You know that life is getting more stressful when you witness, as I did last week in a car park, an elderly and rather frail looking lady battering the window of a 4 x 4 with her handbag. I only saw this part of the interaction so have no idea what offence the hapless driver of the 4 x 4 might have committed. Suffice to say she looked nonplussed, though luckily her window was up she was safe.
Stress is sometimes hard to pin down as it is our response to events, rather than the events themselves, that cause stress. Therefore our stressors are many and varied. Whatever the cause of the stress, the sight of a spider or car park rage, the effects on the body are the same. Once the fight or flight mechanisms are activated we need to use up the stress hormones released or they begin to harm our bodies. The stress response is activated in an instant and research shows that even mild stress affects the cortisol levels (one of the stress hormones) in our saliva immediately.
So in some ways perhaps the elderly lady had managed her stress quite effectively as she used up the adrenaline but naturally, this type of stress release can have unfortunate, anti-social consequences. Learning to manage stress is much better for both the community at large – or your family – and your body.
One of the potential problems in contemporary life is that some of us live with low levels of stress constantly and this puts a constant strain on our minds and bodies. A life change may be the ideal way to overcome this but clearly this is not always practical and in any case, it takes time. There are lots of ways to address unbalanced lives - self-help books, coaching or therapy can all help. Hypnosis is a great de-stresser, especially for those who find it difficult to relax, as it creates the often elusive relaxed state and teaches diy skills for self help. EFT, which involves tapping on acupuncture meridians, is also a great de-stresser if you can get away somewhere private, or don’t mind people giving you funny looks. However, all of these take time and planning and it is a good idea to have some instant de-stressers at your fingertips for those occasions when you feel you might just hit someone with your handbag and your therapist is not available.
The stress response affects breathing so getting your breathing under control means that relaxation will follow. SO:
- Lower your shoulders and relax any muscles that you are aware of being tense. Unclench your jaw, your teeth, your fists. Unlock your knees.
- Put your hand on stomach close to your rib cage. This is so you can test that your breathing is deep enough. Inhale and make sure that your stomach rises under your hand. Your chest should be quite still. Breathe in on the count of four.
- Pause for as long as is comfortable, (start with four counts. You can pause for longer when you are used to the technique).
- Breathe out slowly to the count of eight and relax your body, releasing tension and keeping your shoulders dropped.
- Do this a few times, stopping if you start to feel light headed. You can breathe abdominally for longer periods as you get used to it.
Don’t wait for car park rage to strike before you practise this breathing. It is a good habit to do a minute’s abdominal breathing whenever you remember, or at set times, throughout the day. Your body, and possibly that dangerous looking Granny with a large handbag, will thank you.