If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, you are not alone. The holiday season can be a time for joy, but it can also be a time for sadness, anxiety, and stress.
What I've learned over the years is that there will always be one more thing to do. My to-do list will never be finished. So it is up to me to incorporate self-care techniques to manage my stress better and feel less overwhelmed.
Today, I am sharing a few simple techniques that I am incorporating to manage my stress better.
Breathwork is an excellent antidote to anxiety because it pushes our body out of fight-or-flight mode and back into a more restful state. Most of us are not breathing properly, especially if we are sitting at our desks all day.
Our body doesn’t know the difference between the stress of a busy day to the stress of running away from a saber tooth tiger.
Because of that, our body experiences stress and anxiety much the same way - by going into that fight-or-flight mode.
Breathwork is a form of meditation but solely focused on your breathing. When you can control your breath, it naturally calms the body down, telling it, “I’m okay, I'm safe, no need to panic.”
This signal puts your body back into a restful and relaxed state where it can heal and repair.
There are lots of different ways of practicing breathwork, here are 3 I like:
Box breathing is a breathing technique that originated in Navy Seal training. It helps slow your heart rate and regain concentration during high-stress situations.
You can also perform this breathing technique anywhere - on a walk, in line at the grocery store, or even while driving. It’s very inconspicuous so that you can calm your heart rate at any time of the day.
You can practice box breathing by following the 4-4-4-4 technique:
First, release all of the air out of your lungs and hold your breath for 4 seconds. Then, inhale for 4 seconds, hold the air for 4 seconds, and exhale for 4 seconds.
Repeat this cycle at least 3 times. Ideally, practicing for 5 minutes produces the best effects.
What I love about this is that you can do this at the grocery checkout, waiting to pick up your kids from school. You just have to remind yourself to do it regularly throughout the day.
Another name for relaxing breath is 4-7-8 breathing. This breathing technique is very applicable daily because long-term practicing allows us to create more space between our inhales and exhales.
You can practice relaxing breath by doing the following:
First, release all the air from your chest. Then, inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, hold that breath for 7 and then, exhale out for a full 8 seconds.
With this one, you are prolonging the exhale - which will activate your vagal tone and upregulate your parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body down into the rest and digest state.
Typically, we breathe at a rate of 2 to 3 seconds per breath. This technique focuses on slowing down our overall breathing rate.
You can practice this technique by:
First, breathe normally and try to notice the average rate of seconds your inhales and exhales last. Then for a minute, try to extend these times by 2-3 seconds per inhale and exhale. Eventually, the goal is to get up to 10 seconds each eventually. So you are slowing down your breath intentionally.
Movement is a crucial factor in reducing stress and anxiety because it releases positive calming chemicals in our brain.
Exercising doesn't have to be complicated. I used to think daily exercise involved carving out an hour to go to the gym and sweat as much as possible.
In reality, most people don’t have the time, and it causes more stress trying to stick to a rigid workout routine every day.
I have found easy and fun ways to incorporate more movement into my normal daily routines.
Simple ways to incorporate movement into your day:
When we are extremely busy, it is natural to get caught up in that go-go-go life. Taking a 5-minute break in your day just to practice ‘gratitude’ is more important than ever now! There is now science showing gratitude is good for our health!
I like keeping a gratitude journal and writing 5 moments I am grateful for at the beginning of my day. You can also do it before you hop into bed if you prefer.
During this continuing pandemic, it can seem like there is bad news all around us. This practice helps us slow down and focus on the good moments of the day - the times when things went right or a moment that actually brought forth an unexpected or joyful surprise.
My morning routine sets the tone for the rest of my day and I always notice that when I skip it, my day never feels as productive.
I shared my full routine on Instagram (you can watch it here!).
While our lives might seem out of control sometimes, it’s important to remember that the only thing you can control is your routines and your perspective - so make it count!
And remember, start slow at first. The best way to build a new habit is through consistency. Add one practice at a time and see how well it works for you.
Eventually, you will have an arsenal of tools to use every day to combat stress and anxiety.
When you are busy, it can feel like the LAST thing you want to do. But trust me on this, the 5 or 10 minutes you spend can actually make your day more productive, effectively saving you time.
There are lots of apps you can use to help you get started, e.g. Insight Timer, Calm.
Here's a taster video if you don't know where to start. I've taken Emily Fletcher's meditation course, and resonate with her way of teaching meditation (fun fact: she taught Dr. Mark Hyman to meditate!).