Wisdom//

8 Simple Techniques to Help Reduce Stress, According to a Psychotherapist

Implement these physical cues on the spot when you start feeling overwhelmed.

Getty Images
Getty Images

For most people, stress is a normal reaction to many life events that are deemed to be a threat or overwhelming – work issues, relationships, managing kids, school, social life, and even social media. When a threat is perceived, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones then ready the body to take emergency action. Your heart rate increases, blood pressures rises, muscles tighten, breathing gets faster, and your senses become sharper. These changes increase your strength and stamina, speed your reaction time, and enhance your focus — preparing you to either fight or flee from the danger (real or imagined) at hand. This response actually helps you to stay focused, alert, energized, and in some cases, alive.

Over time though, for some people this response becomes more automatic as their body is in overdrive. Think about when you go to a busy urban area such as New York City.  Honking horns, sirens, and the screech of cars and buses are almost nonstop. I can’t walk a block without hearing at least one of those noises. Having been in New York for awhile, I find that the noise just plays in the background and doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. Not until I’m away for a few days and return do I notice the noise again. Does the noise just disappear when I am here for a stretch of time? Of course not – I just get used to it. The same is true with our bodies and minds: We get used to stress, all while it still impacts us in a very negative way. Eventually the stress can have a profound impact on us.

Here are 8 stress-busting tips you can implement on the spot to keep your body and mind in check:

1. Breathe deeply. When people are stressed they tend to take short shallow breaths instead of healthy deep breaths. Inhale and expand your mid-section. Bring air first to the bottom of your lungs by bringing your tummy outward. Then expand your rib cage to the sides. Expand your collar bones and let it all out. Repeat.

2. Visualization. Imagine a place in your world that is relaxing. Perhaps it is a favorite park or beach, or maybe your bed. Be specific and in your mind’s eye, go there. What does it feel like? What do you see and hear? Relax there for a few minutes.

3. Drop your jaw. Doing so will help you to relax your entire body. So often when people are tense they tighten their jaw and/or facial muscles. Allow your bottom lip to pout to loosen up your facial muscles. Remember, a relaxed face is a relaxed body.

4. Tighten and relax your muscles. This is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). Start at the top of your head and work your way to your toes. Tighten each muscle group and hold it for five seconds, relax it for 30 seconds, and then move to the next part of your body. Doing this and other relaxation techniques when you feel stressed can help lower blood pressure, slow respiration, and bring about overall well-being and calmness.

5. Pace. Walk for a bit and work off the excess energy.

6.Stretch. Do it before heading into a situation you anticipate might be stressful. It can help to loosen the muscles and gets the blood flowing. It’s also a good distraction from whatever might be on your mind.

7. Talk with your hands. Contrary to what some people might say, I actually think talking with your hands is a good thing. You see, when you try to restrict your body and movements it tends to restrict your thinking. Let it flow.

8. Find a friendly face. This is particularly helpful if you’re giving a presentation or are in a social setting. A friendly or familiar face can help serve as a security blanket as it helps to release oxytocin, a stress hormone that plays a role in the bonding process.

So next time you feel stressed, will you let it get the best of you or will you focus on what you can actually control? Take charge by stepping back and reaching into your bag of stress-busting tips. Your life will be better!

Written by the author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days

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