Updated: Apr 2
In life we make happiness our final destination, but what if I told you, that you've already arrived. In fact with these simple steps, you can be happy right now.
From the moment you were born, you were probably very sensitive. Ever since you've felt life more intensely than others. You react more strongly to stress, and take longer to calm down. If you spent your childhood in an invalidating environment which dismissed your emotions as out of hand, your innate sensitivity probably turned into learnt emotional instability. Your needs your were unmet, now everything hurts! Relationships are in chaos, your behaviour is out of control. You may even think of suicide just to escape the pain of your emotions.
Regulating how you feel isn't easy, in fact it's downright difficult. Nevertheless, if you practise emotional regulation techniques, and learn to let go and relax you'll soon handle stress like a pro. It is calmness which forms the basis of longterm recovery.
1/ Watch the breath
In Buddhism this is called "Samatha." You can calm the body by anchoring your mind to the breath. Use the breath as the object of contemplation in order to calm down.
If you find yourself always anxious, it's likely that over the years you've forgotten how to breathe correctly. You have to relearn the art of breathing in order to relax.
Count the inbreath as "one" or substitute "one" with a word like "peace." Now count the out-breath as "two" or a substitute word like "calm." Inhale and exhale, one and two, peace and calm, then keep going. At first it may appear like you're breath is tense, shallow even panicky; stay with it - it'll calm down. Don't force your breath to be something it's not. Just let it be natural. The breath works on it's own accord. By watching and observing , it naturally becomes smooth. When your breath becomes smooth, your body relaxes, when your body relaxes, your thoughts become less frenzied and more peaceful. It's like taking the plug out of a washing machine. Before the thoughts were getting hurled about, now the cycle has finished, the thoughts lie dormant. Everything's peaceful.
2/ Encourage mindfulness in daily life
Mindfulness is now the buzzword of the 21st century, but this five thousand year old practise can change your life. It is your greatest weapon against unstable thoughts, feelings and behaviours: Simply stop, take a step back, and observe what's happening.
Whether you are sitting at a desk at work, or lying awake in bed unable to sleep at night, observe what's happening. Know what it is that you are doing at all times. Sitting, standing, walking, or lying down, whatever you're doing, do it mindfully.
In Buddhism mindfulness in daily life is called Sati Sampajañña - it means recollective awareness; because awareness is not enough on it's own. You can rob a bank mindfully, an insect is aware, an earthworm too, but no one would call them mindful. Real mindfulness must be combined with wisdom, and that's awareness with recollection. Be aware, but also know what you're aware of. If you have mindfulness in daily life, your life is much more peaceful, because you are alive to the present moment. No longer lost in the past or future, neither deluded by desire or aversion, you're awake to life here and now.
3/ Identify Emotions
People with emotional instability have trouble identifying their emotions. We tend to embody our feelings, becoming anger, anxiety, shame, guilt, sadness or disgust. If we're asked how we feel we may resort to metaphor or simile: I feel like I'm drowning. I'm burning inside. These are creative ways to express ourselves, but sometimes lead us further into a maze of confusion. Alternatively we may deny everything and claim to feel nothing at all. This is an attempt to blunt distress, or dissociate from it. To identify emotions accurately, we need to stick to facts.
When you are feeling an emotion, get in the habit of saying: It's like this. Anger is like this, sadness is like this, fear is like this. Allow yourself to experience what emotions feel like viscerally in body, mind and heart.
Sometimes a primary emotion, creates a secondary emotion. Anger leads to guilt, sadness leads to anger. Take note. Keep a diary, describe the various emotions, grade them in intensity, note how long they last, and ask what are they trying to make you do. You are more than an emotion.
4/ Accept and commit
In life you have to manage your expectation of change, with the reality of how things. If we accept the situation at the moment, we can commit to making it better tomorrow.
Accepting ourselves, is difficult: Perhaps things have gone wrong in our lives: We've made bad choices, or people have hurt us. Accept everything, non-judgementally, one-mindfully, and completely. Then commit to making the best of the way things are.
Be patient with what you have to suffer: If you cannot change reality, you can still change your attitude. Victor Frankl, the holocaust survivor and acclaimed author of Man's Search for Meaning once said "he who has a why to live, can bear almost any how." Understand that your pain is just a single tear drop in a wide sea of suffering and that you share your suffering with every living creature. If you burn, give light to others. If you suffer, try to be a wounded healer. Create meaning from what's happened to you and choose to do the best you can.
5/ Be kind
Being compassionate to others is more simple, but can you be compassionate towards yourself? To your own averse mental states? If you want to find peace and tranquility, then paradoxically you must allow yourself to experience pain.
Greet destructive emotions with loving-kindness. They are, after all, unwanted visitors arriving in your house - malicious vandals, dangerous thugs, or just confused wayfarers - invite them in give them a cup of tea. Listen to what they have to say: When you do your mind becomes more peaceful.
Don't bar the door in fear, because they'll knock it down anyway. Don't arm yourself with weapons, because they'll disarm you soon enough. Just be kind and humble: They are the exiled children of your own frightened mind. The habit energy of past experiences. If you can't love yourself how can you love others? No matter what you've done in your life, no matter how you feel each day, always be kind, because this is the path to true healing.
6/ Take care of physical illness
When we are stressed we tend to become unwell. If we are unwell we tend to get stressed. The two work to each other's detriment. Nevertheless, if your body falls sick, then try to make it better. Visit your local doctor, take prescribed medicine, give yourself plenty of rest. Seek out and clarify what's wrong: What's the diagnosis, what caused it, how can it be treated, when will it go away.
Treating physical illness creates a sense of agency which will leads to self-mastery. Be your own doctor where possible, and where not, seek medical help. If you suffer from a long term condition or disability, then don't let yourself be completely debilitated by it. Do what you can each day, but don't get overwhelmed. Don't try to "cure" yourself by positive thoughts, of think your way to health and happiness. Recognise and accept the limitations, and treat yourself with care
The body gets sick, but the mind can stay healthy. If you get shot by the arrow of physical illness, you can still avoid the second arrow which brings mental suffering. Treat the first wound, and dodge the second.
We live in a society which negates the idea of relaxation, however, introducing a bit of tranquility into life works wonders. If you've had a hard day working at an office, or conversely sitting at home doing nothing, then take time out to relax. Go for a walk, watch a film, read a book, have a mindful cup of tea.
Chances are, even when you think you're doing nothing, you're actually too busy. Why? Because, your mind's on a treadmill, your thoughts are running round in circles. Defuse the stress - let go, be peaceful. Recognise there's no place to go, nowhere to be. Everything is ok right now in this present moment.
All tasks can be set aside if only for an hour. If you have a family or are in a relationship, make it clear to your partner and children that you need to rest. If you have no one, make it clear to yourself you need to rest. If you're an empty cup, how are you going to fill the cups of others? Replenish your own mental health, before you attend to the cup of others. Even if you can't escape responsibility, then adopt a peaceful approach. If it has to be done, do it with a sense of tranquility, without aversion or anger. This way produces long term results.
8/ Arrange the furniture
A cluttered house is a cluttered mind. Tidy your room, Is something your mother might have said when you were much younger - who would have guessed she had so much wisdom. However, you'll also see she forgot to add the second sentence: Tidy your room, so your mind can also become tidy.
When you're stressed your room is a reflection of your mind. It will either be messy, or spotless. Neither approach is completely healthy: We seek a middle way dust if you must but then relax. We want the fine line between chaos and order, if it's good enough then it's perfect.
Rearrange the furniture, to create the space needed for tranquility. Create a quiet corner in your house, where you can be completely at ease. Think of it as a little temple, or cubby-hole where you can free, safe, and well at all times. Don't let any stress intrude on this safe space, just let yourself be comfortable.
9/ Reach out to a friend
If you don't call them, then they might not call you. Sometimes if we are stressed we don't want to talk to anyone: Perhaps we think no one will listen to us, or we'll bore or depress the other person. We may think they won't understand but actually we don't need understanding we just need someone to listen to us and be present.
If you have friends call one of them, arrange to meet for a cup of tea. If you are feeling isolated and alone, then call one of the freephone numbers and talk through your troubles. There's always someone listening.
When you're feeling a bit better, find a support group to build a support circle. Don't be cut adrift, and if you are cut adrift don't let yourself drown. Grab the helping hand, whenever you see it.
10/ Be quiet
Introduce some silence in to your life. In silence you may feel depressed even empty, but you'll be creating the foundation stones for peace and tranquility.
In the silence you'll see how noisy your mind really is! You'll be able to see more clearly what triggers you more clearly. What your weaknesses are and how to be strong. Go outside stand in a noisy place, notice how uncomfortable that is. Go into a quiet place, and see how much better you feel. Quietness leads to calmness.
See what happens when you talk to others: Are there words which upset you, and if so why? Are words fused with emotions? Are emotions fused to memories? In daily life examine the toxins which are hurting you. Have you watched the news? Argued with a friend? Have you invalidated yourself with your own negative thoughts? If so don't despair, recognise the effects of the environment then find healing. Know the difference between talking, listening and being quiet. The mind's full of noise, so's the world: Therefore introduce some silence.
11/ Have fun
Don't feel guilty about it. Some pursuits are relaxing: Watching a film or having a cup of tea are peaceful activities. Conversely, going to the cinema or going for coffee are more stimulating. Whether you're on your own or in company there are various ways to distract yourself from the stresses and strains of life. While relaxation is designed to defuse your mind and body, having fun is the perfect distraction from the real world problems you have to face.
There's nothing wrong with distraction - sometimes the stress is so intense, looking away is the only option we have left. So look away for a while. Have some fun. Perhaps you think you don't deserve it, or that if you have fun it's not worth it because it won't last. On the contrary why shouldn't you have some fun in life? You'll find the positive emotions remain long after the positive event has finished.
Each fun activity in fact is watering the seeds of future happiness. This is a vital way to create momentum in moving forward. Where are you going? Toward recovery. Sometimes its the accumulation of good experiences which lead us to remission, so by all means, go play some video games.
12/ Address your problems
Be your own healer, embrace difficulties with loving-kindness, be mindfully aware, and patient with whatever's happening, then get to problem-solving. You might be able to change the situation. If you can't change the situation you can change your reaction to it. If you can't change your reaction to it, you can at least accept it. Don't stay miserable, proactively find a way to deal with issues that arise.
Don't leave it too late. Don't be the exploding gas cooker. If you have problems at work, at home, with relationships, or with yourself, recognise them. See what the problem is: Hold it out in front of you, examine it carefully. What does it look like? Describe it accurately, and from all angles. Look at how it's making you feel, observe what will happen if you ignore it, and also what will happen if you try to fix it now. Once you've got to grips with it, try to solve it.
If the problems at work, can you speak with your boss, or a colleague. If the problems at home, speak to your wife or family. Can you talk to yourself? If so praise yourself on what you've achieved thus far. If you need extra help, find a friend or a counsellor, call Skylark Recovery or visit the directory to find services relevant to you. Finally if there's nothing that can be done, then relax, have fun, or adopt a peaceful mindset and radiate equanimity. Watch the breath and calm down.