Ways to Manage Stress

Notes from Studio YEMM Dec. 4th, 2016

1.       Exercise.  Remember that exercise (in moderation) can be a “good stress”, training your autonomic nervous system to practice going back and forth between the Sympathetic (“Fight or Flight” and Parasympathetic nervous system (“Rest and Digest”).

2.       Do what you love.  Look at that list you made of 3-5 things you LOVE to do.  Think about how you feel when you do those things.  Chances are that you are in your Parasympathetic Nervous System.  You are present and experiencing living and being present.  Good job!  Try to do more of that!

3.       BREATHE!  Don’t just breathe, but do it with intention.

a.       Sigh.  Breathe in what you need.  Sigh out what you don’t.  You might need calm, patience, love, and/or strength depending on the situation.  Sigh with intention and then tune in to how you feel afterwards.  It won’t take long, but taking a few sighs can mean the difference between exploding with anger and calming down enough to respond with a clear mind. 

b.      Belly Breathing is a way we can access the parasympathetic nervous system.   In order to “coax breath into the belly” (relaxing the diaphragm), it is wise to really make sure that you have exhaled breath out of the belly.  Squeeze the belly using your abdominal muscles and exhale, then relax the abdominals and the diaphragm and allow the belly to fill naturally.  Practice belly breathing and notice how you feel after taking at least 5 belly breaths.

4.       Meditate.  Mediation is not only for monks in mountain monasteries and you don’t have to do it for hours at a time either!  Start small.  Below are two techniques we practiced during the workshop.  There are many more Mindfulness Meditations.   This is only the beginning.

a.       Meditate on your breath.  Notice your inhales, exhales, and pauses in between.  Ask yourself how it feels to breathe in great detail. Notice the quality of your mind as your breath pauses.

b.      Meditate on your body.  Tag and label sensations you feel in your body.  A tingle, a temperature change, an ache.  Just notice where you feel it and move on.

5.       Yoga. The following postures can help release the psoas which is a muscle that tends to tense up in response to stress and can have difficultly release when the stress is no longer present, resulting in low back, hip, and leg pain and tension.

a.       Easy pose.  Lie on your back with your knees bent, heels placed along the sides of your mat, and your knees knocking in towards one another.  Feel the ease and release in this pose. Breathe into your belly, low back, and buttocks.

b.      Restorative Bridge.  You will need a yoga block for this. Lie on your back.  Bend your knees.  Lift your hips and place the block under your low back.  You should feel support in this posture.  If you don’t feel support, either adjust the block higher or lower along your back or skip the position all together.

6.       Get outside.  Nature provides a lot of stimuli.  Stimulate all of your senses, take a deep breath in and smell the air, look up, look down, look in the trees, and under rocks. Hear all of the sounds around you.  By being mindful of all around you, you are practicing being truly present.  You are not in the past or the future.  You are experiencing the Now.

7.       Express gratitude. Daily. The more you focus on the good, the more you will see it.  Try it.

8.       Control your intake. Control your intake of foods and drinks that drain you.  Control your intake and exposure to negative people and energy, too.  The news can be very depressing and sensational.  People tend to dwell on the negative.  I’m not saying don’t stay informed.  I’m saying note your intake.  Don’t have the news on all of the time.  Maybe watching the news before you go to bed is not the best way to settle into a good night’s sleep.

9.       Say “no”.  Saying “no” can be tough, especially if you like to help, but sometimes it is best to say “no”.  It doesn’t make sense to spread yourself too thin.  You may end up doing a lot of things, but resenting the fact that you have done them.  Go for quality work with positive intention.  It’s a win-win for both sides.

10.   Ask for help. Ask friends, family, or professionals to help you out.  You may need help around the house, you may need help taking care of a loved one, you may even need a professional to help you with physical or psychological needs. Practice your “third person observational skills” and ask yourself if you need some help.  You really don’t have to “do it all”.  Imagine how you would feel if you just carried less. 

11.   Help others.  Sometimes the best remedy to feeling helpless is helping others.  Look within your community and see where you can help.  It helps to think of your own skills and interests.  What can you offer to those in need?  You can also look at my website under volunteer opportunities for ways to help in the New Haven area.

12.   Journal. There are no specifics here.  Vent. Write a list of all you are thankful for.  Dream. Scribble.  Draw.  Just get that pen or pencil moving and see what happens. 

13.   Practice Self-Compassion.  Take a moment and hear what you say about yourself.  Sometimes the voice is quiet.  Sometimes the voice is loud and you actually say these things aloud.  Looking in mirrors, looking at pictures of ourselves, and moments after rejection or perceived mistakes are moments when the voice can be extra loud.  Instead of becoming your own worst enemy, how about becoming “an impartial detective”?  Check out this TED talk where Guy Winch talks about “Emotional Hygiene”.  He tells a great story about that voice in our heads and how we can benefit from changing how we talk to ourselves.