In today’s blog, I want to address the imperative need of stress management as it is one of the most important practices we need to implement right now. Modern lifestyle alone is stressful enough, and many of us have already experienced stress beyond our threshold from our daily lives. With the COVID-19 among us, increased health scares, and financial insecurity, the fear and anxiety is palpable for us all. We are in this together, and my goal is to give you some simple, yet effective stress relieving tools that will really make a difference.
A little stress is actually good for the body as it can motivate us to complete tasks and take care of ourselves and loved ones in a state of crisis, but that should only be experienced temporarily and sporadically. Many of us have been undergoing chronic stress with the demands of modern life already, so bringing us to today with the Coronavirus, we have a sudden influx of the type of stress that threatens the basic needs for survival sending stress levels to skyrocket over the normal thresholds that we’ve been accustomed to. Extreme and chronic stress is correlated to weakened immune system, cardiovascular disease, increased blood pressure, insulin resistance, obesity, anxiety, depression and other mood imbalances, a variety of gut disorders, and poor sleep to name a few. With that said, it is absolutely imperative to do our bodies a favor and implement a stress relieving regimen as soon as possible. The upside is that it feels good to implement these tools and when there’s a good reward, it’s easier to keep it up and transform it into a habit.
Below are some helpful techniques for immediate stress relief that I highly encourage you to incorporate throughout your day or at the onset of uneasy feelings caused by stress. Little reprieves from stress add up and your body and brain will thank you.
Technique #1: 4,7,8 Breathing
Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 with a focus of filling up your abdomen (rather than your chest). Hold for a count of 7, then breathe out through your mouth with pursed lips for a count of 8. Repeat 10 times or longer any time you start to feel a little stressed, need to wind down to sleep, or even first thing in the morning before you get your day going.
Technique #2: Guided Meditation
Some of us have been meditating for years, but others need the help of guided meditations. Convenience is key, so I recommend using a mobile app that can send reminders to meditate and offer a succinct, high quality guided meditation. A few great options are Calm, Ten Percent Happier, and Headspace. All are great in their own way, so try the free trial to see which one best suits you. There are also a plethora of guided meditations on YouTube that will help you focus in order to calm the mind and feel centered.
Technique #3: Listen to Music
Music has powerful benefits including mood regulation, decrease in stress and blood pressure, so do yourself a favor and take the time to put together a special mood-elevating playlist that will sway you back into a good mood. Get additional benefits by adding some dancing to the mix! Classical music is also proven to improve creativity and productivity, and can help you fall asleep easier.
Technique #4: Gratitude of 10 List
I find this best to do after the 4,7,8 breathing. You can either name 10 things you’re grateful for to a family member, physically write them down in a gratitude journal, or for Apple users, try using Grateful: A Gratitude Journal App which keeps your gratitude journals on your phone and lets you post a photo to capture the moment of what you’re grateful for. It’s a great way to go back and see what you’ve been grateful for in the past to relish in the feeling of gratitude even more.
Technique #5: Take a Media Fast
Stop watching the news and delete news alerts on all your devices. The media will drill more fear and anxiety with the repetitive news stories and constant updates. You will do your nervous system a great favor if you get your news from one source that will give you the facts once per day, and you may want to skip a few days right now with all the extra intensity.
Technique #6: Get Your Oxytocin Fix
While social distancing, it can be a little more challenging to get your normal oxytocin (love and bonding) fix, so take time to play with your animals, share sit down meals with the family, give reciprocal massages to your spouse and kids, and connect with friends and loved ones via FaceTime, Zoom, phone call, etc, not just via text. My husband and I just adopted two dogs last week which has completely boosted our oxytocin levels. Highly recommend it!
Technique #7: Go For a Walk Outside
You can just be present and enjoy nature, or listen to your new playlist you just made to bring in more good energy. Either way, you will get some exercise and boost happy hormones like serotonin that will keep it virtually impossible to stay in a funk.
Technique #8: Cultivate More Fun
Use this time off to engage in more fun activities that you weren’t able to do with a heavier schedule. Can you think of what you liked to do for fun as a kid? Write a list of fun activities that you’d enjoy and incorporate at least one of them daily. A few ideas could be taking a bike ride, shooting hoops, playing handball against the garage door, dancing in the kitchen, playing a musical instrument, painting & coloring, or playing lava on the couch with the kids. There’s no rule. Just do something fun that you personally would enjoy.
Technique #9: Laugh
Yes, laughter is still considered one of the best forms of medicine. The body is unable to feel stressed while laughing, so we encourage you to do as much of it as possible. Netflix has a whole variety of comedy specials, and Pandora and iHeart Radio have comedy stations that you can listen to while you’re doing more mundane tasks around the house. Of course YouTube is another source, so have at it and bring on the laughter.
Technique #10: “Tapping” or EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques)
Obviously one of my favorites, EFT is a highly effective stress relieving technique which successfully takes us out of the flight, fight, freeze response and into a much calmer state where we can think more clearly, be more solution oriented, and even just be at peace with where we are at in the moment. When you take the body from a state of fear, anxiety, and anger (sympathetic nervous system) to a state of calmness and relaxation (parasympathetic nervous system), not only do you feel better, but the physiological benefits are astounding! EFT has been reported in clinical studies to decrease cortisol, boost immunoglobulins necessary for a healthy immune system, reduce anxiety, depression, phobias, and is highly effective for both physical and emotional pain especially when related to stress.
Well there you have it. Feel free to stack these techniques back to back or sprinkle them throughout your day. Remember…prolonged stress will steal your joy and wreak havoc on your health, so you owe it to yourself to use these stress-reducing self care tools anytime to boost your health and especially at the onset feelings of anxiety, fear, sadness, anger and worry.
Here’s to thriving and staying healthy and sane during these uncertain times and always.