On the surface, a glimpse into the life of Dara Stewart reveals nothing unusual. She’s got a job she likes, friends and family who love her and a big, dumb Akita named Jake. But after a brush with death from a brain hemorrhage in 2002, Dara’s recovery included having to learn to walk again. For Dara, the normal life she has now, for which she is profoundly grateful, required an astonishing degree of effort and focus.
Relying on simple but powerful life and stress management techniques, she was able to not only recover from what her doctors had expected would be a disabling medical catastrophe but to go on to find her life’s purpose and to discover a peace that far exceeded what she had known before.
These techniques are available to all of us.
• Manage stress: “Meditation was my initial way to relieve stress,” said Dara. As she recovered, she found that a connection with nature calmed and focused her. She combined hiking and meditation into mindfulness walks and volunteered at the Desert Botanical Garden in order to stay in touch with nature.
• Exercise: Dara found that yoga, in particular, helped keep her balanced. “It really made a big difference in the stress and the body tension that I was having and also it decreased the numbers of headaches that I had,” she said.
• Reach out to friends and family: “The immense support that I got from friends and family reminded me that no matter what happened to me, I was going to be ok,” Dara said. “Whether I died or became handicapped or lived an absolutely normal life, I would be ok.” Diagnosed immediately after a move to an unfamiliar town in California, Dara found additional community in her church and support groups.
• Practice self-acceptance: One side effect of Dara’s life-threatening illness was increased clarity of purpose. “It wasn’t a matter of knowing the exact career I was going to have, it was knowing that I was supposed to be here and that there was a purpose for me,” Dara said. “And I didn’t feel at all worried anymore.” Her mantra became, “I am enough, I am everything I need.”
• Purge negativity: “I would go so far as to not watch scary movies,” Dara said. “I even limited the amount of news I watched.”
• Set boundaries: Initially Dara was careful to surround herself with people who had a positive outlook, and even now, when working in the mental health field makes that harder, Dara says that “what I’ve learned to do now is to deflect to some degree. If it starts getting too intense, I take a break.”
According to Dara, the key for having the life she wants is maintaining focus in her day-to-day activities and goals. “As I pursue things, I’m also listening for what I need, which is a positive energy in my life, what I want, which is a peaceful life and what fulfills me, which is giving to the world in some way.”