Stress. It is all around us. The pandemic has brought extreme stress with the crisis, and many of us have been experiencing social stress due to the pandemic as we are coping with disconnection, isolation, and loneliness. However, stress doesn’t just come in the form of a crisis, and sometimes stress isn’t always a bad thing. Stress is in our daily lives. It is present when we go to work, as we do homework, before a game or presentation, the start a new relationship, when we oversleep, or even in traffic.
When our minds recognize something as stressful, we may notice that we feel on edge, focused, anxious, alert, frustrated, full of adrenaline, or even just feel the need to “do something”. There are also many changes happening to our bodies. These are things such as: breathing changes, being faster and shallow, hormones are released, our heartbeat changes, our digestion slows, muscles tense, and our pupils dilate. Physically, “stress affects all systems of the body including muscles, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous and reproductive systems.”
Stress results from environmental or physical pressures that provoke a response. It involves our perception of those pressures, our perceived ability to meet those pressures, and our psychological, physiological, and behavioral responses. Stress also happens when we perceive something to be a threat that is challenging our internal systems. Our response to stress is in our hardwiring and helps us to survive.
We get through these stressful moments every day and most often, successfully. Then, there are the times where we get overwhelmed by stress and may struggle. When stress is positive, it can motivate us. It can help us to accomplish goals or tasks and be accountable. It can be challenging, of course, but the end result can bring us satisfaction and even joy.
Though, when stress is chronic or disrupts our daily life, is when it can become harmful and unhealthy. It can negatively impact many parts of our lives, including our ability to focus, our mood, our immune system, the way we function at work or school, how we sleep or eat, our relationships, and our bodies.
When impacted by stress – there are many things we can do to help our mind and body. These are things that we can do to let ourselves know that the threat has passed, that we are capable, and that we can handle things that may come our way. Remember, taking care of ourselves is personal and what works for you may not work for someone else. It’s okay, and important for us to listen to what our bodies tell us!
This month we’ve shared a few activities that can aid us in coping with stress by helping us to calm, relax, refocus, and ground.
Slow and deep breathing can help signal to our body’s nervous system to calm down. When we are stressed or overwhelmed, we are often on high alert and our systems can feel at maxed. Breathing can help lower our physiological activation.
**if you feel lightheaded or dizzy – you can always stop or shorten the counts to adjust so that it works for you and eases any discomfort – just remember slow breaths that are in through your nose and out through your mouth
You can do box breathing in these steps – first exhale the air from your lungs – begin by slowing inhaling through your nose for 4 counts – hold your breath for 4 counts – exhale slowly from your mouth for 4 counts – hold your breath for 4 counts – exhale from your mouth – then repeat
This technique works by inhaling for 4 counts through your nose – holding your breath for 7 counts – exhaling slowly through your mouth for 8 counts – then repeat
Often when we become stressed or overwhelmed our minds race and we can become very focused solely on the stressor. Changing our focus can help to break the thought patterns and distract away from the stressor. This can allow us to then problem solve and return back to our day. These activities can help redirect our focus and give our mind and body the break it needs to recalibrate:
Taking a walk
Talk with a friend
Counting backward from 100 by fives
Tensing and relaxing our muscles can help to reduce the feeling of stress as we hold a great deal of stress and tension in our bodies. When we can relax our bodies and muscles, it can help to generate a sense of calm, increase energy, and to help be able to move more freely. Tensing our muscles then releasing can help us to observe the tension leaving and feel the relaxation.
Tense each muscle group for 5-10 seconds then release for 15-30 seconds and notice the difference. You can always repeat this process.
Another technique is progressive muscle relaxation – you can find more details and how to do this technique by the Dartmouth Student Wellness Center – here.
When we become stressed or overwhelmed we can often disconnect from our environment and even ourselves, getting ‘lost’ in our head, focused on the stressors. If we can redirect our attention to our environment or physical sensations, it can help us come back to the present moment, feel less stressed and rebalanced.
Engage your senses – 5-4-3-2-1
To do this technique you’ll want to take a moment to find your feet on the floor or how your seat feels against your back.
Notice FIVE things that you can see – observe the color of the carpet, how the sky looks, are there pictures on the wall or plants in the room, is there grass or flowers blooming? Take note of what you see in your mind, telling yourself what you are observing.
Observe FOUR things that you can touch – what does your seat feel like, what is the texture of your clothing, you can even feel the floor beneath you
Notice THREE things you can hear – listen for all the sounds around you. Is there traffic outside, what are the sounds inside, do you hear any birds or people
Notice TWO things that you can smell – take a breath in and notice if you can smell. Can you smell your detergent, or the air, any perfume or lotion – is there a candle burning
Notice ONE thing you can taste – observe if there is any tast – or can you imagine the taste of your favorite food
You can find an audio from Insight Timer here
Take a drink of water
To do this simply take a drink of water – or whatever you happen to have – observe the temperature, the taste, how it feels in your mouth or as you swallow – do you have ice in your drink or is it warm or carbonated