There are many wonderful things about our society: TV, smartphones, tablets, GPS. While those things most certainly make life easier, they can also make life a tad bit more stressful. Staring at screens all day leaves us with fatigue, eye strain, and poor posture while indulging in media at our fingertips hours every day leave our cortisol levels sky-rocketing from all the negative images and advertising we see on a daily basis.
Some of us start our day with these anxiety-riddled habits by checking our email, news, and social media before we are even out of bed. The good news is we can balance out these energy- and joy-sucking habits we have created through mindfulness. Here are five stress management tips to help you deal.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a practice of becoming more aware of where you are and what you’re doing, without becoming overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around you. The best part? You don’t need fancy cushions, special clothes, or expensive gadgets to be mindful. You only need yourself and as little as two minutes. The practices below outline some quick and easy ways to help you let off some steam and bring yourself back to the present moment.
Do you have a random tennis ball or other small round and firm object sitting around? Roll it under your feet or massage out some tension in your neck, arms, or other tight spots. Tennis balls are very cheap to get and they are portable! Stick them in your purse, gym bag, or glove compartment of your car so that you are within reach of a quick self-massage anywhere you go! Another way to help your nerves calm is to make your own heat pack. Grab an old sock that lost its friend in the wash (we all have them!). Fill it with rice to the desired level that correlates with how big you want it and tie the open end with a hair tie! When needed, throw that rice-filled sock in the microwave until the sock becomes warm, but not hot, to the touch. Voilà! You now have your own homemade heat pack. Drape it on your sore shoulders to remind yourself to bring your shoulders away from your ears.
Or should it be said to ‘tune-in’? Either way, there are several studies that show music is a great resource for lowering stress levels in various situations. (1, 5) Of course, the preferred music would be calming and light. However, if you want to crank your tunes and belt it out that will work just as well! Letting the windows down in your car while you sing at the top of your lungs to your favorite song will get your happy juices flowing.
3. Get Moving
Yes. It has to be said. Exercise helps you to feel better. This doesn’t mean you need to run a full marathon to reap the benefits of moving your body though! All forms of exercise count: light stretching, a 15-minute walk, yoga, or walking up and down a few flights of stairs near your office at work. Some favorite light stretches for most are some shoulder shrugs and neck rolls.
The following will help you set-up for a meditation to help you slow down.
1) Find a comfortable position: sitting, laying down, under a tree, a park bench, or wherever gives you a stable and solid surface beneath you.
2) Be aware of your body. Straighten but do not stiffen your posture. You want to be relaxed and not rigid. Even if throughout your meditation you need to move to be comfortable, do it! Any way you can become more into your space, take the liberty to get yourself there.
3) Focus on your breath. There is no need to change how you are breathing. The goal here is to become aware of the ins and outs of each inhale and exhale.
4) Let your thoughts come and go. Many also think meditation means having a “blank mind.” This is not correct. Mindfulness meditation recognizes the mind will wander and when you have noticed the mind wander, gently bring it back to focus on your breath without judgement or negativity such as “I knew you couldn’t do this,” etc. Watch your thoughts go by like leaves floating on top of a gentle stream if visualization helps.
5) Start slow. If you are new to meditation, much like exercise, don’t overdo it. You will want to have a max time so that you are not setting yourself up to be disappointed at your next meditation session if you are unable to sit with yourself as long as you did the first time.
5. Breathing techniques (pranayama – “prA-nA-yA-ma”)
The following will show you how to use breathing techniques to help your mind stop the endless chatter. Deep breathing techniques will help to refocus your attention and help your body to become relaxed (4). There are many different breathing techniques, but a favorite of most is called nadi shodhana (“NA-di sho-DA-na”) which is also named alternate nostril breathing.
1) Bring your right hand to your face and place your middle and index fingers on the space between your third eye while your thumb gently closes your right nostril leaving the left nostril free. During this practice, you will alternate your thumb and ring finger of the right hand to close nostrils.
2) With your right nostril still closed, inhale through the left nostril filling your belly deep from within and pretending the breath is filling every space inside of you.
3) At the end of the inhale, close your left nostril with your ring finger and pause.
4) Release your thumb from the right nostril and exhale out through the right nostril keeping the left nostril close with the ring finger.
5) With your right nostril still open and left nostril closed, inhale in through the right nostril.
6) At the end of the inhale, close your right nostril with your thumb and pause.
7) Release your ring finger from your left nostril and exhale out the left nostril.
8) You have completed one round of this breathing technique! You can repeat for as many cycles as you like. This breathing technique is also extremely effective in stressful situations or if you are about to give a presentation to calm nerves.
If you have tried these simple tips above and are still experiencing elevated stress levels that are impacting you significantly, consult your physician. Some disorders may need medical attention beyond what these tips can give you. Chronic stress can diminish your quality of life and come in many forms or triggered by various life events. Taking time to ensure your personal health is on-track will help you to shine in other areas of your life!
1. Ahmad, M. S., Yusoff, M., & Razak, I. (2011). Stress and its relief among undergraduate dental students in Malaysia. The Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health, 42(4), 996-1004. http://www.tm.mahidol.ac.th/seameo/2011-42-4/27-4993.pdf
2. Blumenthal, J., Jiang, W., & Babyak, M. (1997). Stress management and exercise training in cardiac patients with myocardial ischemia: effects on prognosis and evaluation of mechanisms. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 157(19), 2213-2223. DOI: 10.1001/archinte.1997.00440400063008
3. Blumenthal, J., Sherwood, A., & Babyak, M. (2005). Effects of exercise and stress management training on markers of cardiovascular risk in patients with ischemic heart disease: a randomized controlled trial. The Journal of the American Medical Association, 293(13), 1626-1634. DOI: 10.1001/jama.293.13.1626
4. Brown, R. & Gerbarg, P. (2005). Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: Part I – neurophysiologic model. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11(1), 189-201. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2005.11.189
5. Peng, S., Koo., M., & Yu, Z. (2009). Effect of music and essential oil inhalation on cardiac autonomic balance in healthy individuals. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(1), 53-57. DOI: 10.1089/acm.2008.02430