Simple, science-backed tools for self-care
Sarahlynn M. Etta, LMT, CMLDT, E-RYT
Take a moment to notice your body. Are your shoulders elevated, jaw clenched or breath shallow? Pause and take several deep breaths. What do you notice? Has anything changed? This very simple process can interrupt the stress response, calm the nervous system and help prepare you to respond to life's stressors.
Stress is simply the body's reaction to changes, challenges and the perceived loss of control. In small quantities, stress is beneficial, providing the energy needed to react quickly and avoid danger. When stress is chronic, or when we lack the tools to manage it, it becomes problematic. Signs of chronic stress include muscle tension, headaches, digestive problems, inflammation, difficulty concentrating and anxiousness.
Evidence suggests that it is not the intensity of stress or the number of stressors that are most indicative of outcomes, but rather our perceptions of it and reactions to it! Learning to respond to acute stressors in the moment, as well as building skills to cope with ongoing stress, can help support our mental, emotional and physical health.
What can you do in the moment?
Pause. The simple act of breaking the pattern of response is powerful, interrupting the stress cycle and allowing a moment to calm the mind. Try a simple practice like counting to 10.
Breathe. Conscious breathing calms the nervous system, lowers blood pressure and may support emotional regulation. Try taking a few deep inhales and slow exhales, keeping your thoughts fully present with the sensation of your breath.
Smile. Even if you fake it! Smiling releases feel-good chemicals in the brain that relax the body, boost mood, lower heart rate and decrease blood pressure.
Use affirmations. Make a positive statement in the present tense, such as “I am calm and relaxed.” Affirmations work through neuroplasticity—"reprogramming” the brain.
Have a little more time to invest?
Practice meditation. Frequent meditators show improved mood, resilience and emotional intelligence, as well as the ability to work more effectively under stress. Regular meditation may also help shore up the body against the deleterious effects of long-term stress.
Get moving, preferably outdoors. The benefits of exercise, including improved energy, stamina and heart health, also help protect the body from the effects of chronic stress. Spending time in nature has benefits for physical, mental and emotional health, so take your exercise outside whenever you can!
Learn a mind-body practice. Yoga and tai chi share the benefits of physical exercise, but also include meditation and focused breathing! These practices have been shown to improve mind-body awareness, boost mood, improve overall sense of well-being and alleviate the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression.
Get a massage. Massage therapy improves sleep, alleviates the symptoms of anxiety and depression, and lowers heart rate and blood pressure. Ask your massage therapist to incorporate music or aromatherapy that you find relaxing, increase/decrease the warmth of the room or table, or incorporate a guided meditation or progressive relaxation.
Maintain your social connections. Cultivating and maintaining positive social connections improves the ability to cope with stress, alleviates the symptoms of anxiety, and is correlated with overall improved mental health and higher self-esteem. Do what you can to safely stay in touch with others, using technology to your advantage.
Sarahlynn is owner, massage therapist, movement educator and meditation enthusiast at Maitri Movement &Massage and is committed to helping people live their happiest, healthiest lives. To read the full article, see additional resources, sign up for a yoga class or schedule a massage, visit MaitriMovement.com/stress.