5 Techniques to Manage Stress
Most of us are well acquainted with the feeling of stress and anxiety. Maybe it’s caused by that pending deadline at work or that fight you had with your partner that you know you have to deal with later. Whatever the situation, we know that stress can wreak havoc on our bodies. From the head and neck pain to more serious and long-term effects like cardiovascular issues and GI issues.
Stress management has always been difficult for me and I am not proud to admit that I haven't (and still don’t) always handle stress well. For me, my main source of stress is figuring out how to prioritize my school work, my job, friends, family and my relationship. Before I started using the techniques below, I would frequently overreact to situations and become very emotional when I felt like I was losing control of my time.
What I didn't realize was that ruminating about all the work I had to do was consuming a lot of energy and was actually strengthening the feelings of stress. That’s right, we can basically multiply the feelings of stress by thinking about it. Not only that but my performance on tasks was suffering significantly. The good new is: with these five techniques below, things have gotten much easier and I feel like I am to a place where I am able to enjoy my life again.
In our last few podcasts, the phrase “present moment” has been mentioned over and over again. This is an easy concept to understand but it can be difficult to see how engaging in the present moment really plays out in everyday life. Here are some ways I am able to calm myself during stressful situations and bring myself back to the present moment:
1. Body scan
Basically it is a slow sweeping of attention through our entire bodies starting with our feet and ending with our head. In episode two, Andrew Radja mentioned that a lot of times we only focus on our bodies when we are feeling bad. This exercise allows us to really tune into our body without needing to change anything. My experience with this has been that once you become aware and tuned in with your body, you will begin to recognize how stress makes you feel and where it manifests in your body.
Andrew takes us through a body scan in episode two of Kindly, listen here.
2. Soothing touch
This is one of my favorite things to do, especially when I have limited time and can't launch into a body scan. It involves simply putting your hand on your heart when you are feeling stressed or anxious about a situation.
Research shows that physical touch releases oxytocin, a hormone in our bodies that when released reduced stress and increased wellbeing. If placing your hand on your heart feels awkward or uncomfortable, it also works to gently rub your wrist or the back of your hand during moments of stress.
3. Common humanity
This is a practice I often do in conjunction with the soothing touch. It’s simply recognizing that whatever emotion you are feeling, whether it’s stress, sadness or anxiety, it is a feeling everyone experiences.
I recently had a situation where I said something silly during an important meeting and afterwards I was filled with anxiety and embarrassment. But I was able to remind myself that everyone has has this feeling before, to a certain degree. This is part of a larger practice called loving kindness and self compassion, that we will explore in a future post.
4. Being present in the process
This is a new one for me but I have already found it to be immensely helpful. Have you ever looked at your to-do list and instantly felt stressed? This has been happening to me a lot recently. I was finding that I would work on one task but I wasn't enjoying the task at all because I was too worried about the next thing and the next thing that needed to be done. Now when I am focusing on my to-dos, I try to be really present with the task at hand, not letting future tasks creep in and take the fun away from what I am doing right now.
It’s not the easiest thing to practice, especially when you have a lot going on, but believe me it works!
5. ground yourself
I’m not sure why, but often times when I am meditating or doing a body scan, it is easiest for me to focus on my feet. Sometimes when we are upset, we can feel out of control. I’ve found that focusing on my feet while standing, sitting or even walking, helps me feel more grounded and better able to deal with stressful situations.
I hope these techniques help you as much as they have helped me. Thanks for reading!