As a therapist and mindfulness coach I am seeing a massive increase in stress and anxiety. It seems to be endemic in our modern culture and while they are normal human responses to our increasingly hectic lifestyles, many people are struggling to cope. If you are suffering from chronic stress and / or anxiety I would advise a long-term program of lifestyle changes including diet, exercise, mindfulness practice and therapy.
But in times of intense stress and overwhelm it can seem impossible to find enough calm and control to start incorporating such changes. Some days are more difficult than others and sometimes we just need simple, foolproof tools to calm down fast, reboot our nervous system and find some equilibrium within ourselves to carry on.
These are some of my best tips to help combat short-term stress, based on physiological, neurological and psychological approaches. I teach some combination of these and other techniques to all of my clients. They are super easy and can be used any time, anywhere. There is no need to practice all of these, find the ones that work best for you and use them as often as you need.
1. 4-5-6 breathing. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 5, breathe out for a count of 6. Repeat as many times as you like. Making the exhalation longer than the inhalation calms the nervous system and the mind. You can do this as part of a mindfulness practice, sitting in stillness with your eyes closed or out in the world, during stressful times at work, on the bus, in the supermarket etc. It is also a useful practice to help you get to sleep at night.
2. Acupressure points. Identify the middle of your palm (where your two middle fingers are touching your palm when you close your hand to make a fist). Press into this point with the thumb of your other hand. This acupressure point is connected to the nervous system and pressing it helps activate your calm response. This technique is particularly useful in stressful social situations as it can be done quite discreetly without other people noticing.
3. Brain dump. When too many thoughts are going through your brain at once and you can’t make heads or tails of anything, try writing your thoughts on a piece of paper or in a journal. The act of transferring your thoughts onto paper allows the mind to let go of them a little bit and make some space in your head for peace. Try doing this before going to bed if you struggle to “switch off” and get to sleep.
4. Aromatherapy oil. Soothing oils like lavender in a diffuser, on your wrists or on a tissue to smell can help soothe stress. (*It is important to get your oils from a trained aromatherapist and only use them as instructed. **Always consult a medical professional before using aromatherapy oils if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have any medical conditions)
5. Mantra. If part of your stress response is to get caught in a loop of worrying thoughts try a short, reassuring mantra and repeat it over and over to yourself quietly or out loud. Try something like “All will be well.” “I am safe.” “Everything is going to be OK.” or “I am calm and relaxed.” It can take a little bit of time but eventually this new thought will begin to drown out the negative ones.
Please note that these exercises are quick tools to calm down in the moment. They are not a long-term solution for dealing with severe stress or anxiety. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to book a free consultation session.