When we are very stressed our brain reverts to childhood methods of coping with stress. Unfortunately, some of these methods take too long (e.g., binge watching 10 episodes of Full House) to work well in common adult stressful situations.
You only have a few seconds or minutes in most stressful situations to get yourself through.
Here are some quick techniques that you can do anywhere, whether at home, work or in your (parked) car that will bring your stress down to an optimal level in seconds.
1. Work the extra arousal in your system through your body.
• Stand up and start slowly stretching out your arms and legs and if this feels good keep doing it for a few minutes.
2. Gather the resources you already have in your body.
• Engage your ab muscles.
• Then engage the muscles that you have strength in. If you are a runner, you might do some easy lunches or squats, focusing on your quads.
3. Ground yourself.
• Sit down in a chair and place feet on the floor.
• Feel the back of the chair supporting your lower back. If done right, it might like someone has your back.
• As you breathe in, notice your diaphragm filling with air. As you breathe out, your diaphragm deflates. When we are stressed we usually breathe in sharply, pulling in our stomach, further stressing our system.
• Some people like to count to 4 as they breathe in, hold their breath for 4 counts and then breathe out for 4 counts. Stop if you start feeling dizzy.
Play around with the order of these exercises and stick with the ones that feel good for you.
When my clients first come in their stressor seems huge and unmanageable. But after using the techniques the stressor seems smaller, more distant, and easier to manage.
Of course there are systemic issues at play that you may or may not have control over. But what you can learn to control is how you manage your body when something comes up.
When you are the best version of yourself, you can take on something that previously seemed scary.
Remember, every person is different so only do the techniques that feel good for you and leave the rest. Tailor them to your own needs: Just do a little bit of the movement or a lot of it, whatever feels best.
And most important thing is to practice, practice, practice.
Just like everything else in our lives, the more we practice stress management skills when we are facing small stressors, the deeper the groove in our brain becomes that will eventually make these new coping skills come automatically.
Finally, humans are built to come down from stress with others. Talking with your spouse, coworker, friend, family member or counsellor may help you land quickly from the stress.
Asking for help isn’t easy. Sometimes I use a skill to get me unstuck and moving towards a phone where I can call someone to help me come down from the stress. I combine the body skills with the process of asking for help.
About the author:
Natalie Hansen, has a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology from UBC and is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She is an experienced trauma and couples therapist with post-graduate training in body-oriented forms of coping with stress and trauma. She also completed an externship in emotionally focused couples therapy. Natalie has a private practice in New Westminster, BC and sees couples, individuals, parents, and professionals with a specialization in helping people deal with stress and trauma.
Brantbjerg, Merete Holm. (2010). Resource oriented skill training Exercise Manual. Moaiku Bodynamic. Denmark.
Brantbjerg, Merete Holm. (2007). Resource oriented skill training as a psychotherapeutic method. Moaiku. Bodynamic. Denmark.
4 Simple Ways to get your Stress under Control in Minutes