Stress. We all have it. In the world we live in busyness seems to be a badge of honor, but our bodies were not mean to live in a state of stress.
Negative Effects of Stress
Prolonged stress can wreak havoc on a person’s body. According to the NIH, stress is a risk factor for 75-90% of diseases. It can lead to cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems as well as weakened immune system. One might also experience muddled thinking, impaired judgement, insomnia, restlessness, irritability, depression, anxiety and fatigue, among others.
4 Quick Tips
Give yourself 5 minutes to practice one of the following exercises and just become curious about how your body responds. You will likely notice less muscle tension, experience a sense of calm, increased energy and clearer thinking.
- Intentional Deep Breathing
Deep breathing activates the relaxation response in our nervous system by increasing oxygen and decreasing heart rate.
- Place both feet on the ground (if sitting in a chair) or sit cross legged on the ground and begin to notice how breath enters and exits your body without trying to change it.
- Completely exhale all the air out of your lung.
- Begin to deepen your breath and imagine sending that breath to your diaphragm muscle at the base of your rib cage.
- Exhale Slowly and completely engaging the abdominal muscles.
- Inhale for a count of 4-5.
- Exhale for a count of 7-8.
- If your mind begins to wander, just acknowledge the thoughts and then bring your attention back to your breath.
Exercise increases endorphins in our bodies to make us feel good. Any form of exercise, including stretching moves tension out of our bodies that is created by stress.
- Position yourself on all fours on the floor.
- Be sure that your hips are in line with your knees and that your shoulders, elbows and wrists are in line with one another.
- Inhaling, lift your chin, open your chest and drop your belly into “cow pose.”
- Exhaling, draw your chin in towards your chest, round your shoulders forward and pull your belly up, arching your back into “cat pose” (think “scared cat”).
- Move in and out of these two positions using your inhale to open and exhale to fold inward.
3. Mindful Meditation
Mindful meditation helps reduce racing thoughts and keeps things present-focused.
- Find a quiet space.
- You may either sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the floor, cross legged on the ground with your hands in your lap or on your knees, or lay down on the floor.
- Allow your eyes to gently close and begin to notice your breath.
- You may try scanning your body starting from the crown of your head and moving all the way down towards your toes, just noticing any sensations, areas of tension or spaces that feel good in your body.
- Become aware of the rise and fall of your chest as the air enters and exits your body.
- Notice the coolness of the air as it enters your nose and the warmth of the air as it exits your body.
- If thoughts begin to arise, notice them and come back to your breath.
- Try to focus on the present moment.
4. Guided Imagery
This technique helps create a sense of peace by replacing negative thoughts with positive or relaxing images and sensations.
- Get into a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes or at least allow your eyes to come to a soft gaze.
- Take a moment to identify a place that makes you feel calm. This might be the beach, the mountains, a farm, a park, a place in your home or your favorite quiet corner of the library.
- Look around and notice the space. Look up, look down, look around.
- Invite your 5 senses into this exercise. When you think about this place, what do you see, hear, touch, smell or even imagine tasting?
- Identify the positive emotions that you are experiencing in this place.
- Focus on the positive sensations in your body.
- Allow yourself to be present in this moment.
- When you are ready, gently open your eyes and bring your awareness back into the space around you.
Stress is just a part of life, and we all experience it, but we do not have to remain in a constant state of stress. Research has shown that these 4 easy to use techniques have been successful in reducing anxiety, stress and depressive symptoms. Next time you encounter a stress-inducing situation, take 5 minutes to utilize one of these tools to shift your body from a state of tension to a point of relaxation.