Stopping Stress

by Mary Beth Janssen

Most of us know by now that it’s crucial to control stress. Research shows that long-term chronic stress breaks us down, mentally, emotionally and physically. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 75 to 90 percent of all doctor visits are prompted by stress-related concerns and, over time, may lead to serious illness, sleep disorders, a suppressed immune system, anxiety and depression, and more.

Creating time in the day to stop worry and get back into the present moment has been shown to be enormously helpful in mitigating the negative effects of our stress response. “The Stop Practice” is guaranteed to quell stress, and bring you back into a state of relaxed awareness—an important safeguard for your health and well-being. When we drop into the present, we’re more likely to gain perspective and see that we have the power to regulate our response to pressure. Here it is.

S: STOP what you’re doing, look away, pause, disengage. Take a moment to recognize that there are strong emotions involved in this situation or that you simply need to have a moment for yourself. You can be standing in place or sitting down.

T: TAKE a few deep breaths. Proper breathing is the most healing mechanism you can engage in to immediately quell stress, and bring your “jacked up” nervous system back into a state of balance. Take a few deep breaths or several minutes’ worth—however long you can devote to it.

O: OBSERVE what’s going on in your body right now. Bring your attention into the body, which creates a neural disconnect in the brain with the stressful thought. You can feel the tension, the constriction in your body when you’re stressed. You may feel heart palpitations, sweaty palms, a clutch in your throat, perhaps a headache or gastrointestinal upset, along with general muscle/fascia constriction and tightness. Observe what’s going on right now.

Research shows that naming your emotions and identifying the feelings in your body can turn the volume down on the fear circuit in the brain and have a calming effect. Tune in and practice deep belly breathing (see sidebar). Your breath is so instrumental for helping your body—and your mind— release tension and constriction.

P: PROCEED wisely into your field of physical activity. Do it with loving- kindness and compassion and send that beautiful healing energy to yourself first, then to anyone you come in contact with or can think of. When you have negative feelings, negative thoughts, negative energy, it takes your immune system down. Consider engaging in something that will support you in this moment—a walk in nature, a cup of tea, a talk with a friend, etc.

Look for opportunities in the day to just STOP—waking up in the morning, taking a shower, before eating a meal, at a stoplight, before sitting down at work and checking email and more. It can just be a very quick pause or it can be an extended session that you’re doing for yourself and well-being.

In a hurting world, we could all use more beautiful healing energy. Whatever the stress is—you’re going to create a neural disconnect as you go through this STOP process, and you’re going to come out on the other side feeling a deeper sense of balance, calmness, peace and joy.

How to Breathe

Proper breathing technique begins with postural alignment, which is integral to optimal breathing.

  • Bring your body—sitting or standing—into postural alignment. Stand or sit up tall with your spine reasonably straight.
  • Roll your shoulders down and away from the ears.
  • Bring your head back over your shoulders, so there’s no weight on your delicate neck muscles.
  • Gently draw your tailbone downward toward the earth, bringing your pelvic bowl into neutral spine position. Now imagine there’s a silk string attached at the crown of the head gently drawing you upward. These actions subtly decompress the spine, opening up through the vertebrae, enhancing energy flow and messaging through the nervous system.
  • Mindfully check in on your posture—called mountain pose in yoga—long and strong through your spine like a mountain. To practice breathing:
  • Follow your breath in through the nostrils. Your belly gently moves outward. Then on the exhale, fully release the breath. The belly comes inward.
  • Go at your own breathing pace—making the inhale as smooth, slow, gentle and long as you can, then make the exhale as smooth, slow, gentle and long as you can.

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