You have so many things going on that it takes every bit of energy just to make it through your daily list of must-dos. And you can tell the frantic pace is starting to take its toll because your temper is flaring, you’re sleeping less, and you seem to be catching every bug that crosses your path. Stress has sunk its teeth into you.
Luckily, you don’t have to book a week at a spa or steal away for a tropical vacation to start extricating yourself from stress’s grip. (Although, clearly, these are lovely options and highly recommended if they are available to you.)
1. At the office: Do a “chair forward bend” to get stress under control fast
The office is the perfect place to practice simple stress-reducing techniques because, let’s face it, it’s one of the most stressful places on Earth: This is where your buttons get pushed as hard as they can be pushed and where you’re always expected to act with composure and professionalism.
When you have an important presentation coming up, or your boss shoots down one of your ideas in a big meeting, or your computer crashes, you can’t huff and puff, cry or chug a glass of wine — these tactics simply aren’t the viable options here that they are in the privacy of your own home. Perhaps, with a little practice, these techniques will actually help you begin to loosen up a little more at work. You spend the majority of your waking hours on the clock — you may as well enjoy them.
In the computer crash scenario, you have two powerful tools you have on your side: your breath and gravity. Taking one or two short minutes to breathe deeply and stretch your back will help you pull it together and not burst a blood vessel while you wait for the help desk to answer your call. Here’s a great Rodney Yee video clip on how to do a chair forward bend just like what I describe in my Chill Guide.
2. At family gatherings: Use mantras to send tension rolling off your back
You might think it would be easiest to stay calm and grounded around the people to whom you are closest. The irony is that the people who know you best are also the most likely to push your buttons. Invariably, your least favorite uncle will ask prying questions about your love life, your Great-Aunt Jean will clear her throat incessantly at the dinner table, and your mom will make a comment about your hair.
Taken together, it might be enough to set your eye to twitching, make you snappy, or get you reaching for one too many glasses of wine or helpings of dessert. While you can’t stop the people you love from doing the things that drive you crazy, you can change your reaction to them.
Before your next family gathering, make a mental list of the behaviors that typically trigger your stress reaction.
Once you’re in the thick of the proceedings, vow to repeat a simple mantra as you take a deep breath each time one of your triggers occurs. Breathing deeply helps your body relax, while the mantra gives your mind something to focus on other than the annoying behavior, lessening its sting. It creates little opportunities for you to release stress before you react out of anger. And it might even help you enjoy the togetherness instead of simply enduring it.
3. Anytime, anywhere: Just breathe (really — but do it like this)
You can dissolve stress right here, right now, in this very moment (and anytime), simply by taking a big ol’ breath.
Your diaphragm—the parachute-shaped muscle that extends across the bottom of your rib cage—is a key player in your body’s reaction to stress. When you hold your breath or breathe shallowly—a typical reaction to a stressful situation—your diaphragm doesn’t get a chance to expand. And when the diaphragm is locked up, it sends a message to the rest of your body that there is danger afoot and you had best start preparing for the worst.
But when you take a long, slow breath down into your belly, your diaphragm inflates downward like a balloon, creating more room for your lungs to expand, gently pressing down on and massaging your abdominal organs, and telling the rest of your body that everything is okay.
By pausing to take even one deep breath, you also give yourself a chance to reflect before you react so you’re less likely to do something that only creates more stress in your life. And the more you do it, the more you’ll relax and become better able to roll with life’s punches instead of taking them on the chin.