In many ways, stress is like a negative playing tape that loops around and around in your mind. It’s hard to stop it, and the longer we listen, the worse it gets.
You may notice you’re breathing faster. You may be taking in shallow breaths or even holding your breath.
The key to reducing your stress right this instant is simple. But you have to do it. Okay, here’s what you need to do:
- Pause whatever it is you’re doing. Take a moment and unplug. Reflect briefly on what might be causing you stress at this moment. See if you can discern where the stress is coming from.
For example, could the stress you’re experiencing be coming from some kind of pain or illness? Or is the cause something external, such as something to do with your work, your relationships or your home life? What are you thinking and feeling?
Are you accepting stress as a normal part of your life? Are you blaming a situation or others for your stress? Do you view it as something you can’t change? Does your attitude, a belief or a habit contribute in some way to your stress?
Whether or not you have some idea where your stress is coming from or you haven’t a clue, it’s important to pause and reflect on the possibilities of the source and acknowledge it without judgment.
- Breathe deeply, slowly and mindfully with even breaths. Take a deep breath in through your nose to the count of 4. Breathe out through your mouth to the count of 6. Do this 2 or 3 times.
The purpose is to calm your nervous system, quieting your fight-or-flight response. You should feel more relaxed. When you breathe like this, you’ll find that your abdomen will expand on intake of breath and contract on exhalation. This is diaphragmatic breathing, where your exhale is a wee bit longer than your inhale. It takes only a slightly longer exhale to bring about the desired calming effect.
- Bring on a smile or a laugh. A simple smile or a laugh will flex your cheek muscles and signal your brain that you’re feeling happy. Even if you’re not. Smiling helps to reduce stress. And your brain can’t tell the difference when you’ve got a fake smile plastered on your face or a real one. The results will be the same.
A mind-body connection takes place when you smile. Your brain actually pays attention to your smiles. The more you do it, the more you train your brain to pay attention to the positive and good things in life rather than the negative. When you’re happy, your body will produce more endorphins.
Smiling is also contagious. When you smile at someone, they’ll invariably smile back. Everyone will feel happier. Over time, you’re training your brain to go for positive thoughts even when you’re feeling stress. Make it a habit to smile more, starting when you first wake up.
- And now do a quick visualization. Imagine you’re on a vacation somewhere. Picture yourself there in detail. What’s the weather like? What are you wearing? What do you see? Who are you with? What sensations are you experiencing? You want to make it as real as possible. Once you’re feeling at ease and tranquil, open your eyes.
Keep your image ready-to-go. In other words, have your image ready so you can recall it and transport yourself there whenever you need to.
- Change your physicality. For a moment, make your body do something different. If you’re standing, sit down. If you’re sitting, stand up. If you’re inside, step outside. You get the picture, I’m sure. Watch your posture, and be sure to sit or stand tall.
A simple change in your physicality, will help to lift your spirit and your mood.
Follow all five of the tips mentioned or do one or more that feel comfortable to you. Any of these can be accomplished without calling attention to yourself, if you happen to be in a work or social situation involving others. Turning any of these into a new habit, is a great idea, and they couldn’t be easier.