How to Turn Off Stress
In my last post, How to Know When Your Stress Switch is “On”, I gave you some symptoms that may indicate that your stress switch has been flipped to “on.” Recognizing that you are stressed out is the first step to recovery! Here, I’ll give you some ideas on how to turn off your stress switch.
Since I am a yoga teacher, this technique for relieving stress is obviously my favorite. Committing to a regular yoga practice was a game changer for me. I was able to let go of so much stress and I began to heal in ways I couldn’t have imagined. According to Harvard Medical School, “…yoga functions like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, or even socializing with friends. By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga appears to modulate stress response systems.” Through physical poses (asanas,) controlled breathing (pranayama,) and ending class with a short relaxation or meditation (savasana,) regular yoga practice can provide techniques that anyone can use to counter the effects of stress.
Try Progressive Relaxation
Sometimes, the best way to relax the mind is to start with the body. Progressive relaxation is a technique where each muscle group in the body (arms, chest, back, abdominals, and legs) is tensed and then released. This video by Therapist Aid is a good guide for a progressive relaxation practice. As with any practice, the more frequently you perform the exercise, the easier and more effective it will become.
This was another game changer for me. Meditation is a powerful practice and contrary to popular beliefs about meditation you don’t have to “shut off your mind” to participate in this powerful practice. According to this article from the Mayo Clinic, a regular meditation practice can clear the sensory overload that comes with stress. By giving your mind a break from your daily stress script, meditation can produce relaxation that leads to clarity and the ability to cope. Best of all, anyone can practice meditation without expensive special equipment.
Do Breathing (Pranayama) Exercises
Breathing may be the most necessary action we take with our bodies every day, but how often are you conscious of your breath? When I discovered that my shallow breathing was part of my reaction to stress, I literally had to learn how to breathe again. Dr. Andrew Weil says that “a regular, mindful breathing exercise can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.” Breathing practices can be done singularly, or as part of a daily meditation or yoga practice. As with any modality it takes a commitment to a regular practice to see significant changes. Try this simple breathing practice everyday for a month and see what happens!
When you smell a food or flower that you love, it immediately lifts your spirits. The same basic technique can be applied in aromatherapy. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the scents released by the essential oils used in aromatherapy effect the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that influences hormones. Certain scents, such as lavender, can help soothe the mind. I have personally used essential oils for decades and when I started teaching yoga I began to use them in my classes to help elicit deeper relaxation. Lavender is always a great choice for stress relief but there are many others. According to Charlynn Avery from Aura Cacia, “Calming oils can help us during life’s tense moments – at night when we need to wind down, or for soothing frustrations and irritations.” Read more about essential oils for clarity and calm here.
Familiar routines can be soothing and calming. The act of brewing a cup of tea can be a ritual that helps order the mind. There are so many types of tea that it may be overwhelming to find the one that’s right for you, but it can be a delicious experiment! This article from Mind Body Green suggests a few teas that may be helpful in relieving stress and anxiety. A beloved teacup or mug can help, too!
Get More Sleep
Getting more zzzz’s is critical to managing stress. The Journal of Neuroscience found that being deprived of sleep may drive up anxiety levels; after all, what’s more stress-inducing than a sleepless night? Routine is a big factor for a good night’s sleep, so find the techniques that work for you. I try to turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime to help signal to my busy mind that it’s time to relax. On those nights when I have a problem shutting down I practice progressive muscle relaxation and a simple three part breathing practice to help.
Because the act of writing is reflective, it can help you slow down and organize your thoughts. According to Women’s Health, writing can be especially effective after a traumatic event. A gratitude journal can be a daily reminder of all the good things that occur in your life, and can keep your perspective on life more clear and stress-free. I began to write as part of my journey of healing. Being able to express my feelings and get them “out of my head” was very helpful in being able to let go and stop ruminating about them.
A walk can help you burn away calories and stress. Exercise releases endorphins that help calm the mind. While walking indoors can be beneficial, walking outdoors can be even better; this article from LockLaces explains how being in nature can help you order your perspective.
Reaching for certain foods is an all-too-common tool for stress release. While diet alone cannot quell anxiety, a balanced diet can help. This Mayo Clinic article contains some tips that can help guide healthy eating.