Life can be very difficult, but it is up to us how we choose to react to it. Last week due to external stressors and chemical exposures I found myself down the stress rabbit hole. I recognized it and moved through but not without fallout on my family and physical being. I realized I was zipping through the grocery store at too fast a pace, operating at too high of a frequency, was low on patience with my children and husband, and needed to rest more. Post cancer I have actively worked to compile quite a toolbox of various techniques and I am always adding to it. The KEY is to reach for the tools as quickly as possible to rid our bodies of mental and physical stress before fallout happens to ourselves and our loved ones.
Stress seems to be ingrained into American life. As a culture we seem to pride ourselves on being busy, wanting more than we have, and not allowing ourselves time and space to just be. This puts our body into a state of dis-ease, the opposite of wellness. Stress can be useful if we need to be on alert but in today's modern society much of our physical stress is created by us. Historically humans needed physical stress to keep them alive. If a lion was chasing someone they needed an increase in adrenaline and cortisol to escape. That person would run and through exercise their hormones would return to normal. In today's society this scenario looks much different. Our stress hormones rise, but without proper outlets stress becomes chronic. We all have various stressors in our lives (busy schedules, school stress, health issues, financial worries, aging parents, work duties, raising children, job loss) and we may feel out of control in dealing with them.
Although we can't control situations that bring us stress, we CAN control our response. We can consciously acknowledge the warning signs when stress physically enters our bodies and use several strategies to Calm Down Fast. These strategies may not come natural to you but practicing will make them easier to access.
STRATEGIES TO CALM DOWN FAST
1. Recognize the first truth of stress: ONLY WE CREATE IT. Stress is your physical and mental reaction to external stimuli. We can't change a crazy hectic world, but we can control our response to it. We can choose to react to stressful situations with grace, calm, humor, and humility. Just like alcoholism, 50% of the cure is admitting there is a problem to work on.
2. Seek Connection. When you are frustrated, stressed, or at wits end, call a friend, ask for a hug, or simply share that you are feeling stressed. Connection, both physical and emotional, is scientifically proven to be an important factor in health, wellness, and longevity. Connection helps prevent stress hormones from escalating.
3. Intentionally clench and unclench your muscles. Tense your hands and feet for 10 seconds, then release. Repeat 3 times. You can also tense your face and jaw and then release. Legs, butt, and feet can be tensed easily under a table or desk, but save the face clenching for home, the car, or your bio break :)
4. Practice Gratitude. Wherever you are, whatever you are thinking, think of or write down 3 things you are grateful for. Gratitude directly leads to hope. Gratitude replaces negative thoughts, patterns and actions. We tend to engage in unhealthy behaviors when we are stressed so before you choose something that will cause more dis-ease in your body try to choose gratitude first. Practice makes this an easier tool to reach for.
5. List 3 things you see that you like. No matter where you are notice 3 things around you that you find interesting, bring joy, or you simply like. This will focus your brain away from stress and negative thoughts. Beauty is where you find it!
6. Get outside. Look up and notice the clouds, sky or tree tops. Fresh air and nature can shift your perspective in just a few minutes. A long walk is even better. A change in our literal view can change our perspective.
WEEKLY STRATEGIES TO CREATE A LOWER STRESS LOAD
Try one at a time, practice and remember it is best to anchor new habits to existing ones. For example complete your 3 deep cleansing breaths as soon as you shut off your alarm and before you check your phone.
1. Before you get out of bed take 3 deep breaths, making sure to expand your belly. This will wake up your lymphatic system, support your nervous system and immune system. You can create a morning mantra. Mine is, "Thank you for today." Maybe you can list 3 things you are grateful. Some people start their day with a gratitude e-mail thanking someone, or a quick text or phone call.
2. Incorporate intentional breathing 3 times a day. This can simple be 3-5 deep breaths or more focused breathing exercises. I close my eyes and breathe in for a count of 6 and exhale for a count of 8.
3. Incorporate intentional breathing, yoga or mediation into your week. You can take 5-10 minutes a day and you should notice a positive difference.
4. Plan for at least 6 hours a week for relaxation time. This is time that there is nothing scheduled. Your only task is to be. You can ask yourself, "What would I like to do?" You can rest, meditate, read a book, enjoy a quiet cup of coffee or tea, knit. GUARD THIS TIME AS YOU DO YOUR ATM PIN.
5. Eat to support your nervous system. Sip tea, eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables and be aware of your alcohol, caffeine, sugar and processed food consumption.
Remember you can't pour from an empty cup! Self care is important, especially during this busy time of year. There are many ways to calm down fast and to live a less stressful life. Choose which options best work for you!
Sources and additional info on ways to reduce stress:
Your Brain on Nature https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/01/call-to-wild/
American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/