These are SO easy there's no reason NOT to try them.
Stress is powerful — manage it or it manages you, right?
How many times has stress overtaken you, depleting your energy and stealing your happiness? Suddenly your days blur together in a sea of endless to-dos and unrelenting overwhelm.
We all know the stress-fighting benefits of nutritious meals, restful nights, and regular meditation, but, if you're like most people — the thought of adding one more activity is too much to bare (even if that activity would improve your life or, ironically, help you de-stress). As a result, the idea of decreasing your stress only adds to and increases your stress level (but now with a side of guilt for not doing these things).
So, what's a stressed out YOU to do?
The secret to keeping stress in check is creating tiny rituals — habits so little, so non-threatening and easy, they don't trigger your already freaked out brain.
You see, stress throws your brain into primitive survival mode; it's hardwired to react that way! In response, your brain hijacks blood from your more rational, creative regions to fuel the physiology of 'fight or flight'. So, when you're already super stressed (and remain that way as a regular day-to-day way of being), you must sneak healthy changes in below your panicked brain's radar.
Here are three easy ways to start doing that:
1. Brush away stress.
Tying old and new habits together is easier than starting an entirely new behavior on its own. Your brain already has miles of dedicated wiring in place to support your existing habits—those thoughts and behaviors you repeat mindlessly day in and day out.
Habits are a great (healthy ones, that is) because they require such little energy that you can do them subconsciously.
After all, imagine how much mental energy you'd waste if you had to think about every step of brushing your teeth each day. But brushing your teeth is a habit already locked in place in your mind. So, why not let a NEW behavior or thought hitch-hike along that well paved path in a way that serves you?
Let brushing your teeth become your time to also slow down your breathing and set an intention for the day. As you brush, think about how you'll be your best self once your day truly begins. What will you do to take care of yourself today? What would be one 'win' for today? Pick your daily question and "brush" it into your brain. As you add this new habit to your existing habit, the two slowly but surely become intertwined.
2. 'Open the door' to new possibilities.
Playing off the same principle above, every time you open a door to enter a meeting, the car, a store, or your home, use it as your cue to take one long, slow, deep breath and decide mindfully how you want to show up on the other side of that door. You can either rush in mindlessly, bringing the frenzy of your last activity with you (think Pig Pen from the Peanuts gang, only you're trailing a dirty cloud of stress), or you can let that door handle remind you to take a reset breath, and choose your presence for the next activity.
You definitely won't remember this every time you pass through a door, but you'll be surprised how empowering it is each time you DO remember and then use your breath to calm your physiology and bring your mind back to the present. Give it a try, especially on a hard day!
3. Tell a bedtime story.
End each day (no matter how late you stumble to bed) with a story in which you are the star. As you pull back the covers, replace your automatic recounting of all the things you didn't get done today with a mental list of the day's wins and gifts.
Shifting your focus to appreciation for just a few moments (even if all you can muster is, "I brushed my teeth today") will help your brain dis-engage from the constant internal litany of "not enough" that disrupts restorative sleep and fuels your inner critic. Gratitude is a potent de-stressor capable of boosting your immune system, expanding your creativity, raising your stress resilience, and even re-calibrating your happiness set point.
Why do tiny rituals work better at decreasing stress than BIG changes?
Because they subtly disrupt your busy-ness just long enough to start harvesting the power of mindfulness without requiring a lot of energy on your part. In short, they are doable because they feel doable.
So, give these little rituals a try. Who knows, soon you may actually take that meditation class, start training for that 5K, or find the courage to say, "NO." But for now, easing two minutes of mental self-care into your day will boost your sense of control and fight the ravages of the stress monster.
Pick one of these tiny rituals, or get creative and design your own. Play with your day! Don't keep track of misses; savor each and every win instead.
Like the idea of finding ease in the middle of chaos? Check out Dr. Ackrill's website for more stress detox tips, sign up for coaching, or enroll in her powerful seminars to create your individualized stress strategy. Take back your life!