Achieving Self-Compassion Blog
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Give Yourself the Gift of Inner Peace
You probably experience some level of stress as you grapple to overcome the challenges you face and meet your responsibilities. In fact, you may believe that you need this stress to motivate you to accomplish your goals or make the changes you want in your life. However, this is not the case. Stress only depletes your energy and serves no purpose outside of dangerous situations when your limbic system automatically becomes activated to help you protect yourself.
I learned this experientially many years ago when my wife and I attended a treatment program for families with children with autism along with our daughter, Nikki, who has Rett syndrome. We discussed the high level of stress and anxiety we were experiencing with our counselor as we struggled to meet Nikki’s needs and overcome our intense fears about her lack of development. She then surprised us by asking what we were afraid would happen if we let go of our stress. I was momentarily speechless (for one of the only times in my life) because it had never occurred to me that I had any other choice than be upset about Nikki’s situation. I eventually responded that maybe I needed my stress to take good care of Nikki or to demonstrate how much I wanted to help her.
Our counselor then asked us, “Why don’t you choose to be peaceful and happy, regardless of the challenges you face with Nikki.” This simple question compelled me to experience a life changing epiphany: my stress wasn’t benefitting Nikki or me in any way. It was as if a door was cracked open, allowing me to escape from a dark room and venture into a new realm of light and possibility.
I eagerly took the risk of letting go of my stress and was excited to find that I was much more focused and effective with Nikki when I gave myself the gift of inner peace. In fact, I had a renewed vigor that enabled me to join my wife in a very intensive home-based treatment program we developed for Nikki which enabled her to learn how to do many new things and brought great meaning into my life.
I have asked many of my therapy clients similar questions when they are stressed out. They are initially as puzzled as I was and generally respond that they are afraid that greater inner peace would make them complacent and take away their drive towards self-improvement. I assure them that if feeling peaceful causes them to stay in bed all day and ignore their responsibilities, they can always go back to being stressed. However, this never happens. Instead, they always have greater energy to solve their problems and grow into their best selves.
If you seek inner peace, I encourage you to ask yourself why you are “choosing” stress every time you experience it. At first, this might be challenging, especially if you have labored under the erroneous belief that your stress is caused by the challenges you face rather than your reaction to them. However, simply asking yourself this question reminds you that you have control over your reactions to difficult situations.
You can then focus on choosing inner peace which will enable you function more effectively and enjoy a deeper sense of well-being. With enough practice, this compelling choice will become a self-compassionate habit that prevents you from ever responding to challenging situations with stress. Why would you when you realize your stress serves no purpose?
If your life is filled with stress rather than inner peace, I encourage you to practice choosing inner peace at every opportunity to make it a habit and begin the process of rewiring your brain to a healthier mindset. Here are some effective strategies you can use to grease your path towards greater inner peace.
You could talk to yourself in a calm and loving manner, just like you are your own best friend. When my stressed out clients ask me how many times they should do this, I suggest that they start with a million and then re-evaluate how this strategy is working for them. After years of practice, I do this automatically every time I begin to experience stress and consequently have enjoyed previously unknown levels of inner peace.
You could also transcend your thoughts and feelings and tune into you “authentic self,” which is who you are at your most basic level. You can go this inner realm any time you choose to experience a sense of quiet and presence amidst the noise in your head and the world around you. I used to access my authentic self only when I needed some respite from the challenges I faced. However, I am joyful to have discovered that I can stay in this tranquil place almost all the time and still live an effective life in the outside world. I wish the same for you!
Finally, you could visualize that you are in a peaceful place, such as sitting on a sunny beach. While there, imagine everything you are picking up through your senses. What does the hot sun feel like on your skin or how do the ocean waves sound? Practice going to your “beach” whenever you experience stress and you will be surprised how quickly it dissipates.
I am behind you all the way in your efforts to choose inner peace over stress and hope that your efforts will enable you to live your life with a sense of serenity and happiness that you can pass onto others, thereby helping to create a more peaceful world!
Nate Terrell, LCSW, is the author of Achieving Self-Compassion: Giving Yourself the Gifts of Happiness and Inner Peace. He invites you to check out his website, www.achievingselfcompassion.com where you can sign up for his newsletter and to share your experiences with self-compassion on his face book page, "Achieving Self-Compassion." He looks forward to hearing from you!