Let's face it: Being fifty is nothing like it used to be. We're more active, more capable and far more youthful than our parents ever were. We have to be. Today's world is far more complicated than ever before and we have to cope with it. Mobile phones, world recessions, even retirement planning all adds up to a level of stress that past generations never had to deal with. That doesn't mean you have to accept it. Instead, you can learn to manage and overcome it.
Your stress may feel different than the kind you had in high school, worrying about who will take you to the prom or trying to find that elusive work/life balance later on. But it's not. Today, your stress may come from different worries, like outliving your finances, but it's really not all that different.
You see, stress doesn't come from the outside world. It comes from within. It's your brain's way of preparing you for trouble by throwing you into a fight or flight survival mode. It's a mode that worked great if you had to escape a pack of wolves, but it doesn't do so well when tackling a draining 401k. Instead of allowing you to manage the problems in your life calmly and rationally, your brain throws you into survival mode; what you call stress.
When this happens, your heart beats faster, your stomach clenches tighter and your brain jumps into overdrive. In a survival situation, this response quickly faded after you were out of danger. But in today's world, danger doesn't come and go in a flash. It lingers. So instead of returning your body to normal levels, your brain keeps pumping out the chemicals that wake you up at two in the morning rather than letting you sleep. It makes you gnaw at your fingernails, rather than giving you the focus you need. It prevents you from being your best. So realize, the events in your life are just triggers, but your stress is all you.
The solution to living a balanced life doesn't lie in changing the world around you. It lies in your ability to change the way you respond to the world. If you can do that, you can reduce the stress that will always come into your life and enable you to find the balance and happiness you deserve.
You can do this in two easy steps.
• First, teach your brain and that voice in the back of your head to quiet down. Let it know that it's no longer in charge. You are.
• Second, be aware that we all have a lot of detritus in our lives. Learn to let it go so that you can live YOUR life rather than the life that others want you to live.
The key to both of these lie in a modern version of a time-honored practice called meditation. It's a way to teach your brain to quiet down so that you can live your life, your way. It starts by simply breathing slowly and comfortably into your belly by drawing your diaphragm down and expanding your stomach. I use an 8-2-8 count, inhaling for a slow count of eight, pausing and letting your breath settle for a count of two, then exhaling for a count of eight, before pausing again for a count of two. If eight makes you uncomfortable, then change it to six or four. It's your meditation, so make sure it's comfortable for you.
When a thought comes into your mind, simply acknowledge it and return your attention to your count or your breath. You can label it thinking or imagine it on a cloud of smoke that dissipates around you. That's all there is to it. But be careful, because your brain will work to distract you. It will create lists for you to think of and ideas for you to follow. Just keep returning to your count and your breath and stay with it. Try it for a few minutes at first. Then lengthen your time to five or even ten minutes a day. In time, your brain will quiet down. So will your stress.
The second part is an extension of your meditation. It's called letting go. We all have a lot of detritus in our lives. We have rooms filled with memories that add stress. We have friends and relatives who, no matter how much we love them add stress. It's time to let it go.
Remember, you may not be able to control the world around you, but you can control how you respond to it. So take a good look at what you own and make sure it doesn't own you. If it creates a painful memory every time you look at it or creates a feeling of regret or sadness, then perhaps it's time to let it go. Even if it belonged to a long lost relative it may be detracting more from your life than it adds. If so, just like a thought, let it go.
The other parts of letting go refers to people that are in your life. Did someone talk badly about you? Acknowledge it, and then let it go. Did something bother you at the store? Acknowledge it and let it go. Bothered by the way some young kid slid into a parking spot, or played their music too loud on their iPhone? Smile, and let it go. The longer you let your anger fester inside you, the more stress it builds. Let them get a dent in their car. Let their hearing get ruined. But don't let their lives ruin yours. Let it go.
You're never too old to leverage the power of meditation to manage your stress and gain balance in your life. Just don't wait too long to try it. You might just be surprised how enjoyable these years can be, if you let them.