When stress strikes, self-care often takes a backseat. During stressful periods in our lives, we tend to focus outward. We disregard our inner life, ignoring our needs and limits. Yet ironically, it’s during those difficult times when we need to care for ourselves the most. That’s when we most need to engage in the activities that nourish us. Practicing self-care not only helps us feel better, it also helps us function at our best. It replenishes our reserves, boosts our energy, and provides clarity. In short, self-care supports our health and well-being.
Stress management is at the heart of effective self-care. You can’t avoid all stress, nor would you want to. A little stress is actually a good thing — it can boost your brainpower, immunity, and resiliency. But when stress becomes chronic, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed, anxious, forgetful and exhausted. Stress can also make you unhappy, increasing your risk for anxiety and depression. Read on to learn about four proven stress management techniques that can effectively bring tranquility to your life:
- Belly Breathing: When we’re under stress, our chest tightens and our breathing becomes shallow and rapid. This type of breathing is a hardwired response that helps us respond to danger. Chest breathing elicits the “flight or fight response”, which starts a cascade of events: heart rate and blood pressure increase, blood gets directed away from the brain and diverted to muscles, and a flood of stress hormones is released. Ideally, after a perceived danger has passed, breathing returns to normal. The problem for most of us is that chest breathing is our normal way of breathing! But you can change that by practicing this easy belly breathing exercise:
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
- Place one hand on your chest and one on your stomach.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth.
- Then slowly inhale through your nose, concentrating on keeping your chest still while expanding your stomach.
- You should notice a fall and rise of your stomach, and not your chest, if done properly.
Do this breathing exercise 20 per day to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Meditation: Meditation makes us more resilient and less reactive to stress by decreasing the number of neurons in the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and stress. It increases levels of the calming neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), putting the brakes on brain activity and allowing relaxation to occur. Meditation also keeps us focused on the present so we spend less time worrying about the future and reflecting on the past.. You can find a wide assortment of meditation videos and tutorials online.
- Yoga: It’s estimated that more than 15 million Americans practice yoga regularly. One reason for the popularity of this 5,000-year-old practice is that people are looking for a way to de-stress and yoga excels at it. Yoga slows breathing and heart rates, lowers blood pressure, and increases heart rate variability. Just a single one-hour session of yoga can increase GABA by a whopping 27%! Conduct some online research to find yoga poses that are specifically intended to combat stress.
- Neurofeedback: Neurofeedback works by giving the brain feedback on how well it’s working. In this way, the brain can literally be trained to perform better. Neurofeedback training has proven to be very helpful in responding to stress because it stabilizes the central nervous system. As a result, the body produces fewer stress hormones as the central nervous system becomes trained to better cope with varying demands. Additionally, neurofeedback allows the agitation caused by stress to be reduced and self-control to be increased, ultimately improving self-esteem, concentration, and organizational skills.
Self-care practices are intensely personal. How you choose to manage stress will depend on your personality and preferences. Whatever you choose, remember that self-care is not an indulgent or needless practice but is essential for your well-being.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS, Executive Director at The Better Brain Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 833-964-8483 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.