1. Deep breathing
Deep breathing is fundamental to meditation, yoga, sleep, sex, aerobic exercise – just about everything that’s deeply relaxing. But if you don’t have the time to meditate or take a nap, a few deep breaths are the most effective way to reduce stress. The reason is that your respiratory system is a key link between your mind and body. Stress leads to shallow, rapid breathing, which limits oxygen transfer into your blood. To keep your blood-oxygen level where it should be, your heart has to pump harder, which is a strain. The emotional centre of your brain reacts to your shallow breathing and heart strain with tension and anxiety. When you breathe deeply, your blood becomes well oxygenated without straining your heart, and your mind and body relax.
Exercise 1: Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Breathe deep into the abdomen, taking the breath deep into the belly and allowing the ribs to expand out to the sides and the belly to the front, hold the breath for a moment and breathe out using a loud ‘sigh’ sound. Repeat at least five times.
Exercise 2: In the same sitting position as above, breathe in slowly to the count of five; hold the breath for the count of five and then breathe out to the count of five. Repeat at least five times.
2. Visualisation therapy
Visualisation can be used in many different ways and for a range of different reasons. Once you are experienced in visualisation, it can be used to invoke inner calm or to assist you in your own personal development.
The first step in the visualisation process is to recall or imagine an idyllic setting, a place where you are surrounded by beauty, where you feel totally relaxed. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and imagine the scene in as much detail as possible. Focus on the sights, sounds, smells and allow yourself to be totally absorbed by the beauty around you. If you have trouble imagining a scene, begin by looking at the scene in front of you right now. Observe this scene in detail then close your eyes and try to recall as much of the detail as possible. Don’t be discouraged if this is difficult at first, it gets easier with time and practise.A second visualisation exercise, designed as a tool for personal growth, is to see yourself doing something that you have in your mind as a future goal. This is particularly useful when the goal you have is somewhat challenging. Elite sportsmen and performers use visualisation therapy frequently – by seeing themselves perform exceptionally and ‘grounding’ themselves in the reality of that performance they are opening up neural pathways that positively endorse the possibility of the outcome they visualise. The key to making this type of visualisation successful, is to engage as many of the senses as possible.
3. Take control of your thinking
As difficult as it sometimes seems, you have the power to choose your thoughts. When a worrying or stressful thought enters your mind, acknowledge the underlying feelings (anxiety, anger, fear etc.) and allow yourself to be with that feeling. Don’t immediately try to escape the negative feeling – know that you have the ability to cope. As your mind will often attempt to escalate your worry, change your self talk to a firm statement such as ‘I am not going to exaggerate this problem’. Ask yourself if there is anything constructive you can do to deal with the problem.
If there is nothing constructive you can do to address the issue, get active physically. As well as producing endorphins that will help lift your mood, physical activity often takes your mind off your concerns.
4. Schedule ‘worry time’
It’s natural to worry some of the time. But many people find that constant worry becomes an emotionally draining pattern. Rather than allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by ongoing worry, develop the habit of mentally filing away your minor stressors in an imagined mental compartment so that you can deal with them all when you decide the time is right. Some people find it easier to do this by jotting the worry down in a notebook or diary so that you can return to it at your scheduled ‘worry time’.
5. Make contact with a friend
Reaching out to others helps you gain perspective and changes how you think and feel about your problems, which will definitely help to relieve your stress. All of psychotherapy is based on the idea that talking about your troubles helps eliminate them. And most people don’t need therapists. As long as you can talk openly and honestly and have someone really listen to you, you can reap similar benefits by talking with a trusted friend.
6. Volunteer somewhere
There’s nothing like helping others to make you feel good, despite all the stress in your life. That’s the selfish reason for being altruistic – volunteering helps you count your blessings.
7. Learn to say ‘no’
Be clear about your personal boundaries and learn how to say a gentle but firm ‘no’ when people make requests of you that push those boundaries. No one will respect your limits until you respect your own limits.
8. Ask for help
Ask for help rather than complaining – you may be surprised at how willing others are to share the load.
9. Plan something
Buy concert tickets or schedule a weekend getaway. Make a restaurant reservation or an appointment for a massage. Looking forward to something is calming.
10. Laughter and fun
Taking time out for fun can be very beneficial. As well as passive activities like watching a comedy on television, make time for creative and active pursuits. Giving yourself time to play is a wonderful way to beat stress.
11. Get healthy
Eat well, exercise, attend a yoga or tai chi class.
Dress in warm, comfortable clothing, find a quiet place to sit (a comfortable chair is perfect) and take the phone off the hook. Close your eyes and practise a few deep breathing exercises. Begin your meditation, repeating the mantra ‘release’ silently in your mind for a period of twenty minutes. (It’s ok to check a clock to see how long you have been meditating). While you meditate, thoughts will come into your mind and interrupt you…simply let them go and return to your mantra. Once the time is up, sit quietly for a few moments before returning to your usual activities.