Since I became a naturopath, the most common question I get asked would have to be: "How can I work on keeping my stress levels down?"
I find that the biggest source of stress for many people is created by ourselves.
Worry. But how to get rid of worry?
It's so simple and yet so hard but this is the best way I know how to work on it : be in the present moment as many moments as you can.
What I know and have observed, is that so much gets taken away from us when our heads are elsewhere.
Where are our heads?
In the future. In the past.
Mostly, we are just NOT present in the present.
We think that by worrying or planning ahead, we are helping ourselves down the track by having everything 'pre-thought' and 'pre-planned' but guess what?
'Later' is going to come anyway and we will probably think about it all over again when it does.
So what have we lost?
Moments that we won't get back.....to put it simply - our life.
For me, I have found MINDFUL WALKING is the best way to practice staying in the moment. Meditation is probably the best way to be honest, but if you aren't a big meditator, then walk!
I was lucky enough to have inadvertently taught myself the art of mindful walking on a trip to Spain 6 years ago when I did a very looooong walk.
This walk was a 4 week journey on foot across the top of Spain. It's also known as the Camino De Santiago or The Pilgrimage. You walk 800km from start to finish and the whole purpose for me was to just take everything else away. Just walk.
It was such a life-changing trip.
The first couple of weeks were hardest as it was getting used to such a new and very different daily routine. Each day seemed a bit like groundhog day.
I had to adapt to sleeping in a room with 100 or so other people, waking before the sun was up, rolling up the sleeping bag and re-packing that backpack and getting out there and walking all day until it was time to rest and start the whole thing again.
After that first couple of weeks, I started to find a groove that enabled me to realise that I really had nothing to think about beyond that day.
I had no bills to pay and no need to worry about preparing food as my only choice was the tin of tuna or whatever else I could carry in my backpack that day and dinners were a 'pilgrim' meal ready and waiting for us at our lodgings that night.
After 2 weeks, I no longer thought about my clients, my life back in Australia or how much I was missing my husband.
What it left me was room in my head. Instead of thinking about the next day, I would simply think about the day I was in as I knew tomorrow would be more of the same. As soon as my brain started working like this, I then just lived in each moment. Sure my thoughts would wander from time to time but mostly I would just observe.
The rocky terrain, the wild berries growing alongside my path, the yellow arrows I was following painted on rocks or signposts. The trees. The changing scenery as the days went on, the pain in my feet, the pain in my back, the sun on my nose, the feel of my straw hat on my head.
This walk really cleared my head.
I felt like someone had pushed a reset button on me.
We made it! My friends Sophie, Linda and me
It was really hard to adjust to normal life once back in Australia but eventually, I did.
Return to work, bills to be paid, clients to work out, husband to love, friends to see, car to drive (cars go really fast when all you are used to is walking!!), meals to be shopped for, prepared and cooked.
Eventually, I didn't even notice that once again, I was living in all moments BUT the present. I was always worried again.
Now, I know we can't all walk and live the Camino all the time but practising that 'cleared head space' of just living in the moment can be so amazing for us and it significantly reduces our stress levels.
So my proposal to you is this:
Start mindful walking whenever you can, even if it's short amounts of time and just practice thinking about yourself in that moment.
Observe what you see and let the thoughts that come up just weave around your brain like a wisp of smoke and dissipate. The idea is, the more this is practised, the easier it will be to train the brain to do this more often and in other scenarios.
Soon, you will be less worried, less stressed and less anxious. It won't take your worries and stresses away, they will still be there but the time you spend thinking about them and getting yourself worked up will be reduced.
I too, need to bring back more of the 'Camino' into my overly analysed and thought-about life and walking is how I am going to start to practice this again.
One of my favourite photos I took on the camino - a local man on the road in front of me (see my shadow next to him?)
Ok, so I have kids now and my worries and forward thinking is even more predominant than it used to be but I can still manage to mindfully walk and practice 'present living'.
Here is how:
When I wake early and my head is filling with worries before the day has even begun and my husband is still home, I get up and leave the house to walk. Out the door by 6am and back at 7am for hubby to leave the house for work. Pick the most convenient time for you and do it.
I am still thinking about so much, more than the present, but I keep pulling my head back to the present with each step. Focus on your surroundings and how you are feeling. Don't be upset when you have found that fifteen minutes has passed and all you have done is think about before or after. Just start again, each moment in the present helps.
If you can't get out before your partner leaves the house or perhaps it's just you and you have kids...take them! Whack them in a pram or stroller and get out and just WALK.