At Christmas time we so often put ourselves under immense pressure from the build-up of the season to the actual day itself. Stress and anxiety can creep up on us and leave us in a crumpled heap, stealing our sleep, sabotaging our confidence and turning our stomach into knots, impacting on our general health and wellbeing. Working on stress and anxiety is a long-term process, however these tried and tested techniques are quick stressbusters to get you out of that fight or flight mode quickly and into a calmer state.
Deep breathing When we’re stressed our breath becomes shallow. Anxiety thrives on quick shallow breathing so doing the opposite has therapeutic benefits to our bodies. Our heart rate slows, and we feel calmer.
First breathe all the way out to get started
Breathe in slowly through your nose to the count of seven, breathing right into the belly
Hold for two · Breathe out even more slowly, through your mouth, to the count of eleven
Continue doing this for around two minutes and notice the changes.
If this 7/11 breathing is tricky for you, try 3/5 breathing. The exact numbers aren’t important. What’s important is that the out breath is longer than the in breath.
Move! Changing your physiology tricks the brain into feeling calm rather than stressed.
Try the power pose, standing feet hip width apart and hands on hips. Look up at and to the right, visualising a calm scene or a happy memory. Combine this with the breathing to make it even more powerful.
Move! The way to dispel a strong emotion is to move the body. Think about an animal in the wild when it’s been chased. The first thing it does when it knows its safe is to shake energetically to rid the body of the stress. It then just gets on with life. We tend to hold on to the stress and emotions. We’re not able to shake ourselves in quite the same way as an animal but we can do other things: run on the spot, jump up and down, do star jumps or dance. Have your favourite dance track on your phone. There are hundreds to choose from so have a play list and get singing and dancing. Music is a great mood lifter and soother and has such positive benefits.
Be in the moment Anxiety is future driven and what we fear will happen often doesn’t. Be in the moment.
Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth
Slowly look around you and find…
5 things you can see – look at their shape and colour as well as what they are
4 things you can touch – consider texture
3 things you can hear – consider volume and pitch
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can be grateful for, however small this might be
This is called grounding. It can help when you’ve gone too far in your head and need to get back to feeling calmer quickly. This exercise can be done anywhere – outside, in your home, on a bus. The more you do it, the more you will find yourself doing it automatically. It’s like any skill, the more you practise, the better you become.
Soothing self-talk The worse thing we can say to ourselves is ‘don’t worry.’ Our minds cannot process negatives such as ‘don’t’. It deletes it and takes the next word as an instruction, as in do worry. Let me give you a quick example. If I said to you, ‘don’t think of an elephant.’ What have you now got in your mind? It’s impossible not to have that image in your mind. So always talk to yourself saying what you do want rather than what you don’t. Having some sentences you can say to yourself such as the ones below, can help reduce stress and calm everything.
This feeling will pass
I will get through this
I am feeling anxious right now, but I have the power to make myself calm
I can feel my heart rate slowing down If it’s easier for you, introduce calming words into your awareness rather than whole sentences.
Words such as: tranquil, calm, peaceful, relaxing, light, serenity, breeze, beach. The last two words in the sequence describe scenery which can help us to feel calm if we can visualise that place. It won’t be the same place for everyone; you can choose what works for you. I always ask my clients to practise these techniques when they’re feeling ok so they when or if you need them, they are just at your fingertips. Practised regularly you’ll begin to notice feeling more grounded and balanced within yourself more quickly when stress or anxiety threaten.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year Be well.