Inner Reflections
December 3, 2019

5 Tips to Deal with Stress

Let’s face it, life can often feel busy, chaotic and sometimes stressful, especially around the holidays.

During busy times, it’s easy to get swept away with stress and anxiety — to lose composure.

In this podcast, I share 5 tips to keep you calm and help you manage stress like champ. (Your loved ones will thank you for this one!)

Hope you enjoy this inspiring episode!

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FULL TRANSCRIPT   [The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The BE ULTIMATE Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]

Welcome to the BE ULTIMATE Podcast.

This is Travis Eliot, and thank you for tuning in to another episode.

So at the time of this recording, Thanksgiving just passed a couple of days ago. We just had Black Friday. We have Cyber Monday coming up, Giving Tuesday. The same time that the holidays are happening, I’m also at the climax of training for a 50K trail run, 31 miles, 5,500 in total feet and elevation gain. This race is a beast. It’s actually, at the time of this podcast recording, a week from today.

I have to be honest. I’m a little bit scared. I’m a little bit nervous.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt

In addition to the holidays, the preparation for training for the trail run, I have a baby coming on the way in February, and I’ve been working on a huge, massive, epic, colossal new yoga program. Keep your eyes out for an announcement very, very, very, very soon. And then we have Christmas right around the corner, so we’ve got to get the presents. We’ve got to get ready. We’ve got to put up the Christmas tree, all that, so I felt inspired in this podcast to just offer some insights and some wisdom of some tips that have really worked well for me to maintain calm and composure in the holidays.

But as I was designing this podcast, I started to think, “These tips aren’t just applicable for the holidays. They’re applicable to any time in your life where you feel busy and maybe you feel like you’re bumping up against the edge of what stresses you out.”

So I want to bring this mindfulness and hopefully, some help so that you can navigate your way through these busy times, whether it is the holidays or major transitions, changing a job, moving to a new location, and just dealing with the rigmarole of those times where we just might feel a little bit overwhelmed.

Here are the five tips to help you deal with stress.

1) Your mental and your emotional state is independent of what’s happening around you.

You see, we give our power up to external factors. A lot of us live our life like a pinball, reacting to reactions, whether that’s people or events, and we’re giving our power up.

But it doesn’t have to be like that, so think about this idea of really being the calm in the storm. It blows me away. I do a lot of traveling to go teach around the country, around the world, and often in airports on a monthly basis, and it’s amazing to just see people so stressed out in these environments when you don’t necessarily have to be. And I think that the reason why a lot of people are acting stressed out is because they’re reacting to the chaos that’s going on around them, so when other people are acting stressful, then that causes them to start to become more reactive. And then we start getting stressed and anxious, and all these programs get triggered.

We have mirror neurons in the brain, and these mirror neurons are really keying off of what other people are doing. So it’s woven into our biology to really be aware of what other people are doing, and this can serve really positive benefits like a child that’s learning from a parent when they’re really young. When they’re a baby, their mirror neurons are able to key off what mom or dad is doing, and that helps them to really start to grow and to create new circuitry inside of the brain.

It also helps us to develop empathy. When we see another person suffering, our mirror neurons can make us feel that person’s burden that they might be carrying.

At the same time that this is very important, we also have to be aware that we don’t want to let it pull us into these negative, downward spirals of negativity and reactivity.

In addition to mirror neurons, we also have something called emotional contagion, and that’s similar to how the brain has these neurons that are keying off what other people are doing. We also feel within our hearts the emotions of the environments that we’re in and the emotions that other people are in, and you know what I’m talking about. When you’re around somebody that’s really happy, that has a really positive energy and positive vibes, it lifts you up, and at the same time, when you’re around somebody that’s very toxic and negative and always complaining and focusing on what’s missing and what’s wrong in this situation, it really can bring you down.

But the whole practice of being a yogi and meditation and really a lot of what we talk about here on the BE ULTIMATE Podcast is reclaiming your power.

You can’t always control everything outside of you, but you can always control what’s going on inside of you.

You can’t control people that are stressed out in the airport. Or you’re shopping in a store or at the grocery store and people are just so manic and so crazy. You can’t control those people. You just can’t. And when you do, you know what happens. You just get more stressed out, and it causes you to lose your calm, your composure.

But what you can control is how you deal with the stress, how you respond to situations.

When you feel out of control, focus on what you can control — your thoughts, emotions, speech and actions.

I’ll never forget. Many years ago, there was an amazing film that came out called A Thin Red Line directed by the prolific Terrence Malick. And this is a great war film. And there was this one scene where there is this epic battle was taking place, and all these soldiers are fighting. People are dying. People are losing limbs. Super graphic and brutal. Very similar to Saving Private Ryan. And in the middle of the scene, it was this real short, three or four-second shot, there is this soldier just sitting in the middle of the battlefield meditating. And it really struck me. It was such a dichotomy of just total chaos going around, bullets flying, sounds, explosions, again, death and destruction. But despite all of that chaos, there is this one individual that was just completely calm and completely unaffected and unfazed by all the turmoil that was going down.

This is the spirit we’re invoking, and hopefully, you won’t find yourself in the midst of something as dramatic as war and death and destruction.

But when you are in these environments that are highly charged and stressful, that you actually have the capacity to maintain equanimity and to maintain inner tranquility.

“When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh

You see, when you’re centered, you can move in any direction that you want.

“Stay in the center and you will be ready to move in any direction.”

-Alan Watts

But when you’re out of balance, when you’re not centered, when you’re not calm, you’re giving your power up. You start to minimize the choices that you have.

So let’s move on to our second tip and talk about what are some practical tactical ways to actually do this, to allow your physiology and your nervous system to remain steady and calm?

2) Shape your breath to shape your mind.

When your breath becomes choppy and erratic, your mind becomes choppy and erratic. When your breath is steady, fluid, balanced, even and smooth, then your mind remains even as well. So what you can do is you can work with this specific breath pattern where you breathe in for the count of four through your nose, and then you breathe out the nose for the count of six.

Inhale for four seconds,

and exhale out the nose for about six seconds.

So what you’ll notice is that the exhale is a little bit longer than the inhale. And the reason for that is that when you inhale, the inhales are correlated with the sympathetic branch of the nervous system which is the branch of our nervous system that gets us to go, gets us to act, gets us to take action. It’s also associated with fight flight or freeze.

Adversely, the exhale has a relationship with the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system which is the branch of our nervous system that allows us to experience the calm that this episode is about.

You can look at the sympathetic connected to the inhales as the accelerator. And then you can look at the exhales connected to the parasympathetic branch as if you’re putting on the brakes.

When you freak out, when you get stressed, when you get anxious, it’s because there’s this conflict of acceleration and deceleration, the breaks, happening at the same time. And you know that if you do that to your car or any vehicle, it’s going to break down. It’s not going to function properly. So our body, our being, and our nervous system is very similar in that sense.

When you do this breath pattern, you’re allowing that exhale – the deceleration, putting on the brakes – to calm you down, to activate the vagus nerve. And the vagus nerve is related, again, to the parasympathetic branch that allows you to be at peace, that allows you to be calm, cool, and center.

Now, you can do this for as little as two minutes.

Research shows that even two minutes of breathing this way can have an immediate impact on your mental state.

So I recommend you do it for anywhere between two to even five minutes if you want to go longer at the end of a really stressful busy day. Right before you go to bed, try this out. I often do this as a way to really slide into a deep night’s rest and to go into a deep sleep without any stress and without any tension.

One last thing I’ll say about the breath is that if four seconds feels like it’s a little bit too long and you’re straining, then you can adjust it. So you can breathe in for three seconds and then breathe out for five seconds. And if breathing like this is new for you, it may take some time. It may take some practice, but just stay with it. Try it out. The next time you’re going to the mall or wherever it is, you can even do this in your car. You can do it on an airplane. Just two to five minutes. Inhale, four. Exhale, six.

3) Find the middle path with food, diet, and nutrition.

The reality is when we get busy, when we’re traveling, when we’re visiting relatives, when we’re out of our normal routines, things are going to just not really be in our control. And I deal with this all the time when I travel. I have to just do my best. So I may be in an airport, and I’m starving. I just got off a four or five-hour flight, and I have 40 minutes before I got to get on to another flight. What are you going to do? You got to get whatever you can get, right? You got to eat. But at the same time, your options may be limited.

The thing I want you to be aware of is that poor nutrition can really affect things like your blood sugar levels. And when your blood sugar levels get off, this causes stress. So when we’re not eating well, when we’re eating very, very poor, this is another type of stress that we’re putting onto our body when we’re already stressed out.

Do your best to eat well, but at the same time, enjoy yourself. To do everything in moderation or what the Buddha call the middle path. So you may allow yourself one really good treat a day or one caffeinated beverage a day or one glass of wine at the end of the day but to always stay in balance because the moment that you start eating too much sugar, drinking too much caffeine, drinking too much alcohol or eating too much processed foods or dairy, then you’re going to get overloaded with stress. And this is going to cause you to lose your calm.

4) Keep exercising.

This is one of the best things that you can do for yourself during busy times, and it’s difficult, right? It’s hard. Again, I’m thinking about just the traveling that I do. And I may have 30 minutes or 20 minutes to do something, and I may do yoga in a hotel room. I may go down to the gym and run on the treadmill, whatever it is. Even just a little bit of time. Even 10 minutes, 15 minutes on the busiest of days, to move your body.

Some of you might be familiar with my MMP formula — move, meditate, and plan. This is a formula I recommend you do every single day. You move your body.

When you move your body, you change your physiology. You change your blood chemistry.

Think about all the times in your life where you’ve been stressed out.

Think about some of the most challenging difficult days that you’ve had, and you’re debating oh, are you going to go to that yoga class? Are you going to sit down and meditate? Are you going to go for a jog? Are you going to go to the gym? And you had all this resistance to go, and you basically had to drag yourself to it, but you did it. You moved your body. You exercise. And then how good, how amazing did you feel at the end of the exercise? You’re like a whole different person. You went from being a monster to being a saint, right?!

This is the power of exercise.

You change your chemistry by moving your physiology.

Stress hormones will decrease adrenaline cortisol down. And then those feel-good hormones, the endorphins, the dopamine, the serotonin, they increase. So it doesn’t matter how busy you are. Move your body. Exercise even if it’s going for a brisk walk, getting outside to move your body. And this will be another powerful practice to help you maintain your calm.

5) Maintain spatial awareness.

Another way we can put this is to maintain perspective. You see, when you get stressed out, what happens is that you narrow your focus in. And you narrow your focus into whatever it is that’s causing you stress. And when we look back at the history and the evolution of human beings– when we’re cavemen and cavewoman in order to survive, we had to focus on the thing that was the stressor, whether that was the tiger or a potential poisonous berry or another tribe that may come to attack us. So we had to focus on that in order to survive.

When you get stressed out, this still happens. And whatever’s causing the stress, you start to hone in on it. And then what happens is you start to ruminate on it. You start to perpetuate this stressor in your mind and in your heart over and over and over again. So now you’re creating a loop of anxiety, of worry, of stress, of fear. And this pattern becomes a habit.

So maintaining spatial awareness is about reversing the process of the narrow focus and broadening the focus so it becomes wider. We no longer have shrunk into the small self which sometimes described as the body of fear where we’re knotted up, we’re tense or tight. Our muscles are gripping. Our brain, our mind is gripping. Our hearts contracted. It doesn’t feel good, right?

It doesn’t feel good to be in that small body of fear.

So we expand our awareness, and we become more open. We start to shift into such an openness and a spaciousness that the stress no longer has the same impact on us that it did previously.

The more spacious your mind and heart, the more you can hold the rising and passing of life’s events with grace and nobility.

The Buddha used the metaphor of if you take a small cup of water and you pour a tablespoon of salt into the water, the salt is symbolic of stress and negativity, then, of course, that tablespoon of salt is going to disrupt the purity of the small cup of water. But if you take the same tablespoon of salt and you pour it into a big open lake, pond, the spaciousness of the lake easily diffuses the negativity of the salt. And the lake remains pure and pristine.

So our mind is very, very similar. You want to do what you need to do to maintain this spatial awareness.

This may be taking a walk or a hike in nature. Yesterday, I went for an amazing trail run through the mountains, and I’m up there, and things are just so open. The mountains are rolling off into the distance. The ocean is rolling off towards the horizon, and things feel so spacious. And therefore, it has a really positive impact on my mental state. You could go through a drive through the countryside. You could remind yourself in whatever way works for you that who you truly are is not the limitations of the stress or the fear or the worry, that there is a deeper dimension of you that’s much bigger than that, that’s much more vast, and that through the spatial awareness, you’ll be able to handle those temporary waves of stress and difficulty.

Who you are on a deeper level is much greater than any challenge, stress or difficulty. They are only temporary, but you are LIMITLESS!

And this brings us to the next point which is stress is impermanent. Busy times are impermanent. They’re not going to last forever. And when we’re in the middle of it, it feels endless. We feel like we’re in a tunnel with no light at the other side. But through that deeper, wise understanding that all things arise and pass away, we remember hey, look, things are tense right now. Things are challenging right now, but eventually, it’s going to pass.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, repeat the mantra, “This too shall pass.”

You’re in the airport. Airplane gets delayed. That just happened to me a few weeks ago. Kept getting delayed. It got delayed five times. Caused us to miss our connecting flights. It was a disaster. But you know what? Other people freaking out, put these tips into practice, and just remind myself this too shall pass. Come back to the breath.

Keep eating well, right? Keep eating so you don’t get hungry. You start getting hungry, you start losing your cool. And eventually, it does pass. Eventually, the plane shows up, and you get on the plane, and you make it to the next destination, and you get on another flight even if you had to stay in a hotel that night. It’s not the end of the world, to not bring any more drama to this situation and the reality of what’s taking place.

Also, be grateful in those moments for what you do have. If you’re focusing on the stress, then that’s what you’re going to perpetuate. That’s what you’re going to grow. But if you focus on what you’re grateful for– for me, when the flights were delayed, I’m grateful for the amazing trip that I just had. Getting to teach in a prison, getting to be with my wife Lauren. Getting to be in an environment where I have access to food I can eat. It’s not like somewhere where I’m in the middle of a desert starving to death. Come on. Let’s not get overly dramatic here.

By giving gratitude to what you do have and the blessings that do exist in your life, then that’s where your attention goes. And where your attention goes is where the energy grows.

So quick recap.

Those five tips to deal with stress.

Number one, you are in charge of your mental-emotional state.

Number two, breathe. Inhale four. Exhales six. Two to five minutes.

Number three, find the middle path with your food, your diet, and your nutrition. Enjoy yourself but make sure that you’re not creating an overload of stress through poor food choices, especially in those busy times.

Number four, exercise. Move your body. I don’t care if it’s 20 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour. Do what you can. Even five minutes is better than nothing.

And number five, maintain perspective. Maintain spatial awareness. Know that there is a tendency to narrow in on the stress. Take a moment to pause, broaden your focus, open your attention, connect to that deeper dimension of timeless boundless awareness. And then through that boundlessness, you’ll be able to hold those temporary waves of stress.

“Stress is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there.”

-Eckhart Tolle

So be here, wherever here is, whatever the moment is, whatever the situation is, whatever the person that you’re with just be here and try to stop fighting with the here and now. Try and stop fighting with the moment, especially those busy times because all you’re going to do is cause yourself to lose the calm and to lose the focus and the composure.

Let’s finish with the ultimate prayer.

“May we bring strength where there is weakness.

May we bring courage where there is fear.

May we bring light where there is darkness.

And may we bring compassion where there is suffering.

May we be ultimate!”