During this crazy time of unprecedented changes and significant uncertainty, it’s key to have some stress-reducing strategies available that work quickly and effectively to help you hit the ‘reset’ button, whether you’re back in the workplace or working from home.
Here’s why: struggling with chronic worry or stress gets in the way of being able to effectively manage your emotions. This in turn affects your work, your relationships, and your overall health and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, many people who experience distress try to escape their unpleasant emotions by distracting themselves in unwholesome ways that ultimately don’t work ie. addictions, distractions, or submitting to cravings.
If you suspect you might be one of them, ask yourself whether you have a tendency to judge your emotions – it’s a common thing to do. But it can fuel a vicious loop of feeling, then avoiding the feelings and feeling even worse. Pushing away feelings is like trying to force a tennis ball underwater: They just pop back up. Instead, notice and ‘normalise’ difficult emotions – just like the wide array of emotions, they are normal, natural, human. Sometimes negative feelings, including fear, can motivate us to solve problems (with the right focus and intention).
Rather than dealing with anxiety and uncertainty by getting lost in worry and stress, and then chasing short-term fixes with longer-term consequences – like procrastinating, using food or alcohol or cannabis to cope, or relying on benzodiazepines – the anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax — it’s helpful to experiment with quick strategies that will resource, enable and empower you in more adaptive ways.
These strategies are not necessarily a cure but can certainly help lower the intensity of overwhelming emotions, allowing you to recalibrate to better deal with the challenges you face.
My coaching clients often reflect that an additional perk of strategic coping is boosting your sense of self mastery and resilience — the hope that arises when you stretch yourself and accomplish something difficult, like coping with your anxiety in a productive way.
Here are some 5 minute ‘resets’ to help you get unstuck from anxiety and stress:
Havening, is an alternative therapy (officially known as The Havening Techniques™) developed by Ronald Ruden and popularised in part by hypnotist Paul McKenna. Havening is a scientifically based way of helping people with psychological problems, particularly those related to phobias, post-traumatic stress and anxiety. It relies on “amygdala depotentiation” and uses a combination of talking, visualisation, eye movements and therapeutic touch to change the way the brain stores memories of difficult events. .
It’s a safe and effective way of healing emotional difficulties caused by stressful or traumatic events that have become ‘hard-wired’ into your brain. When traumas get stuck (synaptically encoded) in the brain like this, it can cause long term difficulties like anxiety, depression or mental stress that can’t be ‘talked away’ or ‘reasoned out of’.
It’s a relatively fast, simple and gentle way to heal from trauma. Most importantly, it doesn’t require you to endlessly talk about, keep re-living or ‘raking over’ old distressing memories.
Havening can also be used as a self-help tool for improving wellbeing, stress management and peak performance.
Check out the intro video in which I demonstrate 4 havening techniques for you to try.
Box breathing, also known as square breathing, is a technique used when taking slow, deep breaths. It can heighten performance and concentration while also being a powerful stress reliever.
Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, says: “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you.”
This kind of paced breathing offers a host of physiological benefits, like reducing blood pressure, which helps promote a sense of tranquillity. When clients tell me it feels challenging to breathe in a certain way when they feel panicked, I tell them to start with alternative soothing activities, like music, and work their way up to box breathing.
Music As Medicine
Focusing on relaxing sounds reduces stress. In research spearheaded by Dr. Veena Graff, an assistant professor in the department of anaesthesiology and critical care at the University of Pennsylvania, preoperative patients were assigned either to music medicine — listening to Marconi Union’s “Weightless” — or prescribed a benzodiazepine. Incredibly, serene music proved nearly as effective in easing patients’ anxieties as the medication option, with no side negative side effects.
To honour your unique taste, you can explore different options and create a playlist that you find comforting when you need a break. Keep in mind that although it can seem cathartic to hear songs that validate your emotions (for example, listening to lyrics about heartache while feeling lonely), research on inducing varying mood states concludes that we can improve our experience with a more uplifting soundtrack. Personally, I love listening to OM chanting @528Hz (it’s the calming ‘love’ frequency).
“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears — it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear,” as Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote in “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.”
Another way to stay present rather than spin into a crisis is to notice if you’re engaged in thinking that isn’t helpful for you. Our interpretations of events supercharge the intensity of our emotions. Anticipating: “this will go on for years!” in a moment of anguish will only inspire more hopelessness.
But mindfulness, or learning to see more clearly as opposed to jumping to conclusions, is a nice remedy for anxiety. One brief and popular strategy to enter the moment is known as “anchoring.”
You can start by physically centering yourself by digging your heels into the floor — this evokes a feeling of being grounded in reality. Then take a moment to observe: What am I thinking? What am I feeling in my body? What am I noticing? Then ask yourself: Is my response:
- Aligned with my values now? Or
- Related to future worries or a past problem?
While we can get stuck in specific thoughts, stepping back to more generally decide if those thoughts are helpful (or hurtful) can get us out of rumination mode.
It may also help to tape a list of these prompts on your computer to remember to take a step back and refocus when your thoughts are making things worse.
Mindful Breathing Meditation
One way to cultivate mindfulness is to meditate. A basic method is to focus your attention on your own breathing – a practice simply called “mindful breathing.” After setting aside time to practice mindful breathing, you’ll find it easier to focus attention on your breath in your daily life – an important skill to help you deal with stress, anxiety, and negative emotions, cool yourself down when your temper flares, and sharpen your ability to concentrate.
How to do it
The most basic way to do mindful breathing is simply to focus your attention on your breath, the inhale and exhale. You can do this while standing, but ideally you’ll be sitting or even lying in a comfortable position. Your eyes may be open or closed, but you may find it easier to maintain your focus if you close your eyes. It can help to set aside a designated time for this exercise, but it can also help to practice it when you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Experts believe a regular practice of mindful breathing can make it easier to do it in difficult situations.
Sometimes, especially when trying to calm yourself in a stressful moment, it might help to start by taking an exaggerated breath: a deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds). Otherwise, simply observe each breath without trying to adjust it; it may help to focus on the rise and fall of your chest or the sensation through your nostrils. As you do so, you may find that your mind wanders, distracted by thoughts or bodily sensations. That’s okay. Just notice that this is happening and gently bring your attention back to your breath.
- Find a relaxed, comfortable position. You could be seated on a chair or on the floor on a cushion. Keep your back upright, but not too tight. Hands resting wherever they’re comfortable. Tongue on the roof of your mouth or wherever it’s comfortable.
- Notice and relax your body. Try to notice the shape of your body, its weight. Let yourself relax and become curious about your body seated here—the sensations it experiences, the touch, the connection with the floor or the chair. Relax any areas of tightness or tension. Just breathe.
- Tune into your breath. Feel the natural flow of breath—in, out. You don’t need to do anything to your breath. Not long, not short, just natural. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It might be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends, the next breath begins.
- Be kind to your wandering mind. Now as you do this, you might notice that your mind may start to wander. You may start thinking about other things. If this happens, it is not a problem. It’s very natural. Just notice that your mind has wandered. You can say “thinking” or “wandering” in your head softly. And then gently redirect your attention right back to the breathing.
- Stay here for five minutes. Notice your breath, in silence. From time to time, you’ll get lost in thought, then return to your breath.
- Check in before you check out. After a few minutes, once again notice your body, your whole body, seated here. Let yourself relax even more deeply and then offer yourself some appreciation for doing this practice today.
Now it’s your turn:
What did you think of these ideas? Which will you try? Drop me a line and let me know. Feel free to forward or share this post with others who may find it useful right now.
I hope you’ll create your own ‘reset’ plan by practicing the strategies above.
Here’s a bonus just for you:
If you’d like a little extra weekly practice, join me each Monday online at midday for a 15mins Purposeful Pause guided mindfulness meditation practice. Each week I’ll be demonstrating a different mindfulness technique to create greater calm, clarity, focus and productivity, and show you how to reduce and manage stress, anxiety, fear and panic.
Until next time: may you be safe, may you be calm and may you be well.