Join me during December as I count down ten tips for practicing self-care during the stressful festive season.
My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.
Michel de Montaigne
Proactively implementing relaxation techniques can help you to take control of your stress levels, which may be higher at this time of year! Managing stress is best approached from several angles, and relaxation is an effective part of this for many people. When we feel stressed, our inner monologue is usually dwelling on past difficulties, or worrying about the future. You may have heard Montaigne’s quote (at the top of this post) before. Or perhaps Mark Twain’s similar sentiment: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” The aim is to get your brain to break these negative thought process by focusing on the present moment, and on the physical presence of yourself in the the world around you.
Relaxation exercises can be used during moments of stress, to help you better deal with the source. When you do, physiological changes usually occur: your breathing slows, more oxygen enters your bloodstream, your heart rate slows, and the stress hormone, cortisol, decreases. It’s also really helpful to do these exercises at other times, when you’re more relaxed. This strengthens the neural pathways involved, which makes it easier for your brain to enter this relaxed mode. The more you do these exercises, the more useful they will be. Relaxation practices may also help to reduce worry and anxiety, improve sleep, and reduce the physical symptoms that can accompany stress such as headaches.
Here are two simple relaxation techniques to get you started:
This is a very simple and practical technique that many people find useful and easy to remember when required. Grounding techniques are sometimes used for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, as it can help them to cease flashbacks and re-enter the present moment by using their senses to become aware of the physical world around them. It is useful in many other contexts as well. All you need to do is:
- Notice one thing you can see
- Notice one thing you can hear
- Notice one thing you can feel
For example, I can see the chair, I can hear the traffic outside, I can feel the shoes on my feet.
You can repeat this as many times as you need to.
Three deep breaths
This exercise is again very simple, making it easy to remember and use as needed. It can be helpful to find a quiet place, or sit down and close your eyes. But it can be done anywhere – in the middle of a meeting, as you pause before entering a room, or before you respond to your screaming child!
- Take three slow, deep breaths
- With each breath, focus on the feeling of the breath moving in and out
As with grounding, you can continue this for as long as you need to. The breaths need to be slow and deep to have the best chance of gaining the benefits of reducing your stress response. Although this works well for most people, for some individuals focusing on breath can actually be anxiety-provoking. If you notice worsening symptoms with using this, or any other, exercise, please stop the exercise and seek advice from your doctor or psychologist to find an appropriate strategy that will work for you.
Pick one of these exercises, try it out each day for the next week – it will take you less than twenty seconds! Perhaps incorporate it into an existing routine so you don’t forget: do it just before you brush your teeth, as soon as you wake up, or after you eat lunch. Take notice of times you feel stressed or anxious, and try using your chosen technique at that moment. See how it feels. If it feels a little strange, don’t be discouraged. Use it a few times, and in different circumstances to turn it into something you can do reflexively, almost habitually. You will learn when and how it is helpful for you, and it may be another tool you can add to your repertoire of stress management techniques!
Over the next few days, I will be sharing more tips to reduce stress and improve wellbeing over the festive season. If you missed the last post about how you can reframe difficult situations, you can find it here. To make sure you don’t miss the rest, you can follow me on Facebook, sign up for my emails, join my Facebook group, or simply check back in on my website!