By Tracey Grove
April was stress awareness month, and May is mental health awareness month, so now is a perfect time to contemplate some ways that we can nurture our recovery from the stressors of work and everyday life. One of the ways we can do so is to put a morning ritual in place that sets us up well for each day and gives us a moment of quiet focus.
Our days are often filled with activity and noise. There’s so much to do and so much information to take in. The temptation to try to cram more into our already overflowing schedules can be overwhelming as we struggle to keep up with it all. All this activity can leave us with precious little time for quiet introspection. But carving out this time to reflect on and appreciate the gifts all around us can be a powerful antidote to stress.
As a leadership coach specializing in resilience, I work with leaders at every almost every organizational level, from the C-suite down. For many of my clients, stress starts the moment they wake up in the morning, lasts all day and leaves them feeling exhausted as they collapse into bed at night. Then they repeat the cycle the next day. A morning ritual can help break this cycle and shift your mindset so you can start your day with more energy, positivity and calmness.
Many of us struggle with the notion of wasted time. We think that unless we’re busy getting all those tasks on our to-do list done, we’re somehow being lazy. But taking the time to do (nearly) nothing occasionally can open our minds to creativity, innovation and possibilities we may not otherwise notice. A relaxing morning ritual can put us into a more productive mindset and give us the time first thing to set our intention for the day. For leaders, in particular, taking the time to mindfully think through what the day holds can give you an opportunity to focus on the most important tasks when your energy is highest, to plan your response to stressful interactions you anticipate happening during the day and even to contemplate solutions to problems that you may not otherwise have discovered.
Here are some ideas to help you create a relaxing morning ritual.
1. Wake up a little earlier in the morning (five to 10 minutes is all you may need). This can give you an opportunity to take a longer shower, listen to music, meditate or do whatever feels inspirational and relaxing. Find what works for you, and focus this time on doing things that energize and inspire you.
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2. Instead of wrestling with your phone the minute you open your eyes, take some time to stretch, or simply lie quietly for a few moments to ease gently into your day.
3. Take some deep belly breaths. This can counteract the high levels of cortisol that we experience in the morning. Deep breathing is not only good for your body, but it also calms your mind, which can help you deal with that stressful meeting much more productively.
4. Think about one thing you’re grateful for, focusing on the good in your life. This can help put you in a more optimistic mindset. Bonus points if you write it down and reflect back on it at the end of your day. Write a thank-you note to someone you appreciate, and you’ll likely feel happier all day while making someone else feel good.
5. Set a positive intention for the day by contemplating how you’d like to feel looking back on it. You’ll likely take this positive mindset with you throughout your day, even with those looming deadlines.
6. Go outside if you can. Nature is a powerful tool for rebalancing your body and mind. Getting outside and spending some time in nature has been shown to lower people’s heart rate and blood pressure and reduce levels of stress hormones. Going outside also may boost your immune system, improve your mood and self-esteem, help fight depression and anxiety, and even enhance your ability to focus. A walk in the woods may be particularly helpful. According to researchers, “We are taking in beneficial substances when we breathe forest air. Research has identified three major inhaled factors that can make us feel healthier. These factors are beneficial bacteria, plant-derived essential oils and negatively-charged ions.”
Giving yourself white-space time through a morning ritual where you have no formal agenda, no deadline and nothing specific to get done can help you renew your resources before your day gets underway. You don’t have to decide what your white-space time looks like until you begin. Sitting in a cozy chair away from the demands of work or household projects for a few minutes at the beginning of each day or stretching, meditating, reading or taking a walk can give you the gift of noticing the serenity in the moment. And it’s those moments that are our most precious. To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
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