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Q: Any natural ways to manage stress and anxiety I haven’t heard a million times? — Sam B., New York
A: Author of the best-selling books The Urban Monk and The Art of Stopping Time, Pedram Shojai addresses the real-life issues that people deal with every day: Money. Time. Energy. Sleep. Family. The Urban Monk philosophy is about applying the lofty lessons he learned in years of practice as a Taoist monk to the down-and-dirty nitty-gritty of real-life problems. Far from being an esoteric spiritual practice, “urban monkism” is all about finding practical solutions to everyday challenges that will free you up to be everything you’re capable of being, everything you’re capable of dreaming. “Your family needs you to be more aware, present, and loving when you are with them,” he writes. “Your business needs you to step in and bring more abundance to the world. And most importantly,” he adds, “you need you back.”
The book is based on an ancient Chinese practice called a 100-Day Gong, but applied to modern life. A gong is a designated amount of time that you allot to perform a specific task every day. So for example, meditation is a gong.
6 Tips for Managing Stress and Anxiety
Here are just a few of the 100 “gongs” from The Art of Stopping Time.
1. Practice Gratitude
Practicing gratitude is healthy. It helps paint a worldview of optimism and hope. “Gratitude is good medicine,” says Shojai. “Multiple studies have shown that people who practice it are consistently happier.”
2. Step Into Nature
“Step outside today and learn from the ultimate teacher,” suggests Shojai. “Nature is our guiding light when it comes to cycles and rhythms. Nature has all the wisdom you need, packed into plain sight. We’ve simply forgotten to look.”
3. Limit Email
Email is integral to our lives, but it’s become one of our biggest tim000e-wasters. “We’ve become slaves to the inventions that were created to make life easier,” says Pedram. He suggests setting up chunk time for checking email, preferably 30–60 minutes in the late morning and another block toward the late afternoon. “The key is to get in, handle it, and get out,” he says.
4. Allow Time to Digest Thoughts
When people have a whole backlog of stuff hanging out in their psychic space waiting to be processed, it creates stress. As Shojai puts it, you have stuff on your mind, yet life keeps coming at you. How do we fix this? Simple. We allow time for diegestion—mental digestion. “You have to honor the fact that it can take some time to process certain information,” notes Pedram. “Exercising and hiking are great places to do this. They get the body moving so you can integrate your thoughts and process them in a healthy way.”
5. Chunk Time
Chunking time is assigning segments of time on your calendar for specific activities and then keeping to the schedule. Email time (see above) is for checking and responding to email. That’s it. Family time is for family, with no other distractions. If you’re out to dinner, be with the person you’re eating with (texters and phone-checkers, I’m looking at you). If you’re working on a report, work on the report. “The key to getting this is to let go of the false notion that multitasking somehow makes us better,” Pedram says.
“One of the main reasons people in modern cultures can’t sleep is the velocity they carry into their evening hours,” says Shojai. In the deceleration gong you pay close attention to your evening rituals as they slowly blend into sleep. Pay attention to what you’re doing the 3–4 hours before bedtime. He suggests looking at your evenings and seeing what changes you could make to slow things down a bit. Can you hang out in candlelight for a bit? Turn the TV off for a couple hours before bed? Maybe get into a book instead of binge watching Netflix? Start doing this, Pedram asserts, and you’ll start to see improved quality of sleep. “Your days will begin with more energy and enthusiasm, and your stress levels will begin to come down.”
Spending some time by candlelight before bed may result in a better night’s sleep.
Pedram is above all a qigong master, and qigong is your interaction with your environment, and the people around you. What kind of energy are you putting out into the world? “Smiling is really the simplest example,” Pedram told me. “It lights up someone else’s day and makes you feel good too. It’s unbelievable how much different the day can be if you just start smiling at people.”
In the end, it’s really about the little things. Like smiling. Or spending five minutes in gratitude. Or taking some time to think about the day. Or hanging out with candlelight before bed. Says Shojai, “The little things make a remarkable difference in people’s lives.”
Create a Stress and Anxiety Survival Kit
Key supplements shown to relax the mind and ease anxiety:
Theanine: 200 mg
This amino acid found in green tea is helpful in improving mood and increasing a sense of relaxation. In fact, it’s used in Japan for just that purpose. The calming effect of theanine is probably the reason that drinking green tea—even though it contains caffeine—doesn’t produce the jittery experience that drinking coffee does. Theanine is also known to block the binding of L-glutamic acid—a neurotransmitter that “excites” or stimulates the brain—to its receptors. Theanine is known to help generate alpha brain waves, associated with relaxation.
Vitamin B6 is necessary to make both GABA and serotonin, another “relaxing” neurotransmitter. So make sure you’re getting all your B vitamins by taking a good B-complex vitamin, which should contain all the vitamin B6 you need (50–100 mg), as well as vitamin B12 (2,000–10,000 mcg), low levels of which are also associated with anxiety.
GABA: 200 to 500 mg
GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that also has significant calming effects in the brain. Some supplements combine GABA with theanine.
Inositol: 500 to 1,500 mg
A member of the B-vitamin family, inositol may be helpful for treating panic disorders and possibly obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to some research. It hasn’t been studied specifically for anxiety or sleep, but anecdotal evidence suggests it’s good for both. I take it in powdered form before bed on nights when I’m feeling jittery, and it definitely helps.
Magnesium: 400 to 800 mg a day
Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant and can help with sleep and anxiety as well. Most people don’t get enough of this important mineral.