According to the American Psychological Association’s January 2021 report on Stress in America, more than 8 in 10 Americans reported feeling negative emotions associated with stress in the two weeks prior to the survey. That means if stress and the associated feelings of sadness, anger, and anxiety have been more prevalent in your life lately, you’re not alone!
While stress may not be uncommon given the events of the past year and a half, living with chronic stress can be exhausting and leads to other health concerns. The good news is there are things we can do to help our bodies and minds shift out of and recover from stress—skills we can learn and strategies we can deploy that tap into our body’s natural relaxation response. A few examples include:
- Deep, slow, conscious breathing
- Mindful awareness skills to help us notice stress and relate to it kindly
- Generating positive emotion with intention such as with a gratitude practice
- Mental visualization to inspire peace or positive performance
- Relaxing body practices such as progressive muscle relaxation to release tension
“Best practices” for relaxation and stress management would have us engaging in some kind of calming practice for at least 15 minutes daily. However, especially for those who are new to such practices or stressed because their schedules are already overfull with responsibilities, even five minutes a few times per week can feel like a challenge.
As with any health or wellness goal, it’s OK and even encouraged that you start small! A great first step is simply noticing when stress occurs – maybe that’s when your thinking gets scattered or fuzzy, or maybe you notice you feel more irritable, or perhaps you find you’re reaching for treats you’re not really hungry for. Next time you notice you’re feeling stressed, pause briefly and say quietly to yourself, “this is stress” or “this is a difficult moment.” Then, take at least one slow, deep breath. Aim to make that one breath last at least 10 seconds – five seconds on the inhale and five seconds on the exhale. If you feel up to it, do a few 10 second breaths, though one is a good start.
While you take your breath, you might also say quietly to yourself, “what do I need in this moment?” It’s OK if you can’t answer that question. When it comes to stress management, the simple act of pausing to notice stress, breathing slowly and deeply, and inquiring about a need is enough to help us recenter before going on about our day. It may not remove all the stress from that moment, but this practice can keep it from getting increasingly worse.
If you would like to learn more about stress management strategies, relaxation skills, and why they are beneficial to us, register for “Road to Relaxation” with Health Coach Amanda! This six-week group health-coaching series will be held on Wednesdays from 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. starting September 22 through October 27. To register, visit linktohealth.osu.edu and search by date or keyword or click here.
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