A simple way to lower the stress response is to breathe in through your nose to the count of 4 (or your mouth if you nose is stuffy) and out through pursed lips like blowing a bubble to the count of 8. Breathe out twice as long as you breathe in to activate the parasympathetic nervous system or the ‘rest and digest’ response which counters the ‘fight or flight’ response. Do this 3 – 4 breaths at a time and imagine your mind and body relaxing as your breathe out. Repeat this as often as you need to throughout the day. For example, you might try this breathing technique when you sit down to a meal, when you get to work, before you start a difficult project or make a phone call, and particularly if you are feeling stressed. Get my Mindfulness Toolkit CD to learn skills that reduce the stress response.
3. Examine how you respond to stress
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Take some time to look at how you typically respond to events in your life. Two different people may respond dramatically differently to the same stressor. Do you take everything personally? Do you always predict the worst possible outcome? Do you focus on the negative and minimize the positive? Are you a perfectionist? Are you usually fearful? Is asking for help difficult for you? Do you have a hard time saying ‘no’?
By taking a hard look at some of these patterns you give yourself the opportunity to make some helpful changes. One way is to replace any negative thought with a thought that feels better. An example might be to replace ‘I have so much to do I will never get it done in time’ with ‘even though I have a lot to do I will get the most important things done first and ask for help if I run out of time’. There doesn’t that feel better already?
If you have a hard time saying ‘no’ try it and see what happens. The next time someone asks for your help with a volunteer project at your child’s school say, ‘Thanks so much for asking me. I am not going to be able to help you this time. But please try me again next time’. Was that so hard? No need to justify or explain why. You know why – you are exhausted from being overextended. Stop that pattern right now.
4. Talk to someone
Sharing your feelings with a trusted family member, friend, or psychotherapist can be a great source of relief. By talking about what’s going on and how you feel about it you may start to release the stress and then begin to find ways to lower the stress and lower your stress response. It is impossible to think clearly and make good decisions when you are really stressed out.
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Be careful to avoid a pattern of chronically complaining about everything that is stressing you out. Telling everyone about how stressed out you are will just increase your stress response. Better to talk about what you are doing to manage and reduce it. Even better, talk about how good it feels now that you are starting to get a handle on stress reduction.