Stress is taking more and more space in your life, but you don't know how to reduce it.
Here's my "prescription": Practice at least two of the tools below every day to increase your resilience to stress, and get back to feeling more grounded, faster.
1- Don't be a hamster, breathe!
Yes. It really is that simple. So basic. But when we're stressed, we forget about our breath; we tighten it, hold it, or simply have a hard time breathing normally. Having less oxygen circulating in your body and your brain will increase your stress and/or anxiety.
And there you are, the little hamster stuck in the wheel.
Here are 3 different options depending on the time/place:
Make it a habit to take a deep breath every day when getting up, leaving the house, getting in/out of the car, going to a new place, meeting new people, before eating, and when noticing tension in the chest or the body in general. Think of the breath during transition points, from one activity or place to another.
Inhale on 4 counts – hold the breath two counts- exhale on 8 counts. Repeat until you feel calmer.
Take a deep inhalation, filling first your belly with air, then moving to your chest. Hold the breath for two counts. Exhale, emptying fully the chest and belly. Repeat 10 times and continue as needed.
2- Flex those muscles
Practice some progressive muscle relaxation:
First, tense a muscle group in your body, such as your calves, thighs or shoulders.
Hold it for a few seconds.
Next, release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when you relax them.
Repeat with other muscle groups as needed.
For a guided version, you can download my free progressive muscle relaxation audio recording.
Note: Very important! Always check with your doctor before doing anything physical, especially if you have any medical conditions or injuries.
3- Show your stress the way out
Option 1: When stress starts to go up but is manageable: go for a leisurely walk around the block, focus on the breath and surroundings. Notice the colors around you, the smells, noises, touch some trees. Feel the ground supporting you.
Option 2: When stress becomes more intense: alternate walking one block quickly, with running or walking faster the next. When you start feeling better, slow down and go to option 1.
Include any other physical activities beside walking/running that you enjoy. Go at the speed that feels right for you at that moment. Today may be different from yesterday.
And of course, do what you can based on your physical shape, health situation, and seek medical advice first.
4- Bathe your mind in calm
Bring to mind soothing and calming images of people or pets in your life, things, places and memories. Anything that helps make you feel safe, loved, supported, peaceful, and helps you calm down.
Stay with the image and notice as many details as you can to make the image more vivid.
Notice how it makes you feel in your body, as well as the emotions, and sensations you experience. Let your mind connect freely, from one positive experience to another, and follow the trail.
I recommend you use "static" meditation (vs. walking meditation) once you feel a little calmer, to help you maintain and reinforce that state. It can be frustrating at the beginning to try meditating when you feel restless. Use one of the more physical tips above first to release some tension.
If you have a meditation practice, go for it. If not, you can use a guided meditation app. Regular use will provide the most benefits. Here are few free ones I like:
6- Playful and relaxing activities
Wrestle with your partner, your kids or nieces and nephews – have a tickle fight, jump on your bed... Welcome the silliness and lightness that go with it.
Take your dog for a walk, play with your pets, or simply give them a long petting session. You'll both get benefits out of it.
7- Give yourself the spa treatment
Do I even have to mention massage? No matter what kind (back, foot, neck, from partner or professional), get one, or do it yourself.
Get a foam roller similar to this one on Amazon, and start rolling.
Here are a few ways you can use it. How to use a foam roller.
Take a warm relaxing bath at end of the day, include essential oils, candles, music… soak in for a minimum of 10 min.
And if you have more time available, consider making a de-stress trip to some hot springs.
Here's a list of 30 Hot Springs in Colorado if you're local.
Short naps can be very beneficial to manage your stress better.
Go for 15-20 min and remember to set a timer. Wash your face with cold water after waking up to feel more energized.
Try at least two of these tips on a regular basis and leave me a comment to let me know how they are working for you.
If none of these hit the spot, consider getting some professional help to get to the root cause and find more customized tools. Just don't keep letting stress be in charge of your life and relationships.
About the author: Valerie Abitbol, LMFT, owner of Flow Counseling, PLLC is a counselor and therapist in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in couples and women dealing with major life transitions. She helps them move from feeling scared and overwhelmed to finding balance and a new normal in their lives. Valerie also provides counseling to couples to help them heal, reconnect, and grow happiness.