We wrote a blog post a couple of months back that laid out the impact of stress on the body. Now, let’s talk about a few ways that you can manage stress – to help avoid the impacts of stress on your body and to just give yourself a break from it all!
Mindfulness is about connecting with the present moment as a way to relieve yourself from ruminating on stressors. Any number of activities can be conducted mindfully – from eating to walking to listening to meditating.
One of our favorite mindfulness activities is to take a moment to engage all of your senses:
- Take a few deep breaths
- Look around and find five things that you can see. Focus on unusual colors, shapes, objects, etc.
- Use your ears to identify four noises that you can hear. The buzzing of the fridge, the cawing of a crow, the rumbling of a motorcycle driving by, etc.
- Reach out and touch three things with your hands. Maybe it’s the feeling of the fabric of your clothes, or a rough patch in the concrete, etc.
- Take a deep breath in, and try to identify two different smells. Our lives are often absent of smell as a mark of hygiene – so try to break through that numbing effect and find something with a natural scent! The smell of freshly cut grass, the smell of food cooking, etc.
- What one thing can you taste? You don’t need to lick the table or anything… If there’s nothing around that’s good to eat/drink, you can just pay attention to the taste of your mouth as it is! Can you taste the tea you just drank? Or maybe the flavor of your toothpaste.
In Chinese medicine, using your senses helps to open up your Heart, which can help facilitate a sense of calm.
It can seem counterintuitive because exercise is itself a form of stress on the body! But we know that exercise can help lift the spirits, release endorphins, and generally lead to a sense of overall well-being. From a Chinese medical perspective, exercise can help to smooth Liver Qi, which is particularly susceptible to the effects of stress.
But exercise doesn’t have to mean CrossFit every day! Exercise can be going for a walk around the block or doing a few minutes of stretching at the end of your day. Fit in what you can, when you can. Every little bit counts.
When you’re stressed for an extended period of time, your body basically thinks that you’re constantly in danger – so it prioritizes resources accordingly (i.e., the heart gets more resources than it should, and the reproductive system doesn’t get enough). Slow and steady breathing can help signal to your body that you aren’t actually in danger, that it can lower the defense systems, and that it can start to function in a more balanced fashion.
Again, this doesn’t mean that ALL of your breathing has to be slow and steady. But take moments in your day when you’re feeling stressed to focus on your breathing. Two minutes of deep breathing can make all the difference in the world.
4. Relaxing your body:
We hold our stress in our bodies in so many different ways without even realizing it. We tense our shoulders, clench our jaw, hold our breath, tighten our glutes, etc. These habits can lead to pain and injury over time, and we don’t even realize it as it’s happening.
When you realize that you’re feeling stressed, check in on your body and see where you’re feeling tense. If you have trouble releasing that tension, try actively tightening and holding the muscles of the affected area for a few seconds and then releasing that tension.
We also love the body scan meditation: When you’re lying down, with a slow, steady breath, start to pay attention to your toes. Relax your toes as fully as you can. Then bring your attention to the arches of your feet, and relax those muscles as fully as possible. Move through all of the muscles in your body, including your neck, jaw, tongue, face, and head!
By relaxing your muscles, you are providing your body with another feedback loop that you’re not in danger, and it’s OK to relax. From a Chinese medical perspective, relaxing areas of tension allows the Qi and Blood to flow more smoothly, which prevents the stagnation that comes with stress.