feelings and thoughts. To demonstrate empathy towards others fosters physical and mental health. It lights up the pleasure Centre’s of the brain. Seeing others situations through the eyes of kindness and compassion reduces conflict. When we are not being adversarial we are connecting with others. Reducing conflict reduces pain and suffering within ourselves. It loosens the knots of tension we hold onto when we operate from our own limited field of vision. Doing good feels good. Demonstrating caring behaviours releases hormones that reduce stress. Resting and restoring puts your body into rest and digest mode. A state of peace and relaxation. It eases the continual weight on the nervous system and improves every aspect of how we think and feel. Try inserting (even a limited) amount of time into your week for self-care. Reading, exercising, meeting with friends. Whatever is dedicated to the wellbeing of you only. Conversely, set yourself the task of inserting one act of compassion into your day. Empathise with others, volunteer to do something kind, resist the pull into dramatic situations and step away from unnecessary and petty conflict with a little more peace in your heart.