Is "stressed" your default emotion these days? In casual conversation, stress seems to come up (directly or indirectly) for one reason or another. Career, home life, relationships, kids, politics, news...the list of things that can contribute to stress seems to go on and on. Are you looking for quick and easy ways that you can reduce your stress and find some relief during your busy schedule? Below are some tips and techniques we covered at our Wellness Wednesday workshop last week.
Picture yourself in a stressful situation at work or home. For example, a deadline has been moved up by a full week and you're already a full week behind, or you're managing three different sports schedules and the associated pickups while also keeping up with the day to day errands. Chances are that these situations don't lend themselves to deep relaxed breathing. More than likely, you're in the "fight or flight" mode of short shallow breaths through your mouth. The good news is that you can use these events as trigger points to take a minute and try the following techniques to help calm down and regain control of your emotions.
The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise (as known as the Relaxing Breath) has been popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil, and is a quick way to calm your nervous system. First, find a comfortable seated position with your back straight. Before starting, place the tip of your tongue right behind the back of your front teeth (where it will stay for the duration of this exercise). The steps for 4-7-8 breathing are as follows (from https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/)
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. This is one breath.
Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
It might feel strange to keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth...I have practiced 4-7-8 breathing before, but wasn't aware of this part until reading Dr. Weil's website! Use this technique at the first sign of stress for some immediate relief and relaxation. Once you get more comfortable with 4-7-8 breathing, try to practice it at least two times a day (it's great for helping you fall asleep!).
Alternate Nostril Breathing is another technique that's easy to do, and can bring you back to a calm state at any point in your busy day. In this technique, you'll be breathing in through one nostril, exhaling through the other, and then repeating this same process in the reverse direction. This process helps balance your central nervous system, as breathing through your left nostril stimulates the right hemisphere of your brain and provides a parasympathetic response (calming, lowers heart rate and blood pressure) while breathing through your right nostril stimulates the left hemisphere of the train (sympathetic response - raises heart rate and blood pressure). I'm still amazed that each nostril has it's own "job" when it comes to breathing...so crazy!
For Alternate Nostril Breathing, sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Before starting, fold down the second and third fingers of your right hand (you'll be using your thumb and ring finger to close off your nostrils).
Exhale completely through your nose
Raise your hand in front of your nose (palm facing in) and use your thumb to close off your right nostril.
Breathe in deeply through your left nostril then close it off with your ring finger.
Open your right nostril (keeping your left nostril closed) and exhale completely through your right nostril.
Breathe in deeply through your right nostril then close it off with your thumb.
Open your left nostril (keeping your right nostril closed) and exhale completely through your left nostril.
This is one complete cycle of nostril breathing.
Continue this process for ~5 minutes.
It might seem complicated in print, but it's much easier in practice. I also like to visualize the breath crossing over from one side of my brain to the other, as I think it helps with the overall calming effect. Try it out and see what you think!
Another way to bring yourself back to the present moment is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise. This is a good technique to use when your mind is racing with a million thoughts about the past or the future, and you're very far away from the present moment in which you are actually living. I recommend doing this exercise while seated (either inside or outside), but you can also try it when you're out for a walk (just be aware of your surroundings). I wouldn't recommend trying this while driving. In this exercise, you'll be bringing yourself back to the most basic part of life - perceiving your surroundings by the things you're experiencing in this present moment.
See - become aware of five things you can see - name them to yourself
Listen - find four things you can hear
Feel - what are three things you can feel on your skin?
Smell - name two things you can smell
Taste - what is one thing you can currently taste?
I do this exercise when I'm walking the dog in the park and find myself thinking about everything except being in the present moment.
At the workshop, we also practiced a technique that incorporated a visualization of each participant's past and present, and finished with a positive look into a happy healthy future. This was very powerful, and Kara could feel the emotions as everyone focused on their future self and what this would mean to them. Visualization can also be used for stress reduction. Think of it as a mini-meditation session where you close your eyes and visualize a place that brings you to a relaxed state (maybe the beach, a lake house, the forest...anywhere that feels calm and relaxing). While visualizing this scene, think about your senses perceiving this location - what do you see? what sounds can you hear? what do you feel, and what smells are in the air? Use this time to breathe and relax and when you're ready, start to gradually bring yourself back to the present moment and slowly open your eyes. This exercise is a quick way to take a break, reduce stress in that moment, and bring some peace to the rest of your day.
Reducing the impact of stress doesn't have to be a deep and involved process. These four techniques are easy to learn, and they become more effective the more you try them. Probably the hardest thing to do is that first step - recognizing your stress and making the decision to stop and breathe rather than just continuing to push through it. Make the decision now to try 4-7-8 Breathing at least once this week, and I guarantee that you'll go back to it again later! Good luck and remember to breathe to help step past your stress!