Is your pulse quickening? Your blood pressure rising? Could your heart be working a bit of overtime during this stressful situation we find ourselves in? Well, first acknowledge that your body is responding appropriately…it’s stimulating body processes mostly through the sympathetic side of the nervous system, preparing you for fight or flight. That certainly can be an effective and necessary part of our existence. But that can’t be our ‘normal’. Within the stormy seas, we must instill instances of calm and peace, in order to right the ship…and guide ourselves to shore. Let’s get there together:
- Breathe – Not just any breathing…close your mouth and breathe through the nose! Mouth breathing, which way too many of us do way too much of the time…is sourced in the upper chest, and is directly connected to the sympathetic system. Think of the mouth as being created for eating and talking…ok kissing too! The nose should be used for the breath. It sterilizes, filters, and warms the air before it enters the lungs. It encourages diaphragmatic breathing, drawing from the low abdomen (and using the diaphragm). This is directly connected to the para-sympathetic system, in which your body is allowed to rest and recover. Bonus: breathing through your nose encourages your sinuses to release the gas nitric oxide, which has been found to dilate blood vessels therefore lowering blood pressure…like what? How cool is that?
- Exercise – Fight the urge to discover more couch time…until you get your heart rate up through exercise. Whether it’s on the yoga mat, or out in Mother nature, it’s been long known that exercise is good not just physically…but psychologically. When you’re done moving, you’ll simply feel like a beast for doing so, but your body and mind will also seek out that R + R that leads to a calm state. Humans were made to move…and many health problems could be worked on simply by less sitting, and more moving.
- BRRRRRRRRR – If you want to find calm in the storm…you need to brave the cold. You’re probably thinking that being cold will add stress to the situation…not taketh away! It’s true, you may feel stressed during the cold exposure. But when you are done, you feel like a gladiator that’s just conquered everything in the Colosseum. And actually, I often quickly fall into a deep, slow breathing state in the ice bath. I’m definitely not saying it’s easy to build up the bravery to hop in…but it’s worth asking: what has been easily achieved that is worthy? Anyway, the mental feat leads you to a wonderful state of calm and collected. And once you feel your body warm itself back up after feeling as if you were hypothermic, you’ll start to wonder about what other super-human strengths you may be concealing. Our ancestors roamed around in animal skins, and found enough heat sleeping on the ground. We crank the heat, wear pajamas, and then add blankets for another layer of warmth. Stop the madness and find the cool air or water. Physically, the cold removes inflammation and helps with pain, encourages autophagy (cellular break down and repair), aids in the fat burning process, and helps you sleep better. A good way to start is by turning the faucet cold in the shower, and then getting more comfortable with that. There are some more details on that here. Good luck.
- Meditate – The research on meditation is wide and deep. The act of sitting and focusing on the breath (through the nose of course), is practical, functional, multi-faceted, and has no down side. With all of the potential benefits spanning emotional and physical well-being, everyone should find a way in. To start, sit cris-cross on a small pillow (or sit in a chair if restricted…with feet on the floor). Then guide your mind to your breathing pattern…just observe the breath. Your mind will soon flee to a concern or a wonder or an idea. Don’t judge this distraction…don’t be harsh on yourself, just gently guide your mind back to the breath. With each cycle, you’ll become more and more conscious of yourself. And this awareness will prove to help you through the rest of your day, as you become more and more conscious of your actions…your re-actions.
- Produce – For the most part, when many of us want to relax, calm down, chill…we consume. We watch videos, we read books, we scroll through feeds, we eat….we ‘take in’ something. This is input. Much of it is good and worthy. Actually, some if it is completely necessary. But we have a habit (especially Americans) of consuming way too much…way too often. And we also yearn for some type of fulfillment within that consumption. There is a hoping or wishing connected to it. A great way to feel more purposeful and content is to consider the other side of the coin…and think about production. When we produce or ‘make’ something, we build confidence, we contribute to our own identity, we put our mark on something…and more often than not, our something can help others in some way. To produce is to put out something, to create…it’s creative! If you are stressed out, anxious, or frustrated…try this: Take a day…and all the times you reach to ‘consume’ something, spend that time on ‘producing’ something. It could be writing, drawing, cooking, baking, creating a post on social media, crafting, dancing, acting, even exercising or playing a sport could be thought of as a creative expression of production. When you are done, check in with yourself, and gauge your level of contentment. I hope you were swayed in the right direction.
I wish you the best during the times of most adversity. Please comment if this was helpful, or how it could be improved in any way. Your feedback is valuable to me!