We all feel stressed at times. You’ve been meaning to find a way to manage your overall stress levels. You’re going to start a meditation practice…soon. Or, you plan to make physical activity a more regular part of your busy schedule. But, what can you do when you’re running late for work, your kid spills juice on you, and then you get stuck in traffic? Here are 5 tips that can help you decrease stress in the moment.
Before reading any further, STOP! Let your tongue fall away from the roof of your mouth. Now, release your jaws so they aren’t clenched anymore. Better?
When we get stressed, we often complain of muscle tension. It may sound counterintuitive but tensing your whole body (in an intentional way) then actively releasing it can help you bring awareness to areas you’re holding tension, then allow you to let it go.
Close your eyes and inhale deeply through the nose. Moving up progressively from the feet tense body parts, hold for a count of three, then let go with a big exhale through the mouth. While you can do the whole body at once, try spending a few minutes to work your way up through the body – think left and right sides of the body (feet, lower legs, knees, thighs, hands, arms, shoulders, etc.), then shifting to the low belly, low back, mid belly, mid-back, chest, upper back, neck, face, jaw, eyes. Take a few more deep breaths then open your eyes.
In times of high stress your body is literally calling out to you. Muscle pain, shallow breathing, headaches, stomach pains. Body scans can help to ground you in the present moment, bringing awareness to what is going on, instead of allowing you to continue on a downward spiral into your stress. By acknowledging your body’s response to stress, without judgement, you are able to change your relationship to stress, out of control emotions, and even chronic pain.
Allow your eyes to close. Beginning at the crown of your head move evenly down through the body. Just noticing. Not judging or trying to change anything. Try to give equal attention to areas that feel good or neutral as to those areas of discomfort or pain. Passively acknowledge each sensation as an outside observer, without being tied to the experience. Complete the session with a few deep energizing inhales through the nose and exhales through the mouth.
If you prefer a guided relaxation, download one to your music or podcast files. I love the Headspace app. It has exercises as short as 1 minute across a variety of mindfulness and stress-reducing themes.
Chances are you’ve heard about the many positive benefit of physical exercise on improving our ability to manage stress, in addition to the well-researched physical, emotional, and cognitive benefits. However, in moments of high stress we usually can’t run out to the gym or drop into a yoga class. In the acclaimed book by neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky called Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, he argues that animals are immune to chronic stress is because they know how to dissipate it. Think of a possum after it plays dead. The first think it does is get up and shake. Then it goes back to its day – living in the moment, not being anxious of what is to come or the stress-inducing moment that just passed.
By taking a cue from the animal kingdom, we can burn off stress and the buildup of stress hormones by literally shaking it off. For a few minutes just move in all directions. Swing your arms, shake out your legs, jump up and down. Release the stress and enjoy the mental and physical reset induced by shaking.
Take a moment to check in with your breath. Many of us are in the habit of shallow breathing into our chests, particularly in times of stress. Get out of that “fight or flight” state with deep belly breathing – or diaphragmatic breathing.
Start by lying down on the floor with your knees up or sitting comfortably in a chair, relaxing the neck and shoulders. Place one hand on your belly, just above your navel, and the other hand on your upper chest. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose allowing the breath to fill your belly. Allow the hand on the belly to rise with the inhale, without actively pushing out through your stomach. Exhale slowly through pursed lips, pulling the belly towards your spine by engaging your abdominals. The hand on your chest should generally stay still. As you start this practice try doing it a few times a day for 2 minutes and gradually build up to 5-10 minutes. If you feel lightheaded, return to your normal breathing and stay seated until it passes. With regular practice diaphragmatic breathing will become easier and maybe even automatic.
Okay, this one may be difficult to do in any moment, but with a little creativity you can usually find a place. (When I had an office with a door on it, this was one of my favorite afternoon refreshers). This position comes from the restorative yoga pose Viparita Karani, translated to Legs up the Wall. Bringing our legs over our head provides a change of perspective with a number physiological benefits: it relieves tired legs from standing and sitting; it reverses our circulation allowing blood to flow more easily to the heart and the head; and, it induces a state of relaxing calmness by lowering the heart rate and slowing the breathing. To come into this pose, sit parallel to a wall with one hip against it, begin to rotate your torso down to the floor and perpendicular to the wall at the same time as your feet slide up the wall. Move hips a few inches (or more) away from the wall until you are comfortable. Allow your arms to rest on the floor to the sides of the torso in a “V” shape, palms turned up towards the ceiling. Take slow deep breaths in and out through the nose, trying to extend the exhale a few counts longer than the inhale. To make this extra comfy you can place folded blankets under your hips and head, supporting your neck. If you don’t have an empty wall, you can do a modified version by placing your lower legs on the seat of a chair with your torso on the floor. Stay here for up to 10 minutes.
While you’re working on your long-term plans to manage chronic stress, I hope you find these tools useful to use to overcome high stress moments.
*If you’re overwhelmed by stress, seek help from a healthcare professional. Seek help right away if you’re having thoughts of harming yourself or of suicide, or are turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. You can find resources to help you find a mental health provider by visiting www.nimh.nih.gov/findhelp.*
Dealing with your emotions after an affair can feel somewhat like riding a roller coaster. You can expect to feel moments of sadness, depression, anger, moments of disorientation like your world is spinning.
While having a strong support system and learning different stress-reduction techniques can help you deal with your emotions, there’s a different technique you may want to try that can soothe your rawest emotions quickly – writing.
Writing for just 15 to 20 minutes a day for only four days – according to therapeutic writing expert, Dr. James Pennebaker – can soothe turbulent emotions and have long-term beneficial impact on both emotional and physical health.
You don’t have to be an avid, talented writer in order for this technique to help you in dealing with your emotions. Grab a pen, take a deep breath, be mindful of your feelings, and put those thoughts to paper.
You aren’t proud of yourself. The double life you’ve confessed to is out in the open and you can’t pretend to be innocent. You can’t blame your partner for not trusting you. You are branded as the unfaithful partner. A cheater. Someone they don’t even recognize now.
Does it do any good to divulge more? Should you dodge all the questions, swallow the details, deny the parts that will hurt them too much?
Won’t it all just compound the damage and make it too hard to ever recover anyway?
Maybe you can just convince your partner that it’s all over. In the past. Persuade them to just leave it behind and move forward now for the sake of your marriage.
Maybe they’ll agree?
“I’m having an affair.”
No one wants to be the oblivious wife who gets her world rocked.
Or the faithful guy who has a sneaking suspicion but hopes for the best, only to get served the same explosive phrase.
Or the partner who doesn’t get any words at all. Just the shock of accidental discovery.
Infidelity is that worst case scenario many of us pray we never have to face. “Betrayed partner” is something you never wanted to Google. But it happens. To a lot of us.
Affairs are certainly hazardous to your relationship health.
The deception of the unfaithful partner drives a wedge into the relationship. The resulting effects of infidelity do such damage that the faithful partner is left confused, reeling, uncertain of the future and questioning every detail of the relationship’s past.
The pain is a crater between them. The fallout stretches far and wide.
Any couple who has had an infidelity grenade drop into their relationship knows the kind of destruction, loss, and grief that can overwhelm the connection they once had.
Are you and your partner suffering these common effects of infidelity?
Searching for good relationship therapy is, in one way, a little like looking for a good, honest auto mechanic. When your car starts making some weird new sound, you want expert help. You want a good, honest mechanic, someone who knows how to fix your car and will not rip you off. He might be a little rough around the edges, but if he’s a good, honest mechanic, that’s what’s most important.
If you need major heart surgery, you probably won’t care if the surgeon is undeniably arrogant, as long as she is at the top of her game. You want to live.
I’d like to tell you about an early therapy experience that shaped my entire approach to individual therapy.
One of my earliest individual therapy clients was a distraught young woman who came into the Stress Management Clinic experiencing a very painful headache. She was a college senior, nearing the graduation mark, when just at the last few weeks of school, her headache appeared.
She had been an A-student all through school. But at the moment, she couldn’t study, couldn’t write her last papers, couldn’t prepare for final exams. The clock was ticking, and she was scared.
There always seems to be at least one person in our lives with whom we don’t feel we can share our true thoughts and feelings about. There can be several reasons for this. Maybe we want to be liked. Maybe we’re embarrassed, or we’re simply afraid of what might happen if we tell them. If you were to confront the person or people with whom you have an issue, just imagine how this would free up space in your brain to think about other things.
There are three ways in which people often communicate that are NOT effective. One is not saying anything and letting resentments build. This is called being passive. Another is aggressive communication. This might seem obvious, but aggression doesn’t really do anything for us either, except maybe land us in jail. Aggression can take the form of verbal or physical violence. Trying to control someone else is never the answer, nor should this be an option.
You may have heard the word, “Codependent,” but do you really know what it means? Definitions and descriptions of a codependent person can be expansive. Occasionally, I hear people mistakingly believe this term applies to only those who are within some type of addicted or chemically dependent relationship. They aren’t completely wrong. In fact, the original term for this concept was “co-alcoholic,” as researchers initially examined settings where addiction was present and they found a variety of behavior patterns in the family members of these chemically dependent people. In looking closer, they noticed a range of emotional, mental, relational, and spiritual issues in these family members and loved ones. As the concept continued to expand, it was not long before we realized that these patterns continued even after a relationship with an addicted person ended. What’s more, these things were also being exhibited in non-addicted relationships and families.
Mindfulness is one of the four core skills introduced in a highly effective type of therapy called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT incorporates the Eastern practice of mindful meditation into talk therapy. The combination of practicing mindful meditation and evaluating negative thought patterns can significantly increase relaxation and help one cope with strong emotions.
So what exactly is mindfulness and how do we become more mindful? Being mindful is a state of mind that can be achieved with regular practice. Mindfulness is the act of simply observing our thoughts and feelings without imposing judgement on those thoughts or feelings such that they are “good” or “bad”. Let’s be honest, to refrain from judging and criticizing our own thoughts and feelings is a hard feat to conquer. We judge ourselves constantly throughout the day; therefore, it will understandably take a fair amount of practice and time to eventually master this art.