This blog focuses a bit more on stress and the body. My previous blog looked at how as humans, we tend to spend so much time caught up in our thoughts, we can forget that we even have a body! Also that during the pandemic options to exercise were very limited and many people had to stop taking part in sports, going to the gym and fitness classes or perhaps yoga or pilates. And many of us simply got out of our normal self care routine, as we turned our attention to simply surviving what was a very challenging period.
We don’t have to throw ourselves into high powered cardio routines and weight lifting! Much more gentle movement can be extremely powerful at calming down a fraught nervous system and ensuring a good night’s sleep. As can spending time outside in nature and doing everyday things that we love:
Because stress causes muscles to tense, being stressed out can create tension headaches, backaches and general fatigue. Combat stress and these symptoms with stretches, massage or warm baths. Or try progressive muscle relaxation, a method that has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve overall mental health. To practice progressive muscle relaxation, get in a comfortable position and choose a muscle group to start with. Most practitioners seem to recommend starting with the feet and working your way up but it is fine to start with the top of your head and work down!
Simply inhale and contract the muscles for five to 10 seconds, then exhale and release the muscles suddenly. Relax for 10 or more seconds and then move on to the next muscle group. Another option is passive progressive muscle relaxation. This technique is similar to progressive muscle relaxation but skips the tensing step. This means it is especially helpful for people who have painful areas of the body such as with arthritis. Instead, simply picture each muscle group one at a time and focus on relaxing that portion of the body.
A strong body of research shows that mindful meditation can reduce psychological stress and anxiety and only a few minutes a day can bring benefits.
To get started, set aside five minutes in a quiet place to sit and breathe. Focus on the present moment. If stray thoughts intrude, gently acknowledge them and then let them go. And gently refocus and bring the attention back to the present moment. Some people prefer to listen to guided visualisations – there are many excellent ones on YouTube. Others listen to wave sounds, or other sounds of nature, or to delta waves – the slowest recorded brain waves and the deepest levels of relaxation. Here is a link to two of my own recorded meditations – one long and one short.
- Box Breathing (Used by Navy Seals!)
Before you get started, make sure that you’re seated upright in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor. Try to be in a stress-free, quiet environment where you can focus on your breathing. Keeping your hands relaxed in your lap with your palms facing up, focus on your posture. You should be sitting up straight. This will help you take deep breaths.
Step 1: Slowly exhale – Sitting upright, slowly exhale through your mouth, getting all the oxygen out of your lungs. Focus on this intention and be conscious of what you’re doing.
Step 2: Slowly inhale – Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four. In this step, count to four very slowly in your head. Feel the air fill your lungs, one section at a time, until your lungs are completely full and the air moves into your abdomen.
Step 3: Hold your breath – Hold your breath for another slow count of four.
Step 4: Exhale again Exhale through your mouth for the same slow count of four, expelling the air from your lungs and abdomen. Be conscious of the feeling of the air leaving your lungs.
Practice for 5 minutes several times a day or when you feel stressed.
Take a moment in nature
Numerous research studies have found that being out in nature, even in a local park or in a small back garden, improves mood, allows us to refocus and to calm our minds. Again the restrictions of the pandemic made this impossible for many of us for a long time, another reason why stress levels and sleep difficulties rose.
Keep your pleasurable activities
Again during the pandemic and the 5km rule, the opportunities for many of us to do the things we love, were limited. Whether we love being part of a choir, or helping out in our local community, browsing around the shops or even having a coffee with a good friend, opportunities so do these things were taken away for many months and cutting ourselves off from very simple pleasures like these can seriously affect our mood and our stress levels. Life feels very serious and narrow and we forget to do things that lift our spirits.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!