Everywhere I look, people seem to be juggling chronic busyness. We’re navigating difficult people and situations, while chasing our dreams, and trying to make sense of a modern world. We’re doing it all, clocks ticking furiously, and the rallying cry seems to be: ‘I’m overwhelmed!’
I think it’s fair to say that if there was something called ‘anxiety culture’, we would be seated in the middle of it.
According to one study, people are significantly more stressed in the 2010s, than they were in the ’90s. Another research discovered that women are likely to feel 1.5 times more stress than men, because of workplace pressures. And Covid-19 hasn’t helped matters either, according to experts, the pandemic has made people even more anxious than before.
Certainly, there are many corners to place the blame – fast-paced lifestyles, unrelenting professional and personal demands, a lack of meaningful relationships, social-media competitiveness, a goal-based society, information overload.
But that’s not the point really, is it? The point is that unless we decide to give these things up (and, maybe, move to the mountains), our jobs will continue to be high-pressured, and our lives, demanding. It’s also worth remembering that short-term stress is actually important for our survival (but ceaseless tension can have dangerous physical and mental consequences).
And so, for now, the solution might lie in how we deal with our stressors. And figure out what we can do in moments of pressure, to manage our racing minds and hearts.
For instance, when I am winging out, I find that practicing gratitude, usually with help from a guided meditation on YouTube, does wonders to calm me down. Forcing my mind to shift focus from the negative to the positive gives me perspective and balance. Other things that work for me: sleeping on a problem, playing alien-shooting video games (nothing like saving Earth from the invasion of little, green monsters), and practicing the So-Hum breathing technique (deeply inhale to the mental voice of ‘So’, and exhale to ‘Hum’).
Each one of us has our own coping techniques, and if you need some help finding yours, check out these helpful suggestions by a group of smart, successful women, interviewed by Meghna Sharma and Humra Afroz for Cosmopolitan India.
Finding your calm is crucial in a world as busy as ours, and I hope these stories inspire you to find yours.
Singer and Songwriter
“I used to find a lot of peace in playing the piano (my first instrument), and journaling my thoughts so that I could use them to create a song. That process was really cathartic. But lately, I have found that learning how to play the guitar calms me in a way nothing else can. I enjoy playing the piano because it relaxes me and sparks song ideas, and the same extends to the guitar. The best piece of advice I can offer, to stay balanced, is to try to separate yourself from your thoughts. We are not our thoughts—they are just a product of our habits, and we can implement daily routines or reminders to offset stresses and stay afloat. Life is short, and it is easy to lose sight of that amidst day-to-day stresses. Taking time out to be creative every day will help both your mind and body!”
ANUSHKA NADIA MENON
“I have been practicing yoga for over a decade now, and it has played an instrumental role in keeping me calm. I have a complex and busy mind, and a lot of things go on in there that I am unable to control. So when I take to my practice, I am able to slow these thoughts down and even segregate them, giving each one its own space and time to make its point.”
Mental Health Advocate and Writer
“My morning ritual of making breakfast and brewing a cup of coffee helps me start my day on the perfect note. This entire process of giving myself those 20 minutes in the morning that revolve just around me and nobody else centres me. And at night, before I sleep, I listen to some music and read poetry, to conclude the hectic day with a moment of calm. I have been living alone for the last five years. And since then, I have taken extra care to add little things to my schedule that make me happy…and to spend some time alone with my own thoughts. When feeling anxious or stressed, I count backwards. It is a trick that almost immediately helps me concentrate on my breathing. A cup of chamomile tea does wonders, too.”
Pilot, Air India
“Feeding my body and spirit in times of stress is what brings me calm. Connecting with my inner self, through spirituality, is food for my soul. I like to be on my own, without any distractions, so I can hear myself think. For the body, I gravitate towards my favourite guilty pleasure, ice cream. And no matter how down and out I am feeling, I push myself to get up and get dressed, that makes me feel more energised. As a pilot, I am trained to stay calm through turbulence, and I try to implement the same strategies in real life as well. Remember, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.”
“Reading, playing the piano, listening to music, and going for a stroll are some activities that are instantly therapeutic for me. They transport me to a place of calm, and help me clear my head. They make me realise that the world is much bigger than the space I occupy in it—and that brings with it a fresh perspective. So, to anyone struggling to find the balance or conquer stress, I’d say, step back when you need to. Focus on your mind and body connection, and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. I first felt the power of these activities in school, when I had to take the SAT exam. A day before the exam, I was extremely stressed out. I remember putting down my study books, turning on some music and going out for a walk. After coming back home, I read Extraordinary, Ordinary People by Condoleezza Rice. That really helped me relax, and transported me to a calm land far, far away. Since then, I have always relied on books (99% of the time, it’s an autobiography), music, and long walks to find my peace.”
“Burrowing my face in my cat’s soft fur instantly melts away stress and fills my soul. We found Noorie abandoned (or lost) near our building during the lockdown. We brought her home because she was a tiny kitten and the other cats were attacking her. We tried finding Noorie’s owners (she had a ribbon and bell on, so we knew she was someone’s pet), but were unable to. Even though I knew nothing about cats, we decided to keep her, and she’s become the centre of my joy. Much as Noorie walked into our lives and decided the timing of getting adopted, she came at the perfect time to rescue us. She has grounded me, and been a constant companion during this insane, otherwise isolating year. A rescued pet is sometimes sent your way to rescue you.”
Film Director, Producer, Screenwriter and Editor
“For me, calm is within me, and accessing that calm in the most chaotic moments is the challenge. I can be in the centre of turmoil and stress, but still connect with that inner calm. This has been my coping mechanism, as well as my inspiration to create. Finding a point of balance within chaos also helps me make sense of things around me. I also thrive on human interaction and seek it to reach the calm. I am happiest when I am on a set full of artists. My advice for stressful times is to breathe in, and breathe out, and do it again and again, before you react to any situation.”
“Being in nature always makes me feel calmer when I am stressed out. But if I am not able to do that, I definitely enjoy doing something creative like painting, or any activity that involves moving my body. Painting has been my hobby since I was a kid. It always puts me in a ‘Tao’ state of mind…because I don’t start out with a plan, things just happen. The best piece of advice I have ever received about staying balanced is to approach everything, the good, the bad, the ugly, with curiosity, as then it feels like everything is teaching you something. If anyone is looking for a creative outlet, I would like to say: ‘Go ahead and make art…even if it is bad’. It is absolutely therapeutic.”
LILY MARINA BARIA
“It has been my life mantra to never get stressed out, no matter how trying the situation. I am young and in control of my own life. And I ensure that I live for myself and put my happiness above everything else. I don’t wish to spend my youth being stressed out. I have been taking care of myself since I was 15-years-old, and that helped me realise that no-one is in control of my life, or responsible for my happiness, but myself. It is a very liberating feeling. I feel free, happy, and in control of my destiny every day. The best piece of advice I have received is to never change as I get older. To keep my youthful, playful, optimistic approach to life alive.”
Artist and Illustrator
“I generally take a break from screens as most of my work involves spending hours in front of them, whether that’s to draw or for social media upkeep. Physically removing myself from my workspace helps calm my brain. I often turn to painting—watching the paint interact with paper is quite therapeutic for me. Also, spending time around my many house plants, cuddling with my dogs, and reading help me combat everyday stress and anxiety. The analogy between the human body and a car engine truly resonates with me: an overheated engine will seize up or be permanently damaged due to the lack of a coolant, and since our bodies are vehicles, carrying us through life, it is imperative to take care of them, and give them a break when needed, as there are no returns or exchanges here.”
Brand Consultant and Content Creator
“When I am in a stressful situation, I usually think about how this is a passing moment and it is not bigger than who I am. However, what puts me at ease is journalling. I introspect and remind myself that tomorrow will be a better, brighter day…this keeps me going. I had a difficult childhood, and since I am an only child, I had no-one to share my feelings with. It all started with me writing about some random incidents (along with some disturbing ones), and that helped me discover the beauty of life. I lost touch with the pen and paper, but reconnected with it during the lockdown. And it certainly helps process negative thoughts. Earlier, I would assume the worst in a situation, but now, when I write things down, it helps me lean into more positive vibrations.”
Singer and Songwriter
“I took to meditation because it allows me the space and dedication to soothe myself during a stressful time. I try to meditate every morning for at least 30 minutes. I have noticed a huge difference in my outlook on days when I don’t mediate, I am not as calm and centred. Over the years, I have realised that meditation helps me connect with myself and understand what I truly want from life. It also reminds me to slow down and breathe.”
Co-Founder, Studio 60
“Being outdoors, in nature, is my favourite way to de-stress. Vitamin D, a good workout, and being surrounded by my puppies help me be in the moment and stay positive. Nature has always helped me feel calm in some form or another. And, in recent years, a workout has helped me release all my pent-up energy, ultimately making me feel refreshed. Nature allows you to embrace beauty, the fresh air and sunshine make you feel the need to breathe deeply and let it all soak in. The feeling is automatically energising. And a gruelling workout will always teach you to focus on the ‘now’, and help give your thoughts direction and purpose.”
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