Sometimes we find ourselves in stressful moments where our go-to relaxation technique just doesn’t fit. For example, we probably shouldn’t leave the Zoom meeting midstream to meditate or go for a jog at 2:00 a.m. when we can’t sleep. But, what can we do? Finding a way to ground your awareness in the present moment is a first step to reducing stress. We can do that by turning our attention inward or directing our five senses to focus on something pleasant. The brief pause and intentional awareness usually helps us interrupt the stress response and access our inner calm. From a calmer state of mind, we can better address whatever the stressor is.
Here are a few in-the-moment actions you can take the next time you’re feeling stressed.
Deep Breathing: When in a stressful situation, notice your breathing. Pause to slow your breathing down. Take an intentional, slow, deep breath. Count 4 or 5 seconds on the inhale and 4 or 5 seconds on the exhale in your head. Focus on your breath for a moment and then refocus on the matter at hand. This is one of the best and simplest things you can do, and it can be done anytime, anywhere.
Movement: Bring awareness to your neck, shoulders, jaw, stomach, chest, or back: areas where we commonly hold tension. Gently stretch, roll, or move to soften any muscle tension you feel. Stand up, stretch, jump, walk, or move in whatever way feels good for you. If you can get away, consider going outside for a walk or for a deep breath for the added benefit of a break away from your stressor. Nature can be calming and the sunshine energizing.
Scent: Keep candles, essential oils, flowers, plants, lotions or other scented items in your environment for easy use when needed. Consider wearing a soothing scent, which you can take in with a deep breath during stressful moments. Common calming scents: Lavender, Rose, Bergamot, Sandalwood, Ylang ylang, Orange blossom.
Touch: Things that are warm, smooth, soft, or weighty are comforting. Hold or touch something you find soothing. Your own gentle touch over your heart or a self-massage on your hands, neck, or shoulders can ease tension. Squeeze a stress ball or rub a worry stone for a tactile sensation mixed with rhythmic movement. If you’re working from home and have pets, take a break when you can to give them a little love. This will likely feel great for both of you and be a dose of happy social connection as well!
Sight: Look around your environment and notice five things you see. Look for beautiful things around you, and really focus on their details while you take a deep breath. If you don’t have any such items – make a point to add pleasing things to your most commonly used environments, such as photos, colors, or small trinkets that remind you of peaceful, happy feelings. Look out a window and focus on nature – notice trees or sunshine or shapes of clouds. Close your eyes, breathe, and visualize in specific detail a peaceful place.
Sound: Tune into sounds, especially the pleasing ones, around you. Use your full powers of mindful observation to notice sounds you don’t normally notice, taking a deep breath while you listen. Play soothing music, nature sounds, or white noise in the background, which you can always tune into when you need to refocus your mind.
Taste: Chew, sip, or take a bite of something, savoring all the sensations: gum, tea or coffee, a hard candy or chocolate, a piece of fruit, a crunchy veggie, or a bite of your lunch. Fully notice the flavor, texture, and temperature of what you eat or drink. Take one deep breath between bites or sips.
Positive Emotion: When you notice your stress levels rising, take a moment to name the experience. “This is stress.” Or, “This moment is difficult.” Then, intentionally shift into a more positive emotional state. Think of something or someone you are grateful for and sit in appreciation of them for a moment. You can also try Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion Break for a very brief meditation based in loving-kindness.
No one strategy is a magic cure-all for stress. It is the act of pausing to notice your stress and, then, responding to what you notice with kindness and comfort that makes the difference. Let go of any worry about doing it just right. Any attempt to notice and ease stress is a success! And, although you may not end up completely calm, your intentional efforts may help keep the stress at more manageable levels.
If you have trouble remembering your stress-management strategies in the heat of a difficult moment, place physical reminders of them in spaces you’ll know you’ll need them, like a bedside table or your work station or desk. This will help call the strategies to mind throughout your day. You can also practice them whenever you remember – whether stressed or not! There’s no bad time for a deep breath, a stretch, or a grateful thought.
If you’d like to practice more relaxation strategies, join Health Coach Amanda for a six-week group health coaching series, Road to Relaxation, starting October 5 at noon.
For stress management tips specifically for caretakers, join EAP counselor Helka Gienapp for her educational program, Compassion Fatigue & Compassion Satisfaction, on October 13 at 11:30 a.m.
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