A couple of years ago I was encouraged to put down in a book the ‘De-stress and Age Less’ methods that I have been teaching for many years, specifically my stress lowering breathing technique and approach to eating stress lowering foods.
So the year before the pandemic broke I wrote the book Stop Stress Fast, with a launch date of mid 2020. At the time, I could not have imagined the global environment into which it would be released.
Over the last year many of us have faced our greatest personal challenges, as we sought to cope with the toll of the pandemic, innumerable global tragedies, political chaos, floods, fires, earth quakes, droughts and what felt like never ending lock downs that pushed us back into our homes and unprecedented amounts of isolation.
Since the pandemic broke our world has become almost unrecognizable and many are now living with crippling levels of stress, as we try to navigate change in an environment that feels unknown and unsafe.
Stress has become a modern day epidemic impacting people everywhere – even our children.
Every one of us has our own pandemic story to tell. For some it has been a time of depression and loneliness. For others it has meant re-negotiating relationships in lockdown with no reprieve. For many it meant dealing with serious illness or the death of a loved one.
In my own world I cannot remember a time of more chaos and heartache. Unable to deal with the stress and frustration, one of my friends took a knife to his heart and another tried to hang himself in the garage. Each time I heard yet another pandemic story my heart broke, knowing how much pain the people I knew and loved were experiencing.
Like all of us, I was surrounded by people whose businesses were in ruin, whose relationships had ended and whose children were now suffering from new levels of anxiety. It felt like a time of incalculable loss, as people asked, ‘What is the point of it all?’
As country after country succumbed to the ravages of the pandemic and we could no longer travel, my business started to be directly impacted. So as I was readjusting to the new reality of virtual book tours and everything being online, my personal life came into focus with news that brought me to my knees and almost broke me.
In July of 2020 my beautiful mother died of a stroke. The death of a loved one is always enormously challenging. Yet I had dealt with grief many times in my life and while it is painful, I knew it to be a process that you navigate your way through.
But in this instance I was not only dealing with grief, but the inconsolable hate and rage that comes when you believe that someone you love deeply has been mistreated and died senselessly, and you were powerless to stop it.
From that moment, my life became an endless cycle of escalating stress, as I fought a daily battle to maintain control of my emotions. So consumed by an emotional cocktail of anger, grief and a growing sense of hopelessness, I struggled to feel anything positive. When I wasn’t full of rage, I felt numb and hopeless.
Having spoken with many people over the last year I know that I am not alone in these experiences. Our circumstances may be individual, but people everywhere are suffering from unfathomable losses. Many have lost loved ones, their businesses and their livelihood. Others have simply lost hope and their belief in the value of our world.
I have always believed that what doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you; but for many months I felt so burdened by the heaviness in my heart, I wasn’t sure if I could find the strength to put the broken pieces back together. I wanted to feel hopeful and joyful again, but at this point, hope and joy were nowhere to be found in my daily life.
I was being challenged to use everything I knew about managing stress to heal my mind and heart, and return to a feeling of internal peace. Never before had my daily routine of deep breathing been so critical to my state of mind.
I have always understood that it is easy to do and say many things when we feel good and life is going our way. It takes real discipline to do what is necessary when we are in a state of emotional pain that feels like it is eating us up from the inside out.
So regardless of my emotional turbulence or whether I felt like it or not, everyday I made the decision to sit quietly and breathe deeply for a period of time. And when I woke in the middle of the night with a mind full of grief and rage, I would get out of bed and sit quietly in the dark breathing deeply and slowly to calm myself.
Day by day, week-by-week I did this until these overwhelming feelings were no longer dominating my state of mind. I started to feel hopeful and more positive and my natural state started to return. I still felt deeply saddened at the loss, but the rage was slowly being replaced by a feeling of internal stillness.
Of course this required discipline. If I let me mind wander down the rabbit hole of blame and retribution, I could find myself raging within a minute. And when I did this it would take me hours to regain any positivity.
This situation led me to call on another of my long held beliefs and that is knowing that true forgiveness isn’t about other people. Forgiveness is about moving on and ‘for giving’ me another chance to live without the pain.
This belief helped me once again as I made a choice to move on rather than hang on. After all it was not about reconciling or rationalizing the behavior of others, as some times people’s behavior is such that nothing can justify their actions. I was simply choosing not to let my negative emotions dominate my state of mind or take away my sense of internal peace.
And so as the pandemic moves to another stage and we emerge back into a new and different form of freedom, I am reminded that feeling peaceful and hopeful doesn’t just happen. It is the result of daily practices that support us to find the best of ourselves, so we can bring this to all that we do. Particularly when so much of what is happening in the world feels beyond our control. But what we can take control over are our responses to what happens and the thoughts we choose minute-by-minute, day-by-day.
Deep breathing, together with quality foods that help to lower the stress hormone on a daily basis and the internal nourishment of choosing positive thoughts are what have supported me to re-emerge.
This is a challenging time for so many and I believe as a community it our time to remember to keep an open heart and a kind mind…and this starts with the way we communicate with ourselves.
As difficult as it has been, I feel blessed to have experienced things in my life that have asked me to rebuild myself from the inside out, and to reassess the way I am living and loving, not only myself but others.
From these challenges I have been shown time and again that deep breathing and turning inside ourselves has the power to heal the human body and spirit, and turn hurt into hope.
AS I BREATHE…
Let me celebrate my goodness
To empty my inner world of chaos
So I can have the space to live peacefully with myself
Let me heal the pain from the past
And the situations that enabled it
The past is the past
Yet I struggle to find reason or meaning
For the pain and sadness I have experienced
As I feel these emotional wounds
Keep my heart open
So that I can cry honestly
Allow every tear that I shed
To help me reach inwardly
To pour the hurtful feelings
Into the loving arms of forgiveness
Let each breath I take
Gather the painful memories
And gently carry them into the well of acceptance
So I can rest and revive
In the comfort and peace it offers
Let these feelings spread through my body like butter
So I can move forward
And run towards life
Awake and aware
In the full knowledge
That regardless of what happened in the past
I can illuminate what is dark
And put together what is fragmented
Knowing this is how I can honour and forgive myself
And the ones who have trespassed against me*
I believe we all have the opportunity to bring our best selves to the world and play our part in the healing of local and global communities. And this starts when we make the decision to look after our minds and our spirits, so we can feel more, heal more, live more and love more of who are, just as we are.
Learn more at GregoryLandsman.com
*Excerpt from Faith Lifting Prayers, A Celebration of Humanity by Gregory Landsman