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‘Our community feels good’: Five ways to reduce stress by focusing on the positive

Jaymi Butler

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St. Pete Pier
A visit to The Pier can be a great way to connect with other members of the community and appreciate commonalities.

We’re three weeks into 2021, and for many of us, this year feels pretty similar to 2020. Between a frustratingly slow rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine and continued political turmoil, we’re finding ourselves searching to find the silver linings in our day-to-day lives.

Markie

The good news is there are plenty of ways to cope with what’s going on around us, and beyond that, to help tap into all the positive things that are there if we’re willing to look. It’s all about being mindful and taking the time to be present, said Elizabeth Markie, a wellness coach and educator who uses neuroscience findings to help her clients overcome stress, gain resilience and solve problems. That’s not always easy with all the things in the world competing for our attention, but it can be learned through practice.

Here are five ways to get started:

  • Engage with your community. While the things we see on TV and online can paint a picture of widespread division, locally that may not be the case. “Our community feels good,” Markie said. “St. Pete feels good, and we are so fortunate to have the connections and support we have here.” She suggests going to take a walk at The Pier and taking the initiative to say hello to other people first. They may not share the same views as you do, but in the moment, you’re just two people out enjoying your city. “You’re reinforcing that there is a sense of connection and community that is safe, and that’s rewarding,” she said. “It changes the perception that everyone is mad at each other.”
  • Change your social media diet. Lots of us – Markie included – find ourselves looking at social media when we’re sitting at a traffic light or waiting in line at the grocery store. Recognizing that, Markie made a conscious effort to turn her social media viewing into a positive experience. She created an Instagram for her dog, a Bouvier named Yeti, and she follows everyone who has the same breed. “That way, when I’m tempted to look at social, I just go to my Instagram and I smile when I see great pictures of animals,” she said. She recommends trying that technique with anything you’re interested in – sunsets, travel destinations – whatever brings you happiness.
  • Limit your exposure to the news. The brain’s operating principle is that it responds to threat or reward, Markie said, and that’s how we stay alive. “We’re constantly scanning the environment, always looking to see if something is friend or foe,” she observed. “That’s why we can’t stay away from the media.” Every time we digest something that’s threatening or fearful in the news, it sets off a cascade of stress hormones in our body and heightens our anxiety. That’s why it’s critical not to let the media consume you. Take a look at the headlines periodically so you know what’s going on, but don’t go too deeply, especially before bedtime. 
  • Listen to your heart. “Most people think to calm down you have to meditate or go to yoga,” Markie said. That’s not necessarily the case. She teaches clients the HeartMath technique, a method that can reduce stress and can be practiced anywhere – even in that line at Publix – in only a minute. First, breathe slower and deeper and then shift your focus to your heart center. That helps slow your heart rate and makes it easier to breathe. Then, think of a person, place or experience that brings you a sense of appreciation and freedom. “It immediately helps me get calm and resets my system,” said Markie, who uses that time to think of her family or a time she spent riding her bike in a peaceful place. 
  • Live in the moment. It’s easy to get wrapped up in “what-ifs?” and things that “might” happen in the future. That’s why it’s important to find the things in life that can bring you back to reality. “Look at what’s happening right in this moment and be aware of it,” she said. “Do you have food? Do you have friends? Do you have a pet?” Try to focus on the good things that are going on by talking with friends, family members and neighbors who nourish and ground you, and know that no matter how it seems sometimes, we are all more alike than we are different “Most of us want the same thing,” she said. “We want peace, happiness and friendship.”
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