There can be no denying that we live in stressful times. The modern world is geared towards the fast-paced and frantic. With the advent of concepts such as fast food and speed dating, every aspect of our lives from the food we eat to the relationships we build has been thrown into hyperdrive.
(If you are looking for information related to the stressful time we find ourselves in currently – the Covid-19 pandemic – please also see Lockdown Slow down)
Consumerism is at an all-time high as a result of high-speed connection, one-click purchases, instant access and same-day delivery.
These were tools intended to serve us, to make our jobs easier and provide us with more of that all elusive quality – time. But instead, this onslaught of haste has only served to enforce the idea that you‘ve got to join the race or be left behind.
For many, trying to keep up with this breakneck pace, the pressure to get things done, and get them done yesterday leaves them burdened by their workload, over-wrought, frazzled, burnt out and stressed.
But isn’t a little bit of stress good for you?
“Pressure makes diamonds”
George S. Patton Jr.
Actually – the right kind of pressure makes diamonds – also, I Googled it… it takes between 1 & 3 billion years. You got that kind of time?
While it might be said that a small amount of stress can help keep you focused, and even be beneficial to your body’s functionality, continual pressure creates problems.
The role of stress
When you are stressed, your body releases hormones such as norepinephrine, adrenaline and cortisol. All of these hormones serve a purpose and are inherently very useful.
In stressful situations they cause your heart rate to increase and your energy levels to rise, gearing you up for a fight or flight response which could potentially save your life.
The big boy, the so-called stress hormone Cortisol, also causes your body to shut down any functions it deems unnecessary in a survival situation, so you can remain fine-tuned and focused on the perceived danger.
All fine and dandy, but in periods of prolonged stress, your body doesn’t get a chance to reset and resume its normal functions, causing you to exist in this heightened state, waiting to defend yourself from attack.
This, in turn, can lead to devastating effects on all your bodily functions and result in high blood pressure, brain fog, lowered immunity, depression, anxiety, heart disease and obesity, not to mention, physical and emotional exhaustion.
Many proven ways to reduce cortisol levels, such as listening to relaxing music, meditation, mindfulness & yoga are practices that are often naturally woven into a Slow Living ethos.
The Slow Living movement is a steadily growing lifestyle that emphasises the importance of returning to a slower-paced existence and more relaxed day-to-day model.
Slowing your pace means you can take a step back and breathe. By creating deliberate periods of calm and stillness in which to assess your situation, you place yourself in a better position to be able to control your stress levels.
Related reading: Slow Morning Routines for Weekends
How do you slow down stress?
There are many ways you can use slow living principles to bring some well-deserved calm to your chaos:
Make sure you are carving out time just to unwind. You don’t need to be busy ALL the time. It is perfectly OK sometimes to just do nothing. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it is essential to your wellbeing.
Give yourself some self-care time every day to pause. Make yourself a cuppa, find a sunny spot. Sit in it. That is all!
We seldom give ourselves space to hear ourselves think – you might be surprised what comes to the surface when you quieten the noise.
Practice deep, meditative breathing by all means, but really what I mean here is allowing yourself a moment between activities to shift gears:
Rushing from one thing to the next or juggling multiple activities is something we are all guilty of from time to time. Allowing yourself a moment to adjust between each separate item is an excellent way of resetting a little so that it doesn’t all boil up and become overwhelming.
Try a transition meditation, just a couple of minutes with your eyes closed, decompressing and recalibrating. If you’ve been at work all day, giving yourself a moment to calm your mind before being with your family means you can be more present with them, not still stuck in office mode.
Go slow to go fast
“One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren’t enough hours in the day, but if we do each thing calmly and carefully, we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.”
Sometimes there is no avoiding the fact that there are deadlines to meet, and all the mindfulness and positive thinking in the world isn’t going to stop that. But it really is true that you can work faster if you slow down.
I so often need reminding of this one. The faster you go, the more tangled in knots you let yourself get, the harder it is to process and make sense of things. Take your time. Be methodical.
Mindset plays a huge part here. Two people might have exactly the same workload. One is frantic and rushing:
“There just isn’t enough time to everything I need to do!”
The other adopts a slower, less hurried attitude:
“It’s fine, I have plenty of time and if I focus on the important work, it will always get done.”
You really do have so much power over yourself, if you only slow down enough to access it.
Related reading: Developing a Growth Mindset – A Beginner’s Guide
Practice good sleep hygiene
Getting the correct amount of sleep is an integral part of reducing cortisol, and in calmer times, this again is an easy habit to establish in a slower pace of life – if you are not constantly rushing to meet deadlines and live in a state of calm, you are naturally more relaxed, rested and able to sleep.
However, in times of stress, it is naturally harder to fall asleep. Your guard is down at night time and it can be next to impossible to quieten the anxious voices. So how are you supposed to ensure you are getting the right amount and quality of sleep if your head is buzzing with ‘what ifs’?
There are several things you can try if you are having trouble sleeping:
- Make sure your room is dark – this will boost your production of melatonin, a hormone which promotes sleep
- Exercise during the day so that you are tired at night (although ideally, not right before bed, as this might have the opposite effect!)
- Go to bed at the same time each night & set an alarm for the same time each morning. This will help you reset your circadian rhythm, the infinitely clever internal clock we all possess, but like to confuse with late nights and bright lights…
- Do not, I repeat, DO NOT lie in bed scrolling through your phone. Aim for no screens at all for the hour before bed
- Limit caffeine consumption throughout the day, I know it’s luscious stuff but…
- Avoid alcohol. Ditto.
- Use your bedroom for sleep only – for example, if you work from home, try not to use your bedroom as your office
- If there is a specific worry that is playing on your mind, you could try to visualise putting it away for the night -really try and picture yourself placing your concerns in a drawer or filing cabinet – assuring yourself that you will revisit it in the morning
Be honest with yourself about what is stressing you out. Recognise when you are most likely to react negatively to a situation and do what you can to avoid it. Obviously, there are some situations where simply avoiding the trigger isn’t going to be an option. In these instances, simply being more mindful of what is happening and recognising that it may affect you adversely will help.
So often we can be caught off guard, not knowing what has happened. How often have you caught yourself exclaiming:
“Why am I feeling this way?”
Start learning what sets you off and be aware of it.
A regular meditation practice can be a powerful antidote to stress but don’t expect too much at first! The beauty (and also the thing that people find the hardest about meditating) is the fact that you are really brutally left alone with your mind.
It can be next to impossible to quieten it, and if you are feeling stressed and anxious, it almost feels like you are inviting the dark stuff in. This is totally normal.
Try, if you can, to bring your mind to a still place. When the thoughts slip back in (and they will…) practice acknowledging them and letting them go. Return your thoughts to your point of stillness. Repeat.
If you simply can’t quieten your mind, it doesn’t mean you have failed, or meditation isn’t for you. In fact, you’d probably benefit from it the most! Use your time in meditation to actually address what is on your mind. Listen to yourself, ask yourself questions, check-in with what you may have been bottling up. It can be difficult at first, but utterly transformative.
Related reading: Meditation – a beginner’s guide
“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
I identify hard with this quote! Getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper (or a journalling app if you prefer) is hugely cathartic. If you are feeling at all unsure or overwhelmed, just get it out. Write without censorship, without overthinking it, just brain dump for as many pages as you need to. The more you write, the easier it will become. Many a long-term journalling habit has been started in times of pressure.
Know that it’s OK
Forgive yourself, no guilt feelings.
It is hard to break ingrained habits, and natural to slip up from time to time. If you find yourself dwelling on stressful thoughts, don’t beat yourself up.
Again, journalling can help here. Try keeping a designated stress diary. Whenever you find yourself dwelling on anxious thoughts write them down. You can either use this as an exercise in exploring how you are feeling as you write, or just put the thoughts on paper to deal with at a later date.
At the end of the day, just know that it is alright to feel however you feel. Stress is unavoidable, and there will undoubtedly be times when you handle it better than others. Forgive yourself. You are doing awesome.
Focusing on appreciation, finding joy in stillness and comfort in sensory details, combined with careful self-observation can be hugely beneficial to your overall mood and ability to process stressful situations.
By embracing a slower pace of life and allowing yourself to recognise that faster isn’t always better, you are giving yourself permission to detach from the chaos which might otherwise overpower you. Listening to yourself and your needs, slowing down and nourishing your soul – this is what matters.
Further reading: If you’d like to explore the concept of Slow Living a little deeper, then take a look at my 3 part Slow Living series:
Part 1) An introduction to Slow living
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