I’m a natural worrier and you may be too. This week we’re looking at ways to keep our worry and anxiety under control and find serenity no matter what our circumstances.
Cultivating serenity can help us be more productive
We live in stressful times. A long global pandemic and all the social, economic, and emotional effects of it, not to mention political hostility. As I record and publish this episode, armed conflict is underway in eastern Europe. So many things are happening these days that have the potential to cause anxiety, fear, and various forms of unease. Much of this is a response to a sense that we have lost control, that we are at the mercy of forces and threats beyond our control. It’s an unnerving, disturbing feeling.
I’ve certainly experienced all of this myself. I’m a worrier, naturally tending to look for worst-case scenarios, which leads to struggles with anxiety and fear.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how the seemingly constant threats to our safety, security, health, even survival–and our emotional response to them–affect our ability to accomplish the things we want to accomplish–to be productive.
As one article I read recently notes, “anxiety . . . harms our ability to be in control, making us feel paralyzed. Anxiety clouds our judgment — it’s a disorienting experience when facing a threat we can’t understand.”
Another article says anxiety makes us less focused, more irritable, less engaged, among other things, quoting Hanna Stensby, MA, a marriage and family therapist as saying, “As you fret over something you can’t control, you lose the ability to concentrate on the task at hand, engage your creativity, or formulate new ideas. . . .”
The bottom line is that when we are stressed, anxious, or fearful, we are, in essence, in survival mode, and in that mode it’s hard to be productive in any sense. So as I’ve been observing–and experiencing–this, the question in my mind has been what can I do about it? I don’t want to live in a state of stress and anxiety, distracted and unfocused and unable to accomplish the things I care about.
But I’ve also thought about the teaching I’ve heard that if we focus on what we don’t want, we’ll just get more of it. Just last week as I was driving home from Florida I listened to Ryan Holiday”s book, Stillness Is the Key, in which he talks about that very concept. And that’s been my experience: the more I think about not wanting to be anxious, the more anxious I feel.
So what’s the alternative?
Instead of thinking about what I don’t want to feel, I asked myself what do want to feel? How do I want to be in the world? And the word that came to mind was serene. That’s not a word people would necessarily associate me with. So I’ve been investigating the concept of serenity–what it is, what it means, and how can I develop and sustain it.
What is serenity?
“Serenity is a state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled”. It is not pie-in-the-sky pretending bad things don’t exist, but the skill of not letting those things throw you off balance. Even in the midst of the storm, being able to remain calm.
How does it help productivity?
When we are calm and serene, we are less distracted and therefore better able to focus, to stay in the moment, to work effectively at the things we need and want to do. We are happier–and as we’ve discussed many times before, plenty of studies show that happy people are more productive.
“People with serenity are better equipped to enjoy life. Their small problems remain small and don’t become magnified into huge catastrophes. And when real crises arise, they react with steady, clear thinking.” [from Getting To Serenity: 10 Daily Habits for Inner Peace]
How do we get serenity and maintain it?
Serenity is not dependent on our circumstances. There are people who are peaceful and serene in the middle of a big, noisy subway, and, as one article I read noted, it’s possible to have a panic attack in a quiet spa on the massage table. It’s a matter of managing our responses to what happens to and around us. Another writer noted:
“There is a way to experience day-to-day happenings with greater inner calm. Not by changing our reality, but by changing our perspective on that reality.”
That’s not to say it’s easy. It takes practice and persistence. After doing a bunch of research and looking for things I can do to achieve and maintain serenity no matter what’s going on around me, I’ve noticed many of the same recommendations from a variety of experts.
1. Develop calming morning and evening routines
- Practice gratitude even before you get out of bed
- Get up early enough to not be rushed.
- Take some time–even if it’s just a few minutes–for something restorative: read a page or two from an inspiring book, prayer or meditation, a cup of coffee on the porch if the weather permits
- Morning pages–3 pages, written by hand, whatever’s on your mind
- Wind down time–turn off screens, take a warm bath, read a book with a cup of tea, etc.
- Quiet-make time for quiet each day
2. Develop rituals to regain peace when you feel it slipping.
Teach yourself to notice when your mind is going off the rails and how to bring it back to equilibrium.
Breathe! When we’re stressed, we tend to breathe faster and more shallowly; this contributes to the cycle of stress. I’ve seen a lot of recommendations for a type of breathing that can help with this. One article, for example, described “practicing the 4-7-8 breath, which is based on a time-tested yoga technique, because you can do it anywhere at any time. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose as you count to four. Hold onto that breath as you count to seven, and then exhale through your mouth for the count of eight. The long exhale helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is basically initiating a relaxation response in your body,” Davis says. “Make sure to breathe really low, to fill your belly with air.” [the Davis mentioned above is Ashley Davis Bush, psychotherapist and author of The Little Book of Inner Peace: Simple Practices for Less Angst, More Calm.]
Try some physical relaxation exercises. Where does your body register stress? (For me, my shoulders go clear up to my ears). Practice intentionally relaxing that part of your body. One of the rituals I do is an old childbirth exercise–starting with toes, tighten and then relax, work your way up your body.
Use self-talk: “You’re going to be okay.” “You’ve got this.” “You’re safe.”
3. Practice acceptance.
Acknowledge that there are things outside your control, and fighting against them won’t change them. Remember that you can always control your reaction to events, and practice doing so intentionally.
“A key point in reaching this place of serenity lies in our ability to accept what is and what has been. External triggers are outside of our control. This world is blemished by imperfections, negative energy and craziness. We cannot control what goes on around us; only what is happening within ourselves.” [from Three Ways to Attain Serenity]
4. Take care of your body.
Get enough sleep and move your body, even if it’s just a little each day. Stretch, walk, bike, . . . whatever you enjoy. Movement helps release stress.
5. Create an environment that fosters serenity.
Get rid of clutter, set boundaries around technology use and social media, manage the noise, post quotes that help you focus your mind on what you want, and use music – it can affect us emotionally, so be strategic about what you play when.
- Upbeat music can energize us, great for when we need to be active (working out, cleaning, etc.)
- Another type of play list to bring the energy level down–soothing instrumental classical music, for example, or the type of music played in a spa. (The lullaby recordings I used to play for Sam at naptime and bedtime.)
6. Purposefully curate inputs.
Avoid books, TV shows, social media, and people that stir up anxiety, fear, confusion, or negativity. Seek out inputs that foster peace–whatever that is for you. Books that lift you up, podcasts or other materials that help you strengthen your ability to manage your mind, like some of the episodes of Brooke Castillo’s The Life Coach School Podcast. Nurture relationships with people who lift you up.
For some of us, serenity is a skill we have to intentionally work to attain–it might not come naturally. But because of the benefits to both productivity and quality of life, it’s worth the investment of time and energy to learn the skills.
What do you think?
Does serenity come naturally to you, or are you more like me–prone to turn anxious and reactive in stressful or crisis times? Post your suggestions in the comments section below or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or email me.
Resources and Links
- Stillness is the Key-by Ryan Holiday
- Brooke Castillo’s The Life Coach School podcast
- The 7 Habits of Highly Serene People – Sciencebeta
- Getting To Serenity: 10 Daily Habits For Inner Peace | HuffPost Life
- What is Serenity & How Tips To Find It | 7 Summit Pathways
- ☞ Don’t forget this…
- 11 Ways to Find Your Inner Peace and Happiness Now
- Three Ways to Attain Serenity – aish.com
- How to Encourage Peace & Serenity Within Your Home as a Parent > Life Your Way
- Why Anxiety Is the Number One Productivity Killer | By Gustavo Razzetti
- How Anxiety Impacts Work Performance, Plus How to Manage Anxiety | Real Simple
- GoodTherapy | 7 Creative Ways to Turn Anxiety into Productivity
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Royse City, Texas