Lauren E. Miller is the bestselling author of four books including 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Stressing Out. She is also a stress relief educator and founder of Grab & Go Stress Solutions.
In this interview, Lauren shares some powerful tips and strategies for de-stressing and creating inner peace, purpose and success in your life.
Why Stress is Important
Lauren went to CU Boulder for postgraduate work in psychology to study anxiety and stress relief. Over 20 years later, she is still following her calling, teaching men and women how to destress their lives no matter what surrounds them.
A few years ago, Lauren found herself facing two of the biggest stressors anyone can face in life. She went through a divorce and was diagnosed with cancer.
She had to deal with:
- Going through a divorce
- A double mastectomy
- 16 rounds of chemo
- 12 surgeries to deal with third-degree burns on her chest (They essentially grafted her back to her front)
- A MRSA staph infection from the hospital
Needless to say, it was an incredibly stressful time in her life. She even had two out of body experiences during this time. Her body, her mind, and her life were a mess.
She feels that two-year period gave her the PhD in life experience of everything she had been teaching her clients about stress, anxiety, and how to heal.
The Effects of Stress on Your Body
“Invest on de-stressing on a daily basis. What causes you to pause for a moment and reflect? Those are the indications and invitations of remembering something about yourself that brings you calm.” – Lauren E Miller.
Studies show that stress increases the risk of heart disease and cancer more than smoking or eating high cholesterol foods! Stress damages your immune system, your heart, and every cell in your body, and that damage increases your risk of every disease we know of from the common cold to serious diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders like lupus.
Needless to say, stress is bad for you.
So you need to figure out how YOU handle stress, and find better ways to deal with life when bad things happen (because bad things happen to all of us. You can’t avoid that!).
How to Handle Stress
Remember that you are unique, and that means the way you react to stress is unique too. Observe yourself, and make note of what gives you peace.
When you find yourself in a stressful situation, that is the universe inviting you to reframe that moment. How can you find the motivation, strength, and power to change the direction of your life when you’re stressed?
Consider what helps you relieve stress.
- Does it help when you take a deep breath?
- Go for a walk?
- Take a short nap?
When you find something that works for you, write it down, and make sure to keep doing those little things that help you handle life and stress better.
Your Reticular Activating System
What causes you to linger and be present in the moment?
Does the image of beauty catch your eye?
Is there a particular song on the radio that gives you a sense of peace or joy?
After having conversation do you feel better or worse?
The key is to become aware of when you feel good, flexible and powerful. If you focus on those times and decide that they’re important to your awareness, your reticular activating system will begin reframing your life, and happiness and success will come more easily to you, because that’s what you’re focusing on.
You have the ability to reprogram your reticular activating system simply by deciding what to focus on. You can focus on what is beautiful, right and true. Or you can live in your worry, doubt, and fear.
When people say “stress is all in your head,” that’s what they mean. When you focus on the things in life that make you stressed out, you feel more stress. But when you focus on the things that make you feel better, like taking a deep breath and relaxing your body, your stress levels go way down.
The reticular activating system sits at the base of your brainstem. It is responsible for all of your motivation. We receive about 2 billion stimuli every second. The reticular activation system is the filter through which things come to our conscious awareness.
Some people have trained themselves to filter out the good things in life and only focus on what causes them stress.
You can change the perception of your life and how you react to situations if you consciously decide what to focus on. When you consciously decide to change your focus, your reticular activation system will start looking for different things in the world to bring to your awareness.
Once you begin to see the world differently, it’s not just your perception of the world that changes. The world itself changes to bring what you need to you.
How to Handle the Stress of Cancer
When you go through aggressive cancer treatment, your body and strength is compromised because you are poisoning your body to kill the cancer cells to prolong your life.
What you have to remember when you’re going through a serious illness like that is that you are a spiritual being going through a physical experience. Life is tough, but there’s a part of you that can be even tougher.
If you focus on the illness, the treatment and how bad you feel, all that’s going to happen is more of that is going to come to your conscious awareness and make you feel worse.
If you make the conscious decision to realize that you’re a spiritual being going through a physical experience, that can help you draw strength from your soul and ease your suffering.
One time Lauren was crying because she didn’t have any hair and her son said to her, “Don’t worry mom, your soul still has hair.”
That was a profound shift in awareness for her because that was when Lauren realized that no matter what her body goes through, her soul remains powerful and untouched.
That’s when she realized that she could pull from the strength of her soul at any moment. She began to instantly shift her awareness by focusing on what she was grateful for.
Some of the things Lauren was grateful for were:
- The fact that she could see
- The fact that she could respond to her children and give them love
- She was grateful for the ability to be able to embrace her children
- She was grateful for her ability to perceive all available options
What Happens When You’re Stressed
When you are stressed your perceived options become very limited. People call it “tunnel vision.” When people are stressed they begin to use universal quantifiers like:
- This always happens.
- Things never work out for me.
- I will never be healed.
- I am done.
- Nothing will change this particular outcome.
Anytime you use words like nothing, no one, everything, or everyone, take a second to realize that you’re coming from a place of scarcity.
If you take a deep breath, relax, and focus on what you can do, you’ll find new options to improve your life and you’ll be able to handle even the toughest situations in life, like going through numerous rounds of treatment for cancer.
Mindfulness for Stress Relief
“Whether you believe you can or you can’t you’re right.” – Henry Ford
Be aware of the energies that you bring to every situation. When you bring in the energy of victimization to a situation, it becomes very difficult for you to take positive action to change that situation, if not impossible.
If you say to yourself or others, “Why is this happening to me? It’s not fair!” you know you’re stuck in victim mode. We all go there sometimes, so don’t beat yourself up over it. But you need to find a way to “switch gears” and focus on what you can do to make your life better instead of complaining about how bad things are.
It’s important to remove yourself from the situation you’re in and your reactions to it so you can observe them from a bit of distance and have a more removed perspective. Distancing yourself from your immediate knee-jerk reaction mode gives you the ability to change your reaction in the moment.
When you change your reactions, you change your results, and that’s how you change your life.
Whenever you feel stressed, remember it’s an invitation from the universe to remember the parts of you that you forgotten in this moment. You want to shift your mindset so that your someone moving from a curious and open mindset, rather than someone who is reacting to fear, doubt, and worry.
One question you can always ask yourself when you’re going through a difficult situation or habit of thought is: “What can I learn from this situation?”
Focusing on what you can learn keeps your mind curious and engaged.
It feels a lot better to be a curious and fascinated human being than to be a human being who’s stuck in a victimization mindset.
Love and Accept Yourself
No one is perfect. It’s important to love and accept yourself at every moment of your life. When you make the conscious choice to love and accept yourself no matter what’s going on around you, a wide variety of options are available to you.
When you approach a situation by negatively judging yourself, no options are available to you because you’re focused on the negative aspects of who you are and you’re going to repel energies that otherwise would be available to help you.
Be willing to accept yourself in the midst of all the hardships of life. When you accept yourself, even though you might not accept your life circumstances, you give yourself more flexibility to deal with life on your own terms.
“It is what it is.”
When you accept your current circumstances and look at the world as it is, that gives you the widest latitude for action of any mindset. When you are in resistance to your current circumstances as they are, that’s when you begin to get into the victimization mindset and you close off opportunities to move your life in a different direction.
How to Stop Being a Victim to Stress
“Every morning I hit my knees and thank God for a new day. Every moment from when the sun comes up to when the sun sets I have the opportunity for expansion in the ways of love.” – Lauren E Miller
Every day Lauren makes sure to align herself with what’s most important to her. The most important thing to Lauren is her soul.
The soul has tremendous power to carry us through our lives regardless of whatever external circumstances occur in our lives. That’s why it’s important to remind yourself on a daily basis that your soul is who you are, and your external circumstances are simply things you have to deal with.
One mantra that Lauren found particularly useful while she was going through cancer treatment was:
“You are a human being who is choosing life and love no matter what else surrounds you, and because of that you will overcome and continue to overcome no matter what circumstances befall you.”
Having a mantra like that gives your soul permission to guide your flesh, rather than being trapped by having your flesh guide your soul.
You want to avoid being trapped by your flesh at all costs. Don’t let the current external circumstances of your life define who you are. Don’t allow your fear, doubt, and worry to close off opportunities and energies that could help you out of your current circumstances.
“We are first and foremost spiritual beings having a human experience.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
When you remember that you are a soul living a human life, you keep yourself open to infinite possibilities. When you allow the external circumstances of your human life to dominate and define who you are you close yourself off to your limitless potential.
Every challenge that you encounter is an opportunity for you to remember that you are a spirit first. You’re in spirit. You are not your hair, what your boss thinks of you, or the expectations of others.
“People before things.” – Leo F. Buscaglia
How to Love Yourself
Another way to frame your focus is to love yourself first and then expand that love out to love the souls of other people. If you love the soul of another person first, you will always have the flexibility to find your best outcome regardless of your situation.
If you feel safe and connected, you will walk away from every interaction on a higher plane. If you don’t feel safe and connected you will cower in the shadows. You will be stuck in the fear, doubt and worry, continually concerned about what other people think of you, as if what other people think of you defines who you are. That’s absolutely not true.
You are a spiritual being capable of infinite possibilities.
- Capable of moving mountains
- Capable of loving in all situations
- A spiritual being that knows love does overcome all fear
- Capable of accepting yourself exactly where you’re at, without listening to your inner critic
Instead of resisting where you’re at, try loving yourself right in this moment, and then using all of that pent-up energy to access any of the infinite possibilities that can move you in the direction you want to go.
“It’s all about connection, and if you love the human being first doors will open for you.” – Lauren E Miller
Be Curious Instead of Stressed
Make a conscious choice to be curious. Always ask, “How can I use the circumstances of this moment as a springboard to expansion?”
Our primary work in this life is to remember our connection to God. It is through our connection to the infinite creative force that made the universe that all things are possible.
Whenever possible choose curiosity and fascination. Ask questions. Reach out to people who fascinate you. Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something, or that you’d like to know more information.
Be a Kid Again
For human beings the age of Enlightenment is from 0 – 5 years old. This is when we are most closely connected to God and the creative plane that connects us all.
If you observe a child before they’ve learned to care about the opinions of others, you’ll notice that they aren’t plagued with self-doubt. They never wonder whether or not they are enough. They simply respond to life as it’s happening without second-guessing themselves.
Let Go of the Need for Approval
When we were little human beings, we all got hooked on the approval drug. It feels good for other people to approve of us. The problem is if we let the approval of others run our lives we lose touch with our own soul.
We’ve forgotten ourselves because of our obsessive-compulsive need for the recognition of others.
What would our lives be if we woke up tomorrow and realized that were already enough. We’ve already made it. We don’t need to impress anybody.
Remember, whenever you get an emotional charge from another person or circumstance it’s because you’re letting that person or circumstance define you.
You are not your circumstances. You are not what other people think about you. You aren’t even what you think about yourself. You are a spiritual being going through a human experience capable of infinite love and connection to the universe.
When you remember the truth that you are a spiritual being, you realize that you don’t need to prove to anyone that you exist, or that you are enough.
Being present in the moment is essential for inner peace. The more present you are in every moment of your life, the external circumstances of your life become less important. You are able to be, do, and have all the things you want in this life.
The more chaotic and out of your control your external circumstances seem to be, the more important it is that you choose to live in the present moment and regain the anchor of inner peace.
A Powerful Stress Relief Exercise
Stress is simply a signal in your body giving you the opportunity to reevaluate your situation in the moment. It’s an opportunity for you to remember who and what you are.
When you feel stress in your body the first thing you should do is identify the situation and internally narrate what’s going on. For instance:
My boss just said something about me and now I feel:
(Usually it will fall into one of these four categories.)
Once you identify the situation the next step is to ask yourself, has there been a time where you experienced evidence that contradicts the feeling you’re feeling in this moment? Pull from your positive past experience to remind yourself who you are and move forward.
Any time you can punch holes in your own negative story you’re creating a new pathway that will determine the shape of your world.
You can program the way your brain interprets the world.
How to Use Stress to Improve Your Life
One of the biggest ways stress can creep into your physiology is by the language you use. When you say things like:
- I need a break
- I feel like a deer in headlights
- I can’t breathe
- I can’t think straight
All of these thoughts and feelings are invitations from the universe to remember that you are not your external circumstances.
It’s very important when you hear yourself talking like this to realize that you have to reprogram those thoughts and come up with a new script, a new way of interpreting your life and existence that overwrites your old programming.
Unless you rewrite your programming you’re going to keep reacting the same way, and the same set of external circumstances will show up in your life.
More Exercises for Stress Relieve
Pay attention to your physiology. One of the easiest things you can do to de-stress is to pay attention to your breathing. One of the first signs that you’re in a stressful situation is that your breathing becomes shallow. Focus on breathing deeply.
Dis-ease in the body is caused by:
- Decreased oxidation at the cellular level a Compromised immune system
- Increase stress hormone in the body
- There are many things you can do to combat all the symptoms
One thing you can do for inflammation is to stomp your feet and shake your body.
Lauren has also found it helpful to do the same sort of thing when something has you stuck in life. If you move your body, stop and shake up the energies in and around your body, it can help you break out of your old patterns and establish new healthy ones.
If you add in a hum or exhale that also provides a soothing release for your body. Making noises, breathing loudly and deeply, and shaking your body are all natural ways that animals (like humans) relieve stress.
If you make a point to do that exercise three minutes a day it will help you break up any inflammation and help you get rid of the excess water stored around your organs. This has profound health benefits.
Bouncing is a simple way to help you reset and work through any negative thoughts or beliefs you might have. If you hum as you exhale, that vibration is enough of a change to give you that moment of empowerment when you can shift your thinking.
The key thing is to be present in the moment and identify what is triggering your stress.
How to Notice When You’re Stressed
There are many different ways that stress can manifest itself in the body.
- Tension in the neck
- A queasy stomach
- Shallow breathing
- The inability to reason clearly with a group of people around you
Be on the lookout for these and other signs that you’re stressed. Trust your intuition. Just identifying the fact that you’re stressed can help you de-stress by allowing you to refocus your mind and practice some quick and simple stress relieving exercises like taking a deep breath, humming, or shaking your body.
The Importance of Play for Stress Relief
When we are young our bodies are very flexible and we’re not concerned with the opinions of others. We simply react to life as it occurs in the moment.
As human beings get older the majority of us become more rigid in our patterns of thinking, our muscles become stiffer and it becomes harder to move. When the soul leaves the body after death it becomes as stiff as it will ever be.
It’s important to remind yourself that it’s okay to play. It’s okay to be flexible in your patterns of thought. It’s okay to react to life as it occurs.
As you get older moving your body helps you remain flexible remember to breathe deeply, and never pass up a chance to laugh.
Laughter lowers blood pressure. It also releases all kinds of endorphins that fight dis-ease in the body.
Whatever you can do to emotionally, physically, and spiritually practice flexibility coming from a place of love will help you maintain your health and live longer while enjoying your life more.
Remember that every day you’re alive is an opportunity for learning and growth.
Be Like a Willow Tree
Willow trees are flexible and can stand up to most storms. Recently we had a storm where I live and we lost 10 or 12 oak trees, but the willow trees are fine.
Life is meant to be experienced not defined. And you know this as soon as your soul leaves your body. When Lauren returned to her body after one of her out of body experiences she was embarrassed at all the antics she had been playing out because of all her fear doubt and worry.
The truth is your soul is always okay. Whether you live or die doesn’t really matter to your soul. It certainly matters to the people who love you.
But the truth is you are simply a soul meant to experience this life. And the more you remember that, the more peaceful your life will be and the more opportunities will be open to you.
Links and resources mentioned in this interview
Connect with Lauren and learn more at laurenemiller.com
Lauren mentioned her book Release the Stress Around Breast Cancer with Methods and Mantras for the Mastectomies of Life