Let’s first examine our approach to stress.
Shifting our perspective away from seeing it as a ‘negative’ thing – often inducing feelings of anxiety and overwhelm – is the first part of the battle.
This is a practice of self-awareness in real-time, working on drawing attention to the first response we have in a ‘stressful’ moment. As human beings we’re wired for a degree of stress – our issue most of the time is how we react to and engage with it.
It definitely takes time and practice – but making tiny improvements in what’s been dubbed the ‘MINDFULNESS GAP’ (the time we can create between stimulus and response) is what reduces reactive behaviour (which only further compounds stress).
What causes stress? Let’s be honest, it can often very broadly be broken down into ‘people’ (friends, family, colleagues) and ‘things’ (work, to-do lists, family life, often a combination of them all).
My tips involve incorporating 3 key things into your life to manage our response to stress.
1. BREAK IT DOWN.
Look at your to-do lists. Create timelines for completion. Delegate what you need to. These two factors help to avoid getting swept up in the ‘urgent but unimportant’ (borrowed from ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people).
2. HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE.
Part of the reason we get stressed is we don’t regularly check in with where we’re at. Set periodic ‘check-in’ times within the timelines you’ve created, so you’re not in a cycle of putting something off and then getting overwhelmed.
3. FORM A MINDFULNESS PRACTICE.
I’m not asking you to sit on a hilltop in lotus for 4 hours.
Just a few minutes of breath work a day can have a huge impact on relaxation (through actively engaging the parasympathetic nervous system). Start small – my favourite breathing exercise is to inhale for 4 counts, pause, exhale for 4, pause and repeat x5. Focus on nasal breath and lengthening out the exhalation, rather than ‘over breathing’ into the chest.
Gently tip your head to one side without moving the rest of the body. Allow that shoulder to relax without forcing it down. Extend the opposite arm to the side, activating the fingertips and noticing the sensation you feel down the arm and into the neck. With each exhale lengthen through the arm a little more. Repeat on the other side.
Lay on your belly with your arms extended and your forehead on the mat. Tuck your toes under and scrape the skin of each leg down the mat one by one, actively lengthening out your legs. Flatten your feet. Gently tuck your tailbone under and exhale to sink your pelvic floor into the mat. Both of these actions allow us to broaden out the back. Gently activate the glutes and come up onto your forearms, ensuring your elbows are directly underneath your shoulders. Take 5 deep breaths, sinking the pelvis into the mat with each exhale.
Lay on your stomach with your arms extended to the side in line with your shoulders. Place the right cheek on the ground and raise the left leg up and over your body to the right hand side. With each exhale allow the foot to release further to the ground if it’s not there. Walk the left fingertips away from you to deepen the stretch. Ensure both forearms are grounded. Repeat on the other side.
Stay on your stomach, again placing the right cheek on the ground. This time imagine there’s a clock in front of you and place the right arm at 2 o’clock. Bend the left arm keeping the elbow pointed up. Take both legs over to the left. With each exhale press the right arm into the floor and use the left hand to help you deepen the stretch in that right chest muscle by also pressing it down. Repeat on the other side.
Thread the needle
Come onto all fours, ensuring shoulders are over the wrists and knees are underneath the hips. Start by extending the left arm to the side whilst keeping the hips straight. On the exhale thread the arm through to the right, extending the right arm out for stability as you release the left shoulder towards the mat. Press the right hand down and gently draw the right hip back to re-align the hips. Repeat on the other side.