Features, What The Health

Dial Down Your Stress Response

Image of Elizabeth Serieux PhD, MPH
By Elizabeth Serieux PhD, MPH

THE first thing I want to do is apologize for this article being a bit later than promised. I’ve had a few people stop me and say they were looking forward to the stress-relieving strategies – so to all of you, sorry it’s late, here we go!

Last time we explored strategies that we could use to eliminate and/or reduce stressors, thereby decreasing the frequency of activation of our stress response. In a perfect world, this would be sufficient (or maybe in a perfect world, stress wouldn’t be a problem at all), but alas, the world in which we live is far from perfect, a fact that unfortunately is becoming increasingly, glaringly obvious.
At this point, I think it’s fair to say that there will always be situations that evoke our stress response; elimination does not appear to be on the horizon just yet. That being said, let’s get to the meat of the matter: what concrete steps can we take to relax when we feel stressed?

Strategy #1: Deep Breathing.
This is very often the quickest, most convenient and easiest way to dial down your stress response. Normally, we tend to take very shallow breaths using our upper chest but with deep breathing, we pay close attention to taking slow, deep breaths from our abdomen. Try this: Sit or stand with your back straight, put your left hand on your chest and the right one on your stomach. Now, breathe in through your nose – your right hand should move and your left one should not. Now exhale through your mouth while contracting your stomach muscles and trying to push out as much air as you possibly can. Again, your right hand should move while your left one remains mostly still. You can count slowly (in your mind) while you exhale. Practice this until you get the hang of it and can do it when the need arises without having to use your hands.

Strategy #2: Visualization
Visualization is actually a form of meditation using mental images that you call up or evoke. The basic idea is to imagine a scene or context in which you feel calm and relaxed; for some of us, it may be the beach at sunset, for others it may be the beach at sunrise and still for some others it may be the forest. The possibilities are endless and are as unique as each of us.

In effect, we are transporting ourselves out of the current stressful situation and into a more relaxing one. It helps if we use as many senses as we can, so see your happy place, hear the sounds, smell it, feel the heat or the breeze on your skin — you get the picture!

Try this: Close your eyes and imagine your special spot — really see it. Conjure up a vivid picture: if it’s the beach at sunset, see the colours in the sky, feel the grainy sand under your feet, the warm water at your ankles, the sound of the waves gently caressing the shore. Keep going and add as many sensory details as you can. You should literally feel yourself “decompressing” and when you eventually open your eyes, you will have a whole different perspective of your stressor, making you more mentally and physically able to effectively address the situation.

Strategy #3: Self – Massage
Did you know that you can get some pretty amazing stress-reducing results by using your own two hands to give yourself a quick but thorough head and neck massage? In situations when you are short on time but really need to relax, try this: Stand or sit upright, close your eyes, use the fingertips of both hands to knead your neck muscles. Then make a loose fist and lightly “drum” your neck, making sure to move up, down and all around.

Now, move to the base of your skull and use your thumbs to draw tiny circles, next, use your fingertips to massage your scalp. When you’re done, lightly tap your fingers against your scalp, moving from the front to the back and then the sides. Now, use your fingertips to draw tiny circles all over your face, especially your temples, jaw and forehead. Place both middle fingers on the bridge of your nose, apply some pressure and move them outward, over your eyebrows and to your temples.

Do this several times and when you’re done, open your eyes, take a deep breath and shake your arms loosely at your sides. You should feel both relaxed and ready for the world!

Well, that’s about all for today. Rest assured that one of the best things we can do for ourselves, our families, our communities and our island is simply to take care of ourselves. In these trying times, just making sure that we do our best to put our best selves forward every day can seem like a huge task. I hope you took the time to try these strategies and I hope they help you navigate the waves in this sea of life. As always, thank you for reading and for questions/comments, contact me at Livesmart758@gmail.com.

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