We’d all love to live stress-free lives. We’d love to wake up and have every day go just the way we’d like. All the people we encounter would be friendly, pleasant and kind. Every interaction would leave us feeling fulfilled and satisfied.
We’d spend our days making a difference in the world and lay our heads down each night to blissful, peaceful sleep.
Right. We’d all love that. But that ain’t the real world now, is it?
Everyone has stress. At different levels and to different degrees for sure, but stress is a part of life. Not all stress is negative. Some actually helps us get better. But that is a topic for a different article.
For today, I want to share with you the 5 things I teach my clients to use to reduce stress. Not over the long haul. Not with lots of practice.
Immediately. Immediate stress relief. Right now, when the crap has hit the fan and things are a hot mess.
Yes, you have to remember them once you learn them. But they work!
Here they are, in no certain order.
1.Breathe – Learn to use deep, diaphragmatic breathing techniques. The simplest one can be done anywhere. Standing, sitting or lying down. But here are 3 techniques, beginning with the simplest.
Belly Balloon: Close your mouth. Place your tongue behind your teeth. Look down at your belly. Draw a deep breath in through your nose, pushing all the air into your belly. Blow it up like a balloon. Don’t let your chest expand until the very last of your breath in. Repeat this breath 10 times, blowing up the balloon every time.
What you may notice is that the tightness in your low back, neck and shoulders begins to ease. You may also chuckle a little at the thought of blowing up your “belly balloon.” Good!
Scaled Tempo Breathing: Only the name is complex. Lying down is best for this, but it can be done sitting or standing as well. If lying down, close your eyes and mouth. With tongue behind the teeth, breathe slowly in, counting to 3 slowly. Pause when you get to 3, then breathe out, again counting slowly to 3.
Repeat, this time counting to 4 in and out. Keep adding a count each breath, going as high as you can. Most people can get to 6 or 7, some higher, but don’t make this about the number. You’re not going to PR in breathing!
3D Breathing: You will want to lie down for this one. You can lie with legs straight or knees bent, or even put your feet on a chair with your back flat to the floor. Close your eyes and mouth, with tongue against the teeth. Breath in slowly, filling your belly first. Then, as your chest begins to rise, “push” the air down into your legs, out into your arms and back against the floor through your low back. Concentrate on pushing air into every part of your body.
No, the air won’t actually go everywhere, but if you concentrate, it will feel almost as if it does.
2. Move – DO something physical. Try punching the air repeatedly, right-left-right-left, like a boxer for 50 punches. March in place for 2 minutes (you might even want to try marching and doing the Belly Balloon together – pretty awesome!)
Climb a tree. Yes, I mean you! Talk about communing with nature!
Workout if you can. Even 5 minutes of focused calisthenics – jumping jacks, running in place, push-ups – will help.
Go for a walk and count the leaves outside. Yes, literally count the leaves. Count your steps. Walk on the beach, in the grass, in the mountains.
Walk with someone who will promise to keep talking with you and redirect the conversation anytime it comes near your stressors.
True Story: Several years ago, a client, D, was having a really difficult time leading up to her wedding. She came in to see me on a Tuesday after her Bachelorette Party and was a mess. I also trained her sister, so they were together. She was clearly a “hot mess.”
When I asked what was up, she told me the story. At her party, a cousin had decided that what D wanted wasn’t good enough and took over, essentially ruining the night for her. On top of that, there were dress issues and, oh yeah, we had a hurricane approaching, due to hit on the very day of her wedding!
I could easily have said “suck it up, buttercup” and pushed her through her workout. But that’s not how I roll. She warmed up, did a little core work, then I told the sisters “I have a special cardio workout for you. You’re going to the beach and take a walk, just a walk. 30 minutes and you can talk about anything EXCEPT the wedding, anything around it or the bachelorette party. And I want you to text me a picture of you on the beach at the end of your walk.”
Here’s the picture:
Needless to say, it was what was needed!
3. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation – It’s a technique that will help you distinguish between tense and relaxed muscles. First, tense your muscles in groups, starting at your head and then move down to your toes, taking note of how your muscles feel when you purposely tense them followed by their release or relaxation.
Don’t be afraid to squeeze muscles hard. Try relaxing each muscle all at once and then slowly, over a 3 or 4 count.
4. Meditate – Meditation is the practice of intentionally focusing your attention on one thing at a time. Many people use a word or phrase as a point of focus when they meditate.
You don’t need to meditate for a long time, or reach some astral plane to get benefit. Even if it doesn’t “feel like it worked,” your heart rate will probably be reduced and your breathing more even. This means your parasympathetic nervous system is regaining control over your “fight-or-flight” sympathetic nervous system.
5. Do something silly – Or just something easy and repetitive. Try standing in the victory pose, arms overhead and slightly angled out. Breathe in and sigh on the way out. Stand on one leg and say the alphabet – backwards.
Try to name as many cartoon characters as you can in 60 seconds. Then, name as many Presidents as you can in 60 seconds.
While stress is unavoidable, it’s really about how we react to it. Identify your stress responses. Understand that they are unique and rooted in your life experiences. Then, try something new!
These are some fairly simple – and effective – stress relief techniques. I’d love to hear if you try them, and how they work for you!
Keep the faith and keep after it!