Everyday tools to combat stress
Getting the kids where they need to go, making sure you make it to work on time, checking the never-ending list of emails in your inbox, reviewing your to-do list to figure out where to even start. Does that sound like the beginning of your day? One stressful situation after another. Here are some everyday tools to help combat stress.
The state of your mind and the state of your body are closely related. If your mind is relaxed, your muscles will be relaxed.
Stress creates both physical and mental tension. Yoga brings together the mind, body, and spirit by combining poses, breathing, and meditation. Poses are designed to increase strength and flexibility and reduce muscle tension. Breathing allows you to control your body and quiet your mind and meditation allows you to be more mindful and present in the moment.
Aside from all of these benefits for your mental health, it’s a great way to stretch and strengthen your muscles. Double bonus!
- Choose a mat. There are many different kinds, different thicknesses, and different costs. Any mat is fine. Carpet will even work if you don’t want to purchase a mat right away.
- Wear something comfortable. Yoga pants or sweat pants are great. A top that allows for movement is best. Ditch the socks and shoes – this will prevent slipping and help you ground your feet for better balance.
- Select a space that is free from clutter and is large enough to lay your mat down and allow freedom of movement. Choose a quiet space free from distractions.
- Find your Drishti, or your gaze. Your gaze is important in yoga as it helps to center your mind and create a sense of focus in the present moment. Drishti will also help you to balance with ease. Bring awareness to your gaze and don’t allow your eyes to wander around the room.
- Focus on your breathing. Be aware of your breath and make sure to inhale and exhale with each movement.
Mindfulness is being fully present. Being aware of where you are and what you’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.
Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate stress or other life challenges. Mindfulness allows you to be aware of unpleasant thoughts and emotions that arise because of challenging situations and reminds you that you can choose how to handle them in the moment, giving you a better chance of reacting calmly and empathetically.
Here is a quick way to practice mindfulness:
- Sit in a chair with your spine supported.
- Place your feet flat on the floor.
- Sink your tailbone into the chair and allow your shoulders to relax.
- Close your mouth and slowly inhale and exhale through your nose. Continue to breathe this way.
- Close your eyes and listen. Notice any sounds around you.
- Don’t judge any of your senses, just observe. You may be amazed at what you notice about yourself and the world around you. Hold this position for a few minutes or for as long as you would like.
Many studies have shown that meditation is an effective stress-management tool, ultimately reprogramming the brain to be more open and less reactive. Meditation gives you time to be curious about what you’re thinking and feeling, as though you are looking at your stressors in a whole new way.
When you’re less reactive and are able to think more logically, you can cope better, and ultimately make a positive impact on your mental and physical health.
Meditation isn’t about eliminating stress; it’s about managing it.
- Find a comfortable position. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor or cross-legged on the ground, tall and straight.
- Close your eyes gently. Look into the distance with a soft gaze, then slowly lower your eyelids, and keep your jaw slightly open.
- Put your thoughts aside. Don’t ignore them, but simply remain calm, note them, and then use your breathing to bring you back to the moment.
- Continue for a couple of minutes – that’s it!
Breathing is something you do all day, every day without even thinking most of the time. Breathing in and out through your nose allows you to take fuller, deeper breaths, which distributes greater amounts of oxygen through the body.
Also, nasal breathing stimulates the lower lungs, which is associated with calming the mind and body. The upper lungs, stimulated by chest and mouth breathing, may prompt you to hyperventilate and trigger sympathetic nerve receptors.
Taking a deep breath sends oxygen to the brain signaling a switch from fear, anxiety, and stress back to rest and calm. As you feel the stressor or anxious thought rising, here’s what to do:
- Close your mouth.
- Take a deep breath in through the nose. As you breathe in, slowly count to see how long your inhale is. Remember this number.
- After a complete inhale, keeping the mouth closed, slowly exhale.
- Next, take another big inhale through the nose counting back to the same inhale number as before.
- Slowly exhale, but this time, increase your exhale by two additional numbers more than your inhale was (example: If your inhale count is to 3, then make your exhale count to 5).
- Continue to do deep nasal breathing until you feel your body relax and your mind shift to peace.
Along with all these helpful approaches to stress, anxiety, or fear, talking to someone can also be a helpful coping tool. Counseling or therapy may help you if you are:
- Seeking clarity in some areas of your life
- Wanting to work through complex emotions
- Working through a traumatic experience
- Challenging negative thinking patterns
- Learning new techniques to cope with difficult situations
- Focusing on personal growth