10 things I know about finding calm among the chaos

(This first appeared over at Champagne Cartel, an amazing online space for busy mums who just want time out to think about themselves sometimes.)

We all know stress is not our friend. It can wreck our reproductive and nervous systems and make us sick. We also know that showing up calmer with our kids, at work, in our relationships, and for our own peace and purpose feels way better than showing up consistently cranky, overwhelmed, frustrated and fearful. But here’s the problem: most of us live fast-paced lives. We’re all juggling details, ‘to do’ lists, dramas and dilemmas. It feels hard to slow down, let alone stop. But if stressing less is so important (and it is), how do we find calm among the chaos every day? Here are 10 things I know:

  1. You are not unique (and that’s a good thing). How many times have you secretly thought you’re the only one struggling, getting it ‘wrong’, failing, feeling flat, missing out, stuffing up, falling short? And how many times have you finally been brave enough to share your ‘shortcomings’ with a friend only to find they feel exactly the same way? I’ve finally got this truth: we’re all learning and growing—and that glamorous, glossy-haired girl beside you at school drop-off has just as many fears and issues as you do. We’re human. We’re messy. And if you can believe you’re not the only one struggling and be brave enough to tell your honest story, you’ll find we’re all in the same boat. Welcome aboard!
  2. It can be damn hard to hop aboard the self-love train, but if we can, it will take us straight to calm. Self-love guru Louise Hay says most of our problems can be traced back to the (very common) beliefs of 'I’m not good enough’and ‘I’m not worthy’. We all have a long list of things we’d like to fix, finesse or completely change about ourselves. We all feel broken in places or ‘less than’ we think we should be (and it’s these things that stress us out, make us feel empty and dissatisfied, and leave us comparing ourselves to others). It’s one of the challenges of being human, and it can take a Herculean effort to reach a point of total self-acceptance and self-love—unless we approach it from a different angle, like this (also from Louise): “You don’t have to earn love any more than you have to earn the right to breathe. You have a right to breathe … because you exist. You have a right to be loved … because you exist. That is all you need to know.” I reckon that idea’s a diamond.
  3. Our thoughts are powerful (and most of us forget this). These days it seems everyone has an e-course, a book, a theory, an idea for how to “fix” yourself—whether that’s what you eat, how you move, how you manage your time, how you make money, how you parent, and even who you are. In the self-help age, we can start to think we need much more help than we really do. But if we only ever focus on what’s ‘wrong’ with us, we’ll never see what’s right (and attract more of it). Try flipping your focus and see what happens. Tally up everything going right for you right now or jot down 10 terrific things about yourself each day. Pam Grout calls it “opening up your joy channels”. For me it’s like letting the sun shine in.
  4. All our answers are within us. I’ve personally found the most peace in this idea: we’re all part of a greater energy. Some call it the universe, many call it God, others call it the Divine power or source, but basically it can be called love. Whatever you call it, the good bit is this energy isn’t outside of us, it’s within us—and it’s on our side. And, better still, this loving energy can guide us if we simply be still and ask. Try going within to find your answers (and a greater sense of completeness and love). And then try trusting what you hear. Or check out how Gabby Bernstein describes it, and grab her new book, The universe has your back: transform fear to faith).
  5. We can’t push the flow of the river. I think it’s pretty common to have a love-hate relationship with acceptance and surrender. Most of us like being in control, and we like things a certain way (our way!). We push, we get impatient, we struggle. But to feel calmer, it can really help to accept what is in this moment and to surrender to the idea that most things we worry about have a way of working out (remember point 4). Then, we can start to loosen our grip on the reins and even slow that galloping horse of our lives down to an easy trot.
  6. Breathing is the best. Our breath can carry us straight to calm. Meditation and yoga take us into stillness and our heart-centred space of love and joy; mindfulness gently guides our attention into the present moment so we fully experience each moment (and truly live); and experts agree deep belly (or diaphragmatic) breathing is one of the best ways to regulate the stress hormone cortisol. Dr Libby Weaver says just five minutes of deep belly breathing every day is a powerful force for good health (learn how).
  7. Decluttering is a pain, but it works. I recently cleared out 10,000 emails from my inbox and felt like I’d had a week in Hawaii. Well, not quite, but it was a huge weight off my shoulders. Digital and mental clutter are just as bad as physical clutter. They all block the flow of energy in and around our home and our life, and weigh us down. Try setting the oven timer for 15 minutes and decluttering like mad for just that time. Or write a list of everything you’d like to clear out and simply make a start. Label boxes ‘keep’, ‘give away’, ‘sell’ and ‘toss’, and then tackle your clutter room by room. If you’re resisting, it can help to explore the root causes of your clutter (the psychological reasons we hold on to old possessions). I’m loving the book, Breathing Room right now).
  8. Connect food and mood for you. Nutrition and wellness is a hot debate that I’m not qualified to enter, but it’s true that some of what we eat can make us feel less than spectacular – like foggy, bloated, jittery, or down. If you think your food might be affecting your mood, it’s worth exploring with some professional help.
  9. Gratitude is your ‘get out of jail free’ cardYou can’t feel grateful without feeling calmer, happier. Like attracts like, so the more gratitude you feel, the more you find to feel grateful about. Being grateful might also help you to see things are better than you thought. Next time you’re in a spin, stop and mentally recite all the big and small things you’re grateful for and I guarantee you’ll start to breathe easier.
  10. There’s no magic wand. As you know, I’m on a mission to find ways to be kinder to myself and calmer in the world, and I’m yet to find a magic wand. All of these pointers are a moment-by-moment proposition; a journey. Calming down and stressing less takes commitment, patience and practice. Life is always going to toss up crappiness and curveballs. The trick is in how we catch them.
Natalie Bartley