If you're looking to reduce stress levels, it's likely that you're keen to find more inner peace. It's impossible to just "feel more peaceful," though. There are external conditions as well as internal conflicts that can have an effect on how peaceful we feel. But there are simple, practical steps anyone can take to increase their feelings of calm and lower their cortisol levels. Here are 21 to try.
1. Pay Attention
Many of us think of emptiness when we think of peace, but it doesn't have to be that way. Simply giving all your attention to the thing that you're doing in that moment can help bring about feelings of peace. Most of the tasks we undertake or activities we take part in aren't stressful in and of themselves — it's the fact that we're trying to multi-task rather than focus on one thing that takes the peacefulness away from the experience. Being in the moment is a key factor in mindfulness, and mindfulness is a major route to peace.
2. Remove Distractions
It's difficult to concentrate on one activity when there are constant distractions pulling us away. It's also hard to feel peaceful when your phone is constantly beeping with WhatsApp messages, emails, and social media updates. One of the simplest ways to deal with this is to remove the distraction. Turn off notifications, or even put your phone on silent or airplane mode whenever you don't have to be contactable in an emergency. Move it out of arm's reach to reduce the temptation to look. There are lots of ways to kick your phone habit, which in turn will help you feel more peaceful.
3. Experience Rather Than Record
Trying to capture every positive moment of life on camera can become a big distraction and negatively impact how relaxed we feel in certain situations. If you're enjoying a walk along the beach, then feel the need to photograph it and share it on Instagram, you might start stressing about the perfect angle/lighting/filter/caption and lose the peace you were feeling in that moment of being. I was forced into not recording every single thing when my iPhone ran out of space and I didn't have the energy to figure out how to increase my iCloud storage. It turned out to be a great opportunity to kick the habit, and I felt more peaceful in those wonderful moments because I was just experiencing them, not trying to capture them.
4. Let Go of Control
There are lots of things we can control, like how often we follow distractions, but life is full of many, many more things that are out of our control. How other people behave, the weather, the punctuality (or otherwise) or public transport — these are all beyond our control, but they often have the potential to disturb our feeling of inner peace. As hard as it seems (and, as a control freak, I'm fully aware that it can seem impossible), it's well worth trying to curb any impulses to seize control over things we simple can't. Try taking a breath to calm your rising anger/frustration, then attempt to move on or change the subject.
There are times when our own actions, rather than the actions of others, can cause us to feel unpeaceful. Perhaps we snapped at a loved one because we were feeling tired, or we said something mean out of jealousy. How peaceful we feel has a direct correlation with how at peace we are with ourselves, so if we're holding onto feelings of guilt, that's going to have a big effect. Remove negativity toward yourself for past actions by simply saying sorry for something you feel bad about. Sure, the apology isn't a totally altruistic move, as you'll be getting something out of it, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Both of you will feel better. That's a win-win, surely.
6. Do a Good Deed
Even if it's not always entirely altruistic, doing something good for someone or something else is another positive habit to introduce into your life. You'll feel good about yourself, and someone or something else will benefit. Feeling good about yourself is pretty much a requisite for feeling peaceful in yourself. It can be as simple as a bit of careful litter picking in your local park.
As well as internal barriers to our feelings of calm, it can seem like there are external factors, too. Although nothing outside of ourselves should actually have the power to make us feel less peaceful, it is the case that there are plenty of things that have a big impact. Messy bedrooms and unorganised desks can get in the way of going through life more easily in a peaceful, calm manner. Get organising and decluttering, and the tidy, calm environment will be conducive to a calm mind.
8. Embrace Sound
The noise that surrounds us is another one of the biggest external factors that can impact how peaceful we feel. We often think of silence when we think of peace, like in the phrase "peace and quiet." But life doesn't work like that. You don't have to live in a soundproofed room to find peace in your surroundings. If you can frame the sounds in a different way, you'll find that they affect you less. Yes, it's difficult to feel peaceful when your neighbours are having a loud party. But rather than get more and more wound up about the noise, encourage positive feelings instead, like feeling happy for them that they're having fun. If you can't get away from it, you can replace disturbing noises with your own chosen sounds, like listening to chilled out music on your headphones.
9. Immerse Yourself in Positive Associations
You can encourage a positive attitude toward many things that are out of your control, like sounds, by deliberately placing yourself in situations where there are lots of noises that you can more easily learn to enjoy. For example, heading out into nature and listening to the sound of the wind in the trees, the waves crashing on the shore, or birds singing to each other. It isn't the noises themselves that are making us feel unpeaceful; it's our responses to them.
10. Spend Time in Nature
Speaking of nature, getting away from all the technology in our lives is a great way to find some peace. To hear actual birds tweeting rather than our phones' notifications of Twitter tweets is a far more peaceful way to spend time. If you live near rolling hills and countryside or the coast, then you've got great options, but anyone anywhere can connect with nature. It can be as simple as watching clouds float past. The vastness of nature can help put our lives into perspective.
11. Take a Walk
Putting one foot in front of the other can be a surprisingly cathartic experience. Away from distractions, you can simply be. It's the perfect way to spend time in nature and get some fresh air. It's also good for physical health as well as mental health.
12. Be Comfortable With Your Own Company
Taking that walk on your own is a way to spend time with yourself without putting too much pressure on the situation. When we feel the need to constantly surround ourselves with other people, we might find it more difficult to feel still and settled inside. Reading a book or magazine, or meditating, are also ideal ways to spend time on your own. If the intensity of meditating is a bit too overwhelming, try being alone whilst being among a whole bunch of strangers by taking a solo walk along a busy shopping street.
13. Lose Yourself
If you do enjoy reading, then losing yourself in a book is an effective way to experience peace. It's an intimate, relaxing experience that can take you away from any worries you have. If you prefer more active hobbies, then gardening can have a similar effect. Being in your body in that physical way will help take your focus away from your thoughts and, in turn, will calm your mind.
14. Spend Time With an Animal
If being on your own doesn't work for you, then spending time with animals could well be a good alternative to the kind of peace you can find during alone time. Animals often don't seem as "difficult" to be around than human beings, and their presence can be very calming. This is a well-known phenomenon, given that animals are used in certain forms of therapy to aid emotional, social, and cognitive function. Having a pet cat can help with anxiety, and even just stroking a friend's dog can bring some welcome peace.
15. Do Something Repetitive
You don't have to be totally still to feel peaceful. In fact, trying to do nothing can be pretty stressful! But taking part in repetitive activities can give your brain a break, and the repeated physical processes can become quite trance-like. If you enjoy crafts, knitting is an ideal activity for this. If you love music, playing scales up and down again and again on your favourite instrument can have this effect. Or you can find a new way to relate to your chores by viewing repetitive tasks like washing up or ironing as opportunities to find some peace in a busy day. After all, cleaning can help with anxiety.
16. Be in Your Body
The repetitive actions in many forms of exercise can also be calming. Whatever exercise you prefer, do that as often as you can, as it will give you the chance to be in your body rather than your head. It can also release endorphins, which will increase your happiness levels. If you don't have an exercise routine in place, try swimming. It not only helps your health and fitness levels, but it also gives you that peaceful sensation of floating. It can also help relax any aches and pains that are making it hard for you to feel peaceful.
17. Have a Massage
Speaking of aches and pains, if you're finding it hard to relax and find stillness within because of niggles and twinges, treat yourself to a massage. It will no doubt help physically, but there'll be a positive, peaceful effect on your mood, too. Having some "me" time, as cliché as it sounds, is essential to feeling calm.
18. Meditate in Whatever Form Works For You
The benefits of meditation are well-known, but a traditional approach to focused attention can be more stress-inducing than peace-inducing if you feel too angsty about attempting to let your thoughts pass by. If that's the case, try open monitoring instead, which is said to produce a whirl of creativity perfect for brainstorming. If sitting still is difficult for your fidgety nature, try walking meditation.
19. Slow Down
Meditation, contemplation, or simply having a lie down can help us feel more peaceful for the basic fact that it forces us to slow down. I can feel my stress levels rising when I'm rushing to get out the door in the morning on time and things keep happening that are knocking down my schedule. The simple solution is to stop rushing. That's not actually that easy, though, without a little preparation and thought. But maybe getting out of bed five minutes earlier, not following the rabbit hole of distraction on my phone, or always having a contingency plan, especially when using public transport, can all help. Committing to less is also hugely helpful it you're rushing too much to ever feel peaceful.
Modern life can be ridiculously complicated with seemingly no end of commitments, places to be, and people to see. Rushing around, trying to meet all of these responsibilities, can be exhausting, both physically and emotionally. If you're feeling overwhelmed by your schedule, have a go at cutting what you can, where possible.
21. Treat Yourself to a Cup of Tea
You know that feeling when you finally sit down with a brew? You put your feet up, take a sip, and literally let out a contented "ahhhh" sound. Peace can be as easy as that.