We all know what it feels like when your stress levels spike. The adrenaline rushes through your body as you try to deal with hostile customers and reckless, impatient drivers as you navigate your way through horrific traffic, trying to make an ETA that suddenly seems impossible.
Refocusing your mind often requires your full attention and should not be attempted until you are parked and/or alone. Some of the tips provided here would more accurately be called lifestyle changes, rather than “quick fixes,” and require some patience and persistence to master. Lauren Emma, LCSW, Psychotherapist with Virtua Behavioral Health, recommends the following:
- Practice breathing exercises. Focus on your breath, the sensation of inhaling and exhaling. You can also try what’s called square breathing:
- Inhale your breath as you count to 4.
- Hold your breath for 4 counts.
- Exhale your breath slowly as you count to 4.
- Hold your breath for 4 counts.
- Repeat for a few minutes until you feel calm.
- Meditate. During meditation, you aren’t supposed to react to your thoughts… you just notice them. To start, settle yourself into a comfortable, seated position and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, and then return to a steady, even breathing pattern. Focus on your breath going in and out. Beginners often find their minds wandering back to negative thoughts, but even meditating for a minute can make a difference. If you are struggling with meditation, try a guided version. There are plenty of free apps to sample. I have found Yoga Nidra Meditation to be particularly helpful and easy to follow.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the awareness of your own thoughts, feelings, and senses in the moment… without judgement. To start, do one thing mindful each day. Pick a mundane activity like eating breakfast or brushing your teeth, and practice being present in those moments for two minutes.
- Practice gratitude. When practiced daily, gratitude helps rewire your brain to think positive. Each day, write down three different things you’re grateful for.
- Call a support person. Humans are hardwired for connection – especially when stressed. Call a friend or loved one for a distraction or to unwind after a rough day.
- Do relaxation exercises. Sometimes known as progressive muscle relaxation, practice tensing and then releasing each of your muscle groups. If your body is physiologically relaxed, then you won’t be stressed.
- Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals in the brain) and helps you blow off steam. In particular, walking or running provide rhythmic movement that can help you readjust your focus and relieve stress. When you head out for a walk or run at a stressful time, it can provide a perspective that allows you to return to your situation in a new frame of mind.
- Immerse yourself in a creative outlet. Doing something creative that you enjoy – like cooking/baking, coloring/doodling, playing music or taking pictures – can dramatically reduce stress. Each example requires focus, concentration, and physical activity, all of which are helpful in relieving stress.
- Express your feelings. Write about your stress in a journal. You also can journal about positive experiences. This daily practice can help increase positive thinking and rewire your brain to think more positively.
- Be in the moment with one of your senses. Sight, smell, sound, and taste – you’ll be amazed how quickly the stress melts away when you focus on just one of them. Eat something you crave and savor each bite. Light a scented candle and breathe in your favorite scent. Listen to a beautiful piece of music and let it take you away. Look at something beautiful that makes you stop and stare.
You also can practice the 5,4,3,2,1 technique. Name 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things to touch, 2 things you smell, and one thing you taste. Engaging your 5 senses is a great way to ground yourself in the present moment and take your focus off your stress.
If one of the above methods doesn’t work for you, try another. Learning to cool down takes practice. Just be patient with yourself. If you continue to struggle with stress, or have thoughts of self-harm or violence, immediately consult a professional.
Source: Virtua Health