Do you have trouble sleeping?
Are you stressed out?
Do you hold tension in your body and muscles?
Are you so chronically overworked, anxious and worried that you don’t even know what those emotions feel like in your body?
I have been thinking a lot about stress lately. Especially after my presentation last week at the airport about aging. In the presentation I mentioned a fact I have gathered in my research that 60-80 % of doctors visits have an underlying cause related to stress, and that every single major leading cause of death in our country has a link back to stress.
It baffles me that the research is out there to show how stress manifests itself in the body, and yet there are no ‘stress management’ class in high school or University, and unless you are part of a community of people who do yoga and meditation, you probably aren’t even aware of what the whole concept of stress management means.
I know I sure didn’t understand it in University, when I was so over stressed, anxious, and out of balance that I ended up with severe cystic acne covering my whole face! I know that my clients in University and their friends who chronically aren’t sleeping are totally stressed out and unsure of how to cope with it!
I see stress on the faces, bodies, and in the lives of everyone I come in contact with, including in my own life! I see it in the people in my life who struggle so much to sleep well, focus at work, and maintain energy throughout the day.
Stress can be:
– Emotional stress from not releasing emotions such as anger, sadness, frustration, loneliness, etc.
– Mental stress from worrying, feeling anxious, feeling nervous or paranoid. Something as simple as worrying about what others think about you, or whether or not your boss is satisfied with your work performance can take a toll on the body.
– And physical stress such as putting toxins (processed foods) into our bodies, over or under exercising etc.
– You might not see your stress triggers on this short list, because everyone has their own life events and thought patterns that stress them out.
I could go on and on about what causes stress in our body, and how it manifests in our life. It’s safe to say that for the sake of this article, let’s skip the research and jump to some good stress management techniques, because believe me, if you are living in today’s society you are going to need them!
Here are my two favourite techniques to control stress throughout the day.
1) Body Scans. Believe it or not your muscles in your body tense up throughout the day. I think even if you stopped reading this right now and felt into your body you would notice some muscles holding tension. I tend to hold my jaw muscles, my pelvic floor muscles, and my stomach muscles very tight. So here is what I do pretty much all day every day (I do it about once an hour). It’s a great exercise to ground yourself, feel relaxed, and maintain calmness and clarity as you go about your work day interacting with a variety of people:
1) Close your eyes
2) Take a long inhale through your nose. Expand your ribs, and belly as big as you can as you inhale.
3) Exhale out of your mouth for double the length you inhaled.
4) Repeat this 5 times.
5) Now take your thoughts and mind inside your body. I want you to start at the top of your head and slowly travel inside through all areas of your body. As you travel through send breath to that area and see what muscles will relax, as your body relaxes.
6) As you do this you will get to know which muscles you actively keep tight. You can make it a practice to check in throughout the day to make sure they aren’t tight, and to send breath there.
2nd Method: 4-7-8
– This breathing exercise can change your life. The majority of people breath into their chest muscles. This type of breathing creates anxiety, worry and tension in the body. Instead, when we breathe into our belly and also expand the rib cage out to the side this creates calm and relaxation into the body. Another issue that people have is they breathe shallow. There is only so much oxygen the lungs can hold when you breathe only into the top of your lungs and chest. As you bring the air down all the way into the bottom of the lungs you can fill them up much further with oxygen. Thirdly, we don’t give our lungs enough time to do a gas exchange in between the inhale and exhale. When we inhale oxygen into our lungs, and then exhale carbon dioxide out right away we don’t leave very much time for the lungs to make this exchange. If we hold our breath for alittle bit longer then those gases have time to go in and out. So I do this breathing exercise in stressful situations- riding a busy bus, biking in traffic, after I train a few clients in a row, and before bed. It’s simple: Take a large 4 second inhale through the nose all the way into the belly, hold it there for 7 seconds, and then exhale for 8 seconds out of the mouth (push all the air out). If you are a chest breather you will find this hard at first, and you might find you can’t fully inflate your lungs. Keep trying. It’s really important for you to practice this. This is also a great way to do a mediation, just close your eyes and do this breathing exercise for 5 rounds and visualize your air as it moves through your system. 5 breaths like this and I promise you will feel more relaxed.