Keep the stress in check with these simple exercises
If you’re facing the stress and strain of going to work and/or school, in addition to a mountain of family and household duties, it’s easy to let the stress build up and take hold. It’s important to take time during the day to decompress a little—even if you only have a few minutes to spare.
According to the American Psychological Association, in the long term, stress can take a toll on your health. Your body releases certain hormones in response to stress (which are useful in true “fight or flight” situations), and over time this can lead to adrenal burnout, panic attacks, and even dangerous cardiac events. So you want to find ways to counteract your stress now, so it doesn't get the best of you down the road. All it takes is making the decision to feel better, and then taking a few simple—and mindful—steps in the moment.
We’ve come up with some strategies you can use to take the intensity down a few notches. Try one or more of these the next time you feel the pressure weighing on you:
Do some deep breathing
This is the simplest and quickest way to re-center and ground yourself in the face of stress. Taking a deep breath when you feel your chest tightening. It’s an excellent escape valve—and you don’t need to go anywhere to do it. Envision yourself breathing in calm, healing energy and exhaling the strain and stress of your day. Let go of everything you don’t need with your breath. Do at least five rounds of deep breaths, with four seconds for each inhale (through your nose) and four seconds for each exhale (through your mouth). Then notice the difference in how you feel.
Focus on a powerful posture
Using body language and changing your posture can have a surprising impact. Sit up straight, put your shoulders back, place your feet flat on the ground, and keep your chin up so you’re looking straight ahead. Some people call this a “power posture.” You might find you feel better and more empowered simply as a result of pulling yourself out of the slump of bad posture. Relax your shoulders and drop them away from your ears, where they tend to creep when we’re under stress. Remind yourself that you have the resources within you to handle whatever is happening.
Be deliberate about your day
It can be stressful to feel like you’re switching gears at someone else’s whim all day long. Our phones, texts, and emails can feed us a flurry of demands that seem to require instant responses. Take a step back. The wiser approach is to make deliberate choices about when we devote energy to which activity. Consider spending half an hour responding to emails and text messages at the beginning of your day, and then another half an hour at the end. (Anything urgent of course is the exception.) The idea is to be in charge of your own agenda as much as possible, within smaller windows of time.
Look for gratitude opportunities
When something happens to you that causes you stress, it can help to turn that attention towards circumstances and people in your life for which you feel grateful. Perhaps you have too much work on your plate—that’s a chance to be grateful that you’re gainfully employed. Maybe your laundry is piling up—that’s an opportunity to show gratitude for the fact that you have plenty of clothes to wear. Stressed about making dinner every night for your family? You can be grateful that there is always food on the table to eat. Spending a few minutes focusing each day on what’s going right in your life can shift your perspective.
Use the ARM technique
This is a way to slow down our reaction to stress, so we can be more mindful and make different choices about how to respond.
ACKNOWLEDGE that you are feeling stress. This means taking a moment to see and feel the impact on you, not merely to focus on who or what is causing the stress.
RECOGNIZE that you feel stress because of an issue that is important to you. Identify what that issue is, and figure out why it matters.
MAKE USE of this energy that has come into your body and mind. Decide consciously what you’re going to do with it. Maybe you need to sing a song at the top of your lungs when you’re alone in the car. Maybe you need to reach out to a trusted friend for a quick conversation. Maybe you can reinvest the intensity you feel into exercise or some other supportive activity. Slowing down this process can lead to healthier choices about how we react.
Take a walk
Getting some exercise in a stressful situation doesn’t have to mean much more than getting up from your chair, heading outside, and walking around the block while you take in some fresh air. This change of scenery can give you the space you need to let go of some of the intensity that might be building up. Within five minutes you might find you’re in a slightly different headspace. If you can’t leave your office, then walk to the restroom or the water cooler. Focus on your movement and feel present in your body. Remember that you exist and have integrity—apart from the stressful situation.
Pet your pet
If you’re at home when the stress strikes, and you’re a pet owner, you have a built-in stress release mechanism right in front of you. Petting a cat or a dog has been shown to lower blood pressure and trigger certain brain chemicals that can calm and relax you. And your furry friend will enjoy it as well!
We hope that there’s a strategy on this list that appeals to you, which you can use to decompress during the course of a stressful day. Try one or more of them and see which works for you. If you make them a habit, then you’ve developed some healthy responses to stress. You deserve to avoid the anger, depression, fatigue, and poor health that can accompany this all-too-common facet of modern life. Make a commitment now to a less stressful 2018!
This article is part of the Harris Casel Institute’s weekly blog. We care about the health and the well being of all our students. We offer several different career training programs at our campus in Melbourne, FL. Contact us online for more info, or call 1-321-676-4066 to speak with a representative of our Admission Department, who can answer any questions. We look forward to hearing from you!