Stressed? Tips To Reduce Your Stress Levels (Part 1)

August 17, 2011

by Justine Parsons
Stress is a fact of life, but being stressed out is not. Being overly anxious is not just a mental hazard; it’s a physical one too. The more stressed out we are the more vulnerable we are to colds, flu, and a host of chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
While you need to look for solutions to the problems which are causing you stress (time management, outsourcing, consulting with professionals, reducing your hours…) here are some ‘quick fix’ tools to help lower that blood pressure.
Breathe Easily
Breathing from your diaphragm oxygenates your blood, which helps you relax almost instantly.  Shallow chest breathing, by contrast, can cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up, exacerbating feelings of stress. To breathe deeply, begin by putting your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Repeat several times.

Visualize Calm
It sounds New Age-y, but at least one study, done at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, has found that it’s highly effective in reducing stress.  Close your eyes, take three long, slow breaths, and spend a few seconds picturing a relaxing scene, such as walking in a meadow, kneeling by a brook, or lying on the beach. Focus on the details — the sights, the sounds, the smells.
Make Time for a Mini Self-Massage
Simply massage the palm of one hand by making a circular motion with the thumb of the other. Or use a massage gadget.
Say Cheese
Smiling is a two-way mechanism. We do it when we’re relaxed and happy, but doing it can also make us feel relaxed and happy. So ahead and grin (in front of the mirror works even better).
Do Some Math
Using a scale of one to 10, with one being the equivalent of a minor hassle and 10 being a true catastrophe, assign a number to whatever it is that’s making you feel anxious. You’ll find that most problems we encounter rate somewhere in the two to five range — in other words, they’re really not such a big deal.
Stop Gritting Your Teeth
Stress tends to settle in certain parts of our bodies, the jaw being one of them. When things get hectic, try this tip: Place your index fingertips on your jaw joints, just in front of your ears; clench your teeth and inhale deeply. Hold the breath for a moment, and as you exhale say, “Ah-h-h-h,” then unclench your teeth. Repeat a few times.
Compose a Mantra 
Devise an affirmation — a short, clear, positive statement that focuses on your coping abilities. Affirmations are a good way to silence the self-critical voice we all carry with us that only adds to our stress. The next time you feel as if your life is one disaster after another, repeat 10 times, “I feel calm. I can handle this.”
Check Your Chi 
Qigong (pronounced chee-gong) is a 5,000-year-old Chinese practice designed to promote the flow of chi, the vital life force that flows throughout the body, regulating its parallel. Bend your knees to a quarter-squat position (about 45 degrees) while keeping your upper body straight. Observe your breathing for a couple of breaths. Inhale and bring your arms slowly up in front of you to shoulder height with your elbows slightly bent. Exhale, stretching your arms straight out. Inhale again, bend your elbows slightly and drop your arms down slowly until your thumbs touch the sides of your legs. Exhale one more time, then stand up straight.
Be a Fighter
Focus on being proactive. If your flight gets cancelled, don’t wallow in self-pity. Find another one. If your office is too hot or too cold, don’t suffer in silence. Call the building manager and ask what can be done to make things more comfortable.
Put It on Paper
Divide a piece of paper into two parts. On the left side, list the stressors you may be able to change, and on the right, list the ones you can’t. Change what you can and stop fretting over what you can’t.
Count to 10
Before you say or do something you’ll regret, step away from the stressor and collect yourself. You can also look away for a moment or put the caller on hold. Use your time-out to take a few deep breaths, stretch, or recite an affirmation.
Just Say No
Trying to do everything is a one-way ticket to serious stress. Be clear about your limits, and stop trying to please everyone all the time.
Warm Up
Rub your hands together vigorously until they feel warm. Then cup them over your closed eyes for five seconds while you breathe deeply. The warmth and darkness are comforting.
Say Yes to Pressure
Acupressure stimulates the same points as acupuncture, but with fingers instead of needles. Michael Reed Gach, Ph.D., director of the Acupressure Institute in Berkeley, CA, recommends pressing on the following three points:
  • The Third Eye, located between the eyebrows, in the indentation where the bridge of the nose meets the forehead.
  • The Heavenly Pillar, on the back of the neck slightly below the base of the skull, about half an inch to the left or right of the spine.
  • The Heavenly Rejuvenation, half an inch below the top of each shoulder, midway between the base of the neck and the outside of the shoulder blade.
  • Breathe deeply and apply firm, steady pressure on each point for two to three minutes. The pressure should cause a mild aching sensation, but not pain.
Schedule Worry Time
Some stressors demand immediate attention — a smoke alarm siren or a police car’s whirling red light. But many low-grade stressors can be dealt with at a later time, when it’s more convenient. File them away in a little mental compartment, or make a note and then deal with them when the time is right. Don’t let them control you.

I hope these tips help you through prolonged periods of hair-pulling, teeth gnashing tension.  What other stress relief valves work for you?

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