We all know it: the remedies for stress busting are a regular exercise, well-being or self-care routine, any activity you could practice a few hours a week. The issue is that we need find the time to free our timetable and attend training. Further, it is unlikely that an hour at the gym or in a yoga class will offer enough relaxation to offset a day or a week of stressful activities. The benefits of any routine will only last so long.
The following are some rapid exercises that you can practice on the go. They take only a few seconds, 3 to 20 seconds to be exact. They are highly effective. All you need to do is remember them, and use them as often as you need them.
You can practice several times a day if need be. You can do them before a difficult meeting or other challenging situation, and as you progress through your busy day, when you feel you want to give yourself a breather. They keep you grounded, alert, focused throughout the day, every day. They give you a micro-break and integrate seamlessly with your various activities. You will find that you feel less restless toward the evening, and racing thoughts won’t keep you awake all night.
These short exercises act as a swift pattern-interrupt, a kind of switch-on/switch-off button that prevents stress from increasing further. They take your focus off a trigger. They allow you to perform a quick ‘mental reset,’ as you would do at home with your internet WiFi router when it doesn’t pickup signals. The principle is the same.
• Intentional Listening.
As you engage in your usual activities, identity the faintest sound around you. It could be a clock on the wall or the engine of a car in the street. There are many sounds, so please, select the faintest one. Listen, while you are still doing what it is that you do. A few seconds are enough. You have somewhat split your focus between your present activity and that sound. Neurologically, it is restful.
Ever found yourself in a tense situation? You might be arguing on the phone with a client, or being stuck in traffic, and you’d rather have it done and over with. Then focus on what it is that you are touching now. Is it a pen? The wheel of your car, your seat? For a few seconds, focus on the feel of that object. Again, as you focus your attention on your current activity, give your brain the means to rest, by tapping into your sense of touch. The brain responds well to touch: it is an immediate prompt to get back to reality, by sensing what is material and tangible. It is grounding, and hence relaxing.
• Notice the breath.
Simply notice how you breathe. Is it choppy? Uneven? Or is it slow and steady? If your exhale is shorter or jerkier than your inhale, you are in stress. If your exhale far exceeds the length of your inhale, you won’t be alert. Decide that your next three breaths are going to have an inhale that is as long as the exhale. This would take 10 to 15 seconds at the most. This is all you need to do. If you are extremely tense, then make sure your exhale is slightly longer that your in-breath.
Sitting at your desk and tired or stressed? Using the table as support for your elbow, use the supported hand’s thumb and middle finger to gently touch and perhaps slightly press the inner corner of your eyes, on each side of the nose, right under the eyebrows. You can also place your index between your eyebrows, and pace your breath (see above). There are nerve endings in that corner of the eyes. Touching or squeezing them provokes a parasympathetic (relaxing) response in the brain and then the body. Slow down your breath (see above) as you do this exercise.
Stress expresses itself in our posture, as much as bad posture adds to stress. Whether you are walking or sitting, bring your shoulders up toward the sky, roll them back and down, and immediately get your shoulder blades close together. This will open your chest forward. Tension builds in the upper part of the shoulders and the neck. This leads to eye fatigue and migraine, among other things. Bringing the shoulder blades together in the sequence described, is a powerful counterbalance to tension buildup in that area.
Take a few seconds to observe what you do right here, right now. What do you see? How is the ambient temperature? What do you hear? Can you feel your heartbeat? Is anything happening within your body? Can you describe the color of the nearest object to your left? Now go back to your routine.
• Water and touch.
Next time you use the sink, listen to the water flowing from the tap. In an office or home environment, it is the closest we have to the sounds of nature: the sounds of water are intensely relaxing when you focus on them.
Block, S. (2005). Come to Your Senses: Demystifying the Mind-Body Connection. Atria Books
Ortner, N. (2013).The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living. Hay House
Rosen, R., Yee, R. (2012) Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama. Shambala Publications