Learning to Stress Better

Sebene Selassie
September 1, 2023
A person wipes a windshield

Editor’s Note: September is a key time to recommit to your mindfulness practice. Summer is ending (sorry!) and many of our schedules are about to pick up speed. With that in mind, we’ve just launched a new and improved Unguided Timer feature in the app, so you can meditate on your own sans-guidance, if that’s your jam. This week we’re also opening registration for a fresh run of the Stress Better Challenge–one of our most popular courses that is designed to help you make stress your ally, not your foe. Here, teacher Sebene Selassie talks about how to focus on the body as a way to reduce stress.

We can't change the fact that there are stressors in the world and that there are things that are going to make us upset. We're going to have illnesses. We're going to have difficult periods in our lives. But we can change our response.

First, you can acknowledge that if you know that you're feeling stressed, you've already taken the first step. So just knowing that you're stressed is very, very helpful. So when you notice that, you're stressed: Pause. Take a breath. Be in this moment, in your body. In fact, whether you’re stressed or not, you can try this right now, reading these words.

Now, this can actually be a little tricky.  Many of us are stuck in our heads, and our culture and our society really reinforce that. As a result, many times people are thinking about their bodies rather than actually feeling them.  So I might say “take a breath,” but many people are actually thinking about the breath, rather than actually feeling the sensations of the breath.  

So, maybe try this again – take a breath, and just be with whatever is happening in the body.

The reason being with the body in this way is so helpful is that the emotions and feelings that we relate to stress only last a matter of seconds in our bodies.  It's our thoughts that continue to perpetuate them: we get caught in loops of worry or fear or anxiety, and that causes the stress response to continue. But when we connect to the body, we're able to stay with the real experience, rather than a mental idea of what's happening, and that gets us out of those loops.

Now, meditation is called a “practice” for a reason. It can be helpful to get a theoretical understanding of stress, but the real changes actually take place physiologically, emotionally, mentally, over time.  We're not going to change just because we think about change. And we're not going to change just by trying it once.

You know, if I trained for a marathon and ran the marathon, that would be great. But I'm still going to get out of shape if I don't keep up practicing. So whether we're training for the marathon or continuing to try and stay healthy, it's going to take an ongoing, sustained practice to really develop this resiliency.  

So – stay with it!  Stress is a natural part of life.  But how we respond to it, that's really up to us.

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and raised in Washington, D.C., Seb has now survived breast cancer three times and is a meditation teacher, transformational coach, and community advocate in New York City. She is the author of You Belong: A Call For Connection.

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