“We spend our lives swinging back and forth between believing we have more control over the world than we do, and feeling, just as wrongly, that we have none. The former delusion is the root of much stress: Why would you be feeling stressed if you truly knew how little you controlled your future, or other’s behaviour? The latter is linked to depression, as the researcher March Seligman has demonstrated: he calls it ‘learned helplessness’ “ – HELP – OLIVER BURKEMAN
Living in a world where speeding up is encouraged, achieving a lot is praised and being plugged into social media has become normality, how do we begin letting go of excessive control to reduce the stress of the modern era?
Sitting in a café, on a cold wet March day in 2018, I sipped my coconut latte, wondering why I was feeling so stressed today? I had no idea what started it. I tried to read a book and realised that my mind was trying to do a million things at once.
I’d lost my presence; I wasn’t living in the present moment, and while half-heartedly reading, to give myself a break from the overwhelm, I reached for my mobile phone to plug in to social media, check my emails and validate my existence in some way. Obsessively checking Facebook and Twitter, what was I trying to do?
I didn’t trust the moment; I’d lost touch with how important ‘simply being’ was, and like Burkeman said above, I thought that actively ‘doing’ was giving me a sense of control of a future that was yet to happen. If I checked my emails, then perhaps I’d have some great news or something to occupy my mind. If I scrolled mindlessly through Facebook I’d not miss anything.
Stress and Overwhelm From Social Media Addiction
What I was doing was adding distraction to an already full mind. While we can feel stress building, we often forget to do the one thing that alleviates it, to take our hands off the steering wheel and trust that life will continue moving, people will continue doing, and accept that we can’t control the future, the outer world or the behaviour of others.
Five years from now will the stress we feel over whatever the subject is ‘work, relationships, health, family, worries about the future’ be so important to us?
Or instead will our peace of mind, our sense of wholeness be more important? Will we regret missing a day surfing Facebook? Or will we regret time with family and connection with the world around us?
Will the world end if we don’t check our emails or surf social media? Is it time we found the value in gazing out of the window, people watching? Or sipping a cup of tea mindfully or listening to music.
The Illusion Of Control
So, what can we do to let go of this illusion of control?
- Recognise that the only control we do have is over the choices we make and the perceptions we have
- If tension and stress are building in the body, stop avoiding dealing with it through overeating, surfing social media, watching TV, playing video games or over-indulging in stimulants like coffee. Put blocks on social media using apps like Cold Turkey Blocker and remove Facebook from your mobile phone and keep it just to laptops and PC’s, set a timer on how long you spend on Facebook and limit it to 1 hour a day maximum
- When tension happens, stop, breathe, slow down, take time out, have a bath, start meditation like mindfulness meditation. And if able, go spend some time in nature and embrace the great outdoors. Nature is one of the biggest stress relievers we have. There is something about the open sky, the fields, the tall trees, the ocean, the babbling brook that give us all room to breathe and slow down
- Make an appointment for a massage or a session with a qualified healer. I find aromatherapy massages the best or seeing someone for Reiki healing or other types of complementary therapies
- If needed and your mental health is really being affected, consider scheduling an appointment with a therapist
- Take an Epsom salt bath. Epsom salts relax the body and also pull toxins out of the body, which can be really useful if we are detoxing in other areas, e.g. Detoxing from caffeine or social media overuse
- Cut back on caffeine, because it can affect the adrenal glands and add more stress to an already overwhelmed body
- Write out how you feel daily, process what is taking place in your journey. This is very healing and gives a sense of perspective as we can step back and see what is really going on
- If your life is very busy, see if there is anything you can reduce doing. Is there anything you can delegate to other people or ask for help with? Is there anything you can let go of that is not needed anymore? If you think your time is too full and you spend a lot of time on social media, ask if this is just an excuse and whether cutting that out will reduce the overwhelm you feel
- If insomnia is adding stress to your life, try listening to white noise to help you fall asleep. This can be in the form of a fan switched on as you sleep or an app on your phone for white noise. Also consider binaural beats for sleep (no more than one hour per day and don’t listen while driving machinery). These help relax the mind and bring a greater balance. And remove all technology from your bedroom at night, don’t look at digital screens like mobile phones, laptops or tablets unless you are using them for white noise. Stop viewing these devices at least 1 hour before you turn out the lights. It’s also very unhealthy to look at these devices in the dark of a room without another light source. Modern tech devices activate the brain to wakefulness at a time when you need to be winding down and slowing down for sleep.
Stress is something that we can all reduce if we try. Make sure that you are not making excuses to hold on to busyness. Sometimes busyness or doing too much can become an identity if we are not watchful. If you fear stopping and relaxing because you believe life will be boring or empty, question whether overwhelm is more destructive and make your choices wisely.
Stillness and silence is a place where much creativity happens. Boredom only happens when we are not consciously present. In the moment, true mindfulness is alive, is wakeful, not boring. And this is where peace arises, in the stillness.
How are you dealing with stress right now?