Stress is a natural reaction to our physical environment. It triggers a fight-or-flight response, and prepares our bodies to react; our muscles tense, our heart rate increases, and adrenaline and cortisol flood our bloodstream. Our bodies are now ready to face physical danger.
But unlike the rest of the natural world, we humans create stress in our minds. Without being in any real physical danger, our physiological response is the same.
Don’t get me wrong, stress can be a great motivator. We need stress in order to move forward and to strive for new goals. But we often allow our stress to build without giving it a conscious thought.
We all wear our stress differently. It’s important to recognize how stress manifests itself in you. For me, I wear my shoulders like earrings. When I feel that tension in my neck and shoulders, I know I’m reacting to the stressors around me.
If you notice that your body is reacting to stress, whether subtly or in a can’t-sleep-at-2:32 AM way, you can use physical tools to calm your body and lessen your stress.
Where can YOU take a break, BREATHE, and slow down?
Breathing exercises are a good way to relieve stress and build resiliency. There are lots of breathing exercises you can do to help relax. Belly Breathing is one of the easiest to learn, and you don’t need any special equipment. You can do it whenever you want, but I don’t recommend doing it while driving.
- Sit, stand, or lie flat in a comfortable position.
- Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs.
- Close your eyes.
- Slowly inhale through your nose, counting to 8 in your mind. Let your belly push your hand out as if you were filling up a balloon in your stomach.
- Let the air out from your mouth, counting to 8 in your mind as it leaves your lungs. Feel the hand on your belly go in, and use it to push all the air out as if you were deflating a balloon in your stomach.
- Repeat the breathing pattern 3 – 12 times, or as long as you’d like.
Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise. Why? It gives your body oxygen and slows your heart rate.
If you had troubles breathing in and out for the counts of 8, try a shorter count of 6 or 4. Gradually increase your counts to 8 (or more). Not being able to count up to 8 seconds may mean you need to spend more time focusing on your breath, and strengthening your ability to slow down and control your breathing.
How does stress manifest in you? And when do you find time to stop and breathe?