Stop Stressing in Sixty Seconds
Many of us have a million thoughts whirling through our minds and a to-do list a mile long. Whether we’re worrying about the health of a loved one, trying to handle a hectic work schedule, or simply wearing too many hats at one time, most of us can relate to the sapping power of stress. Luckily, it can take just a minute to transform our minds from manic to mellow. The next time you feel like a pressure cooker about to pop, allow yourself 60 seconds to decompress with the following stress-relief strategies.
- Take a deep breath. When our mind feels stressed, our body responds with quick, shallow breathing and a rapid heart rate, which only manages to increase our stress level. The next time pressure mounts, try inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose while counting to six. Keep your mouth closed and press your stomach out as you inhale. Hold your breath and slowly count to four. Then exhale slowly through your mouth as you count to six. Repeat this breathing process three or four times, and the physical effects of stress will feel less intense.
- Mellow out to music. We’ve all experienced the feel-good effect of music from time to time. Our favorite tunes can boost our mood, make exercise more enjoyable, or even take us back to a memorable moment in our lives. Research has shown that music can also be a powerful tool for dissipating stress. One study found that people who listened to classical music after a stressful task had significantly lower blood pressure than those who heard no music. Other studies have found that patients who tune-in to their favorite music before, during, and/or after surgery experience less anxiety than those who don’t listen to music. Whether you opt for Beethoven or your favorite easy-listening mix, slip on your headphones and listen to a slow-tempo song to lower your blood pressure and ease your mind.
- Think thankfully. When the pressures of our lives are piling up, it’s easy to forget about the things that are going well for us. We can feel so overwhelmed by the stressful things in our lives that it’s hard to remember the wonderful things that are happening at the same time. When you’re feeling frazzled, take a minute to write down five things that you’re grateful for right in that moment. Your list might include a simple pleasure like a great cup of coffee, or the unconditional love of your children and grandchildren. Allowing yourself this moment to reflect on the positives in your life can help to elicit a relaxation response in your body.
- Give – and take – some affection. Just in case we need another reason to give a hug and a kiss, it turns out that physical affection has a healing effect on stressful situations. A simple touch from a friend or loved one can immediately help to reduce the levels of stress hormones in our blood. Giving love and attention to pets can also soothe a body under stress. One study found that, during times of stress, pet owners had lower blood pressure and heart rates than did those without pets. So the next time stress strikes, hold a hand, share a kiss, or give your furry friend a much-loved belly rub.
- Have a healthy snack. Though it may seem quite coincidental that “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts”, the fleeting satisfaction derived from a king-size candy bar usually leaves us feeling low and out of control when the sugar spike wears off. Instead, snacking on a combination of protein and complex grains (try peanut butter on whole grain crackers) can help us to think more clearly so that we can deal with a stressful situation. The more clearly we think, the less anxious we’ll feel throughout the day.
- Think of something fun. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, it can seem as if we’ll never get out of our stressful state. Try taking a one-minute time-out to think about something that you’re looking forward to doing later in the day. You might think about spending time in your garden, watching your favorite television show, or attending your granddaughter’s ballet recital. Giving ourselves a chance to think about something fun or relaxing that we’ll do later in the day helps to keep things in perspective. Although we’re feeling stressed right now, we know that this moment will pass and we’ll be doing something enjoyable soon.
- Whittle down your worries. If we were to write down every worry that’s whirring through our minds right now, how long might our lists be? During a moment of high-stress, spend one full minute writing down every worrisome thought in your head. Review your list and decide which worries are productive, and which are unproductive. If there’s a corresponding action that will take care of your worry (pay that bill, call the doctor, confirm the tickets), then it’s a productive worry. If there’s nothing that you can do about that worry (Will anyone show up at my party? Will I get stuck in traffic? Will everyone like my speech?), then it represents nothing but a waste of time and energy – so cross it off your list. Focus on checking off your productive worries, instead of stewing over your unproductive anxieties.
- Choose your liquids wisely. Dehydration can heighten the physical effects of stress and cause fatigue. Sitting down and having a tall glass of water not only hydrates our bodies to alleviate stress, but it also gives us a moment to stop whatever we are doing and clear our minds. Another drink that can soothe stress is a type of tea called tulsi. Tulsi is an herb that has been shown to calm the mind and help with stress management. It can be found in tea-bag or loose form at most natural-foods stores. Enjoy a hot cup of tulsi tea and sip your stress away. (Always check with your physician or pharmacist to make sure that certain herbal teas will not interfere with your medications or conditions.)
- Sit in silence and visualize. Two powerful tools in soothing a stressed mind are silence and visualization. Chronic noise raises blood cortisol levels associated with stress, which can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, and impaired mental performance. Sitting in total silence, just for a short time each day, can undo much of this damage. While you’re soaking in the silence, close your eyes and imagine yourself in a calming place, such as lying on a beach. “Research has found that the same parts of the brain are activated when people are imagining something as when they’re actually experiencing it,” says Brent Bauer, M.D., medical editor of the Mayo Clinic Book of Alternative Medicine. Visualizing a sunlit beach, and imagining the sounds of the waves and the smell of the surf activates our optic cortex in the same way as when we’re actually on the beach. What could be more calming than that?
- Give yourself closure. If your stress is a result of replaying an event that took place in the past – something you wish you’d said or done differently – it’s time to stop rehashing. Take a minute to write down what happened, how you acted, and what you’ll do differently next time. Try to replace “worry” words like should, can’t, no one, and never with more realistic terms like could, prefer, some people, and sometimes. Our experiences, whether good or bad, give us the wisdom to handle things differently when the situation arises again. When you’re done with this exercise, close the book on this past event once and for all.
What’s your stress-busting secret? Share it with your friends and Trilogy neighbors by adding a comment below.