Why Every Twentysomething Woman Needs to Try Meditation
Cosmopolitan: A lot of people think of stress as a marker of success — it means you're busy and important. But you don't think that way. Why is that?
Gabrielle Bernstein: Stress is actually the number one thing that blocks people from their happiness and well-being and from getting what they want. I think stress is an addiction. It can be tied to work addiction or busyness addiction or success addiction.
Cosmo: It seems people become stressed because they're trying to control everything: their job, their relationships...
GB: They're trying to outrun fear. If you can stay in control of that deadline, then you don't have to be afraid of your boss. If you can stay in control of that relationship, then you don't have to be afraid of being alone. Fear and stress — one creates the other. It's like we're running from lions all day. Letting go of control, that's actually when you're safe. Letting go of stress means that you can enjoy your life. Your skin will get better, you're going to be more attractive, you're more likely to get a job — all the things you want, you will get as a result of being in a more calm place.
Cosmo: How does a girl have big goals and actively pursue them without getting stressed?
GB: Stressing and obsessing over your vision blocks it. Have a vision but hold it lightly, wear it like a loose garment. Write about your goal or put it on a vision board. Being less stressed doesn't mean that you stop doing things. We associate stress with action, but how can you take action without stress? You take the right actions with a different energy. Yes, that might affect the speed at which you work or how much you get done in one day, but you'll probably get things done more efficiently.
Cosmo: What if something inherently stressful is part of meeting your goal? Say, you want to be a lawyer or a doctor, so you have to take standardized tests.
GB: If you're living your life avoiding stress, you must be living on an ashram. We're not going to stop trying to live big. It's about transforming your stress so that it doesn't take over. The first step is to realize that it is there and that you are trying to outrun your fear. You have to know your triggers for stress and then have rituals for combating them. For me, if I get up and don't meditate and don't eat something before having caffeine, I go from 0 to 10 on the stress scale. If I jump out of bed without hugging my husband, that creates stress between us. Every woman has to figure out her triggers, like going on Snapchat or Facebook or Instagram right when she wakes up. Instead, I have an affirmation alarm-clock app. I wake up with the affirmation, and I take that moment.
Cosmo: What do you do if the rest of the day still goes downhill?
GB: I have a tool called Recognize, Record, Release. So first you have to witness that you are stressing out: Oh, my trigger is here. The news is stressing me out or This line is so long. Let yourself feel it. You don't want to spiritually bypass these problems. Give yourself a couple of minutes to sit in the feeling. Acceptance sets you free from the stress of expectation. Then write down what's triggering you in a notebook or put it in your phone. That's record. Then you release it with an affirmation: I choose to see this differently or I surrender this to the universe. You could even try physically releasing it. On a piece of paper, write down the thing that is stressing you, the obstacle that is in your way. Then put it in a box and just leave it there. At the end of about a week, dispose of it — throw it in the trash or bury it — some sort of ritualistic act of releasing it.
Cosmo: Often when someone asks, "How's your day going?" people say, "Fine" even if they're super stressed. But you're saying, give yourself the opportunity not to be fine?
GB: Totally. Be real. That's part of being present. Learning presence is a stress buster. Instead of worrying about what's on my to-do list, how can I just enjoy being here with you? Enjoy the taste of my coffee?
Cosmo: How can you have more fun when you're dealing with the day-to-day crap that's stressful, like traffic?
GB: I left Manhattan on the Friday afternoon of a holiday recently, and the traffic was insane. I was going fucking crazy. And I told myself, You write self-help books; you have to stop. It really is a choice. Use that time wisely. If you're stuck in traffic, call a friend or listen to a favorite podcast. If you're waiting in a long line, make friends with a person in line with you. There are lots of ways we can change the vibe. The second you change the way you look at a situation, your stress levels drop.
Cosmo: What can women do when it feels like there's no way to get away from the stressor? For example, say you have a toxic living situation with a roommate, but you can't move because you've signed a lease.
GB: If your stress is related to another person, finding forgiveness — changing your thoughts and energy around that person — can lower stress. You can say to yourself, I don't like how you're acting, but I'm going to seek to see that you may not be well and that may be where this behavior is coming from. Resentment creates stress. People carry around resentment for years! And that creates daily stress. If you're feeling stressed or anxious and you don't know why, ask yourself: What little thing led me here? Recently, I canceled on a friend because I was tired. I went to bed feeling stressed out, and I realized, I feel bad because I canceled.
Cosmo: So in that situation, you should forgive yourself for making what seems like a selfish choice?
GB: Exactly.Letting yourself off the hook takes the stress away. Putting your well-being first — like putting your oxygen mask on before you help the person next to you—that really benefits all your relationships. The happier and more stress-free you are, the more people will want to be around you and the more your friends will respect you. Bring acceptance and compassionate self-talk. Say nice things to yourself — you're the only one listening. Tell yourself, I am doing the best I can.