Ah, summer. A time for sitting on the deck sipping lemonade while the kids play on the swing set. Or, as it more often looks, a time for scrambling to catch up on appointments the family put off during the school year, a time for staying up too late and then rousing grumpy kids for camp, a time for saying, “No more screen time – find something else to do!”
A couple of years ago I had had enough of these constant cycles of stress. I was exhausted by the end of every day and I knew there had to be a better way to approach things. I started researching how to reduce the stress in my life and came across Dr. Amit Sood’s book “The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living”. It’s been one of the most helpful resources for keeping my stress in check and keeping me from yelling at the kids when they leave a mess in the kitchen.
The book’s daily focus on principles like gratitude, compassion, and acceptance has most influenced my own life for the better. It’s easy to let your thoughts go wherever they want, but those thoughts tend to be selfish, angry, and fearful: “Why can’t I sit here and finish my lemonade without having to stop the kids from fighting?” or “I wish someone else would do the laundry for a change.” That kind of thinking that tends to run through my mind all day if I let it.
“Stress-Free Living” lays out a system that aligns each of the seven days of the week with a positive principle, like compassion. “The brain seesaws between two states,” Dr. Sood writes, “a default mode of mind wandering and a focused mode of undistracted presence.” He explains that rather than trying to empty your mind, which is the goal of meditation, it’s easier to replace your grumpy or stressed-out thoughts with ones that focus on positive traits.
I started with the daily regimen, where every Monday’s focus is on gratitude, every Tuesday’s is compassion, and so on. Mondays went pretty well. It’s the start of the week and I am usually fresh from the weekend, and it is kind of nice to turn your mind toward something as positive as giving thanks when those stressful thoughts pop into your head.
What I found tricky though were the hectic days – the ones that are overfilled with activities and appointments. I also found a focus like forgiveness harder to achieve at the end of the week. On some of the later days in the week I’d forget all about the traits and by evening I’d be desperately looking for someone to forgive (usually myself – for forgetting what I wanted to accomplish by starting the stress-free program in the first place).
Then I reread this passage from the book: “Add patience to your practice. It is a long journey, perhaps (and hopefully) as long as your life.” I remembered a second method Dr. Sood suggested that works better for some people – focusing on the positive traits for a week at a time, rather than a new one each day. That subtle shift has made the biggest difference in how I approach this mental journey.
I don’t have to accomplish the entire program in one week. I can sit down with my lemonade and be thankful for a whole week at a time, and if I don’t have time to focus on forgiving anyone today, that’s okay too. I’ve got the rest of the week to work on it.
I’m even reaping some of the benefits Dr. Sood explains come in time: “What annoyed you earlier, you begin to take in stride,” he writes. “Anger, frustration, hatred, and envy start fading.”
It eventually does get easier to put this new spin on your thinking, until one day you realize a weight has been lifted off you and focusing on Dr. Sood’s positive principles has become second nature. Case in point: While the kids did conk heads while playing on the Slip ’N Slide yesterday, I managed to stay calm and even thankful that no one wound up with anything more than a sore jaw. Success!