A few weeks ago I asked my students, “what is the main reason you practice yoga?” Many of them responded, “to reduce stress”. This actually surprised me at the time, as I had thought that many of these upbeat, energetic yogis practiced with me for the movement component, or even for the fun, social element within many of my classes, not for the relaxation aspect of class.
This got me thinking, feeling stressed is a huge part of daily life in our society. Many of us feel overwhelmed, anxious, and stressed on a regular basis, and we aren’t really talking about it. I think there’s a lot of pressure to seem like you have it all figured out, that your life is on an upward trajectory with no flaws or failures. When in reality, life is quite messy and imperfect, isn’t it?
Stress is part of life, but I believe it doesn’t need to consume your life. Some stress can actually be quite helpful, it can give you a boost to get something done, or come up when you are facing a healthy challenge such as overcoming a fear or going after a goal. Chronic stress on the other hand, is detrimental to our health and can rob us of a joyful life.
So what’s causing all this stress and overwhelm? Well, I think there are a lot of reasons for the increase in stress and anxiety in our society today, ranging from too much time indoors to not enough time spent doing things we love. Sometimes stress can come up from perceived problems rather than real circumstances and can be addressed more often with positive mindset work.
I think the reasons for stress are going to be different for each of us, and if you’re feeling chronic stress in your life, I can’t tell you exactly what it is that’s causing it. What I can do though, is tell you about my experience with a particularly stressful time in my life and what I did to bring more peace and clarity into my situation.
I had graduated with a Bachelor of Education and had been teaching in the public school system for almost three years. In the beginning, I was living my dream, I had always wanted to be a teacher and it was so exciting to be working in a real classroom with real students. As time went on though, I started to see the cracks in the system, the shortcomings of an outdated institution, and my complete and utter fatigue from trying to solve the problems of today’s society that extended far beyond the classroom walls.
I also had other interests, my first degree was in Kinesiology, I had a passion for dance and movement, and I was interested in health and wellness promotion and public speaking. By the spring of my third year of teaching, I was certain I wanted to follow a new career path, one in the health and wellness industry, but I didn’t know how to get there or what that would look like at the time. I was at a crossroads and I knew I had a difficult decision ahead of me.
I was tired, overwhelmed, stressed, and completely unfulfilled, I felt like I was ignoring who I really was and what I had to offer, just to stick to the status quo and live up to certain expectations. I was worried what people would think of me if I left teaching to pursue a path I couldn’t even yet explain, and I was scared of letting people down.
As I reflect on this time in my life, I realize that the stress I was experiencing was caused by a few different components; I had felt like my actions weren’t aligning with my inner voice or intuition, I was unfulfilled in my career path, I felt I wasn’t capable of setting healthy boundaries, and my life lacked joy.
So, what did I do?
First, I stopped complaining. At this time in my life, I learned that if you find yourself in a position that isn’t serving you, you have to ask yourself if you can change it. If you can change it then that’s what you need to start working toward. If you can’t change it, you need to learn to be okay with it, there’s really no sense in complaining, it doesn’t get you anywhere, it just drains your energy.
I started to work toward a change, I created a plan, and I began to carry it out. This helped on the days that felt more difficult as I couldn’t leave my situation right away. I held onto the vision of where I was going and I had more energy to overcome the daily stressors.
I Found Joy
Second, I found joy in my life where I could. I went for short walks on a nearby trail, I grabbed dinner with friends, I took trips to the beach when the weather got nicer, I focused my energy outside of the situation that brought me stress as much as I could. This helped me to see that my life was broader than the career I was in and the stress I was feeling, I didn’t have to define myself as just one label and I could embrace all the aspects of who I was.
Before I made this shift, I was consumed by my job, I spent hours after school working on lesson plans, organizing assessments, making calls to parents, and the list goes on (I’m sure all the teachers out there can relate to this). I didn’t know how to transition from a work day to the rest of my life and taking time to learn how to do this was so helpful.
I Stayed Inspired
Third, I stayed inspired to keep going. I listened to podcasts, I read books, I leaned on the people I viewed as mentors and I soaked up the experience and knowledge of people who were where I wanted to be.
I hope that hearing a little bit about my journey will help you in your own life path. Chronic stress is something many people experience, but there are things we can do to dissolve it. Let’s talk about it, share about it, and support each other in it.