“Meditation can drive positive neoplastic changes that can also reflect mental and physical wellbeing such as great emotional balance, compassion, and genuine happiness, as well as a potential buffering of stressful and traumatic experience when it does occur.”
John Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Workbook
In our last blog we discussed more complex stress – the stress that can result of an ongoing stressful situation in your life. We discussed ways that you can identify these situations, which will set you on the road to minimising your overall stress.
To further increase our resilience and ability to remain buoyant, we need to have some effective “in the moment” stress relievers.
What strategies do you currently use when you feel like everything is piling up and you’re about to flip your lid? It’s really important to come up with what works for you individually, but here is a list of suggestions to get you started:
- Exercise – This is very effective for a variety of reasons. Exercise acts as an endorphin releaser as well as medication in motion. It takes the focus off your problems as you focus on walking, or running or whatever you like to do. It must be noted however, that someone who is prone to panic attacks may feel greatly distressed by the increased heart rate and sweating that can accompany exercise. The physiological responses to exercise can feel a lot like the physical symptoms of anxiety. A person such as this may need more calming methods of “in the moment” stress management.
- Paint them blue – This mental trick works really well for many people when they clash with someone. If you are unable to talk reason with a person, or need to mentally distance yourself from someone who is being aggressive, arrogant or just very annoying, then do the following: Imagine a big thick paintbrush with a lovely blue paint on it, and in wide sweeping strokes cover them in your mind with this blue wash. This serves to create a mental barrier between you and the person. You can imagine yourself safe from taking on their issues and protected from their negativity. You will want to do this inside your head, not physically moving your arm as if you are painting them – that might make you feel and look a bit odd! Blue is a calming colour which is helpful – you can just imagine how your stress levels would be if you tried to paint them red.
- Smile – This simple act is excellent for a number of reasons. Have you ever heard the advice to smile when you answer the phone? Why is this a good idea? A smile releases endorphins, so you are tricking your brain into thinking you are happy and eventually it can in fact make you happier. Importantly a smile can also act as a social barrier between you and someone. In situations when it is not appropriate to let out our frustration or to say what we really think, a smile and nod can help to not inflame the situation. A smile can also remind us to keep the stressor in perspective and to maintain our boundaries.
- Yogic and abdominal breathing – We have a tendency to breathe rapidly when we are feeling stressed. By concentrating on your breathing patterns you can distract yourself as well as calm yourself down. The average adult breathing rate is 12–16 breaths per minute (don’t try to count yours because as soon as you focus on it, it will change!). A person with an anxiety disorder is more likely to be breathing at over twenty breaths per minute, as their usual breathing rate. These people are already somewhat aroused and it may not take much stress to push them into a heightened state of stress or even panic. By practising slower breathing in the moment, they may be able to alleviate this risk and manage the symptoms as they experience them. By practising these techniques repeatedly over time, they may also be able to lower their usual breathing rate into the normal range.
Will one of these techniques work for you? It’s a good idea to choose and commit to using a technique to relieve stress, so that when you start feeling your stress build, you won’t have to think too much about it – you can simply implement the technique. In this way you are immediately taking responsibility and claiming back your control over how you manage stress.