Tip 1: Recognize when you're stressed
It might seem obvious that you’d know when you’re stressed, but many of us spend so much time in a frazzled state that we’ve forgotten what it feels like when our nervous systems are in balance—when we’re calm yet still alert and focused.
Recognize stress by listening to your body
When you're tired, your eyes feel heavy and you might rest your head on your hand. When you're happy, you laugh easily. And when you’re stressed, your body lets you know that too. Get in the habit of paying attention to your body’s clues.
Observe your muscles and insides. Are your muscles tense or sore? Is your stomach tight, cramped, or aching? Are your hands or jaw clenched?
Observe your breath. Is your breath shallow? Place one hand on your belly, the other on your chest. Watch your hands rise and fall with each breath. Notice when you breathe fully or when you "forget" to breathe.
Tip 2: Identify your stress response
Internally, we all respond to the “fight-or-flight” stress response the same: blood pressure rises, the heart pumps faster, and muscles constrict. Your body works hard and drains your immune system. Externally, however, people respond to stress in different ways.
The best way to quickly relieve stress often relates to your specific stress response:
Overexcited stress response/HYPERAROUSAL – If you tend to become angry, agitated, overly emotional, or keyed up under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that calm you down.
Underexcited stress response/HYPOAROUSAL – If you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating and energizing.
The immobilization or “frozen” stress response
Do you freeze when under stress? The immobilization stress response is often associated with a past history of trauma. When faced with stressful situations, you may find yourself totally stuck and unable to take action. Your challenge is to break free of your “frozen” state by rebooting your nervous system and reactivating the body’s natural “fight-or-flight” stress response. Physical movement that engages both your arms and legs, such as walking, swimming, running, dancing or climbing can be particularly helpful. As you move, focus on your body and the sensations you feel in your limbs rather than your thoughts. This mindfulness element can help your nervous system become “unstuck” and move on.
Tip 3: Bring your senses to the rescue
To use your senses to quickly relieve stress, you first need to identify the sensory experiences that work best for you. This can require some experimentation. As you employ different senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste), note how quickly your stress levels drop. What is the specific kind of sound or type of movement that affects you the most? For example, if you’re a music lover, listen to many different artists and types of music until you find the song that instantly lifts and relaxes you.
Explore a variety of sensory experiences so that no matter where you are you’ll always have something you can do to relieve stress.