We all know stress is bad for our health. And whether it's the news headlines, the morning school-prep rush, that looming deadline at work, or discovering an empty refrigerator at 6pm, working moms often have more than the average number of stress triggers. But what can we do about it? Especially if we don't have time for hour-long yoga classes, long candle-lit baths, or weekends at the spa - some of the usual stress-management recommendations? Current medical research is very clear—techniques that fall into the category of 'mindfulness-based stress-reduction' (MBSR) are the most effective. These are techniques that reverse our body’s stress response, and instead trigger its natural relaxation response. When we are stressed, levels of certain chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol elevate in our blood, we take shorter breaths, and our muscles tense. When we are relaxed, the opposite occurs. The value of MBSR techniques is that they can halt the momentum of our body’s physiological response to stress, and elicit some or all of its relaxation response. So what exactly is MBSR? Meditation. Not the sit-and-gaze-at-your-navel kind of meditation, but the take-a-moment-to-breathe kind—in short, the kind any of us can do, anywhere. Below are ten brief MBSR techniques you can do, for just a minute at a time, to help stop your stress response in its tracks. 1. Belly Breathing: Place your hands over your belly, and take 5-10 deep breaths, taking special care to expand your belly with each inhalation instead of your chest. This forces your diaphragm down, allowing your lungs to take in more air - a powerful method for immediately calming your body. 2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Close your eyes and focus your attention on your facial muscles. Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, imagine all these muscles relaxing. Then move your attention down to your neck and shoulder muscles, take another breath, and imagine the tension releasing from that area. Continue scanning down your entire body, breath by breath. In addition to being a stress-buster, this particular technique is excellent for helping you fall asleep quickly after a busy day. 3. Visualization Vacation: Visualizing a soothing scene is a great way to halt the stress response, and using a memory of an actual scene from your past is particularly effective, because many of the neurotransmitters triggered during the original experience are also triggered when you remember it in detail. Pick a favorite vacation moment – sitting on a beach at sunset, for example – and try and reconstruct what you saw, heard, smelled, and felt. 4. Favorite Word: Word repetition is another great MBSR technique. Simply pick a word that represents the opposite of whatever difficult emotion is related to your stress. Feeling angry? Try ‘peace’. Depressed? Try ‘joy’. Discouraged? Try ‘optimistic’. Just repeat your word to yourself 10-20 times under your breathe. 5. Heat of the Sun: Nature has a soothing effect, but you probably can’t wander a forest or the beach in the middle of your workday. Instead, try stepping outside for just a minute, and focus your attention on the feeling of the sun as it hits some part of your body. Imagine the heat of the sun melting away your tension. 6. Breeze of Insight: Another effective natural element you can focus on during brief excursions outdoors is the wind, or breeze. Face away from it for a moment and imagine it is blowing away your stress. Then face into it, and imagine it is blowing in relaxation. 7. Take a Hike: Walking meditations are particularly effective, because the movement helps take the edge of the restless feeling that often accompanies tension. A quick walk around the parking lot at work, or even down the hall, can help, if you make an effort to shift your mind away from the source of your stress. Try paying special attention to each of your senses in turn – note everything you see in great detail, and then everything you hear, then smell, and so on. 8. Find the Love: Sometimes just reminding yourself of your emotional support structure can help calm your nerves. Close your eyes and visualize someone dear to you (children are great) in an affectionate moment. Hold that thought as you take a few deep breaths. 9. Gratitude: Another emotional shifter is gratitude. In the midst of a crises, taking a few moments out to remind yourself of all the good elements in your life can help you re-center. Make a mental list of all the people, things, and experiences you are grateful for. 10. Self-Distancing: A little more abstract, this technique is often used in anger management programs. When you start to feel angry, take a moment and mentally ask the question ‘Who is it that is feeling angry?’ The idea is to begin to separate yourself from your own angry emotion, strengthening your self-awareness and impulse control. Over time, you can refine your ability to choose which emotions you want to draw upon, and which you want to let recede. Regardless of what technique you choose, the important thing is not to turn your stress-busters into stress-creators! In other words, don’t judge your efforts, and don’t get caught up in trying to find the perfect setting or time. Bathrooms stalls, parked cars, or even your office chair, are all you need to practice most of these techniques. Just set aside one minute, pick your method, and let yourself relax.
This post was written by Lisa Erickson for WorkingMother.com.