These days most of us are stressed to the max. Our overcrowded schedules and fast-paced lives leave us in a perpetual state of frenzy, even our sleep compromised by operating in this chronically stressed state. Currently,anxiety is the number one mental health concern in our country, impacting over 40 million Americans. Despite its prevalence, many of us are never taught the basic skills necessary to soothe ourselves, putting an end to our overactive fight or flight response. Let’s take a look at three things you can do to almost calm yourself instantly from within.
1. Slow down. It’s an automatic response to stress to speed up in an attempt to keep up and overcome the challenges and tasks in front of us. This need to speed up is exacerbated by an ongoing stream of information overload ranging from emails and texts to social media and advertisements. We are conditioned to respond at this same frenetic pace, automatically tuning out what it is doing to us inside. To counteract this, pay attention to how you feel internally when you simply remind yourself to slow down. You’ve got this. You are going to get through whatever is in front of you. But slow your internal pace as you go throughout your day. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel by the end of the day. Interestingly, your productivity will not suffer. In fact, more will get accomplished as your focus increases, you have better clarity of mind, and your reactions are better balanced.
2. Just Breathe. Research shows a correlation between emotions and respiration. Learning to self-sooth through breathing not only decreases stress, but it also increases our emotional intelligence as we have greater mastery over our reactive state. There are various breathing techniques which help us practice mindfulness and aid in calming our body’s fight or flight response. The simple act of breath awareness can aid in reducing stress, regardless of the specific exercise. A simple practice when you’re overwhelmed (and no one will know you’re doing it), is to say to yourself as you inhale, “I am” and as you exhale, say to yourself “calm.” Repeat this over and over as you inhale and exhale, for at least 3-4 consecutive minutes. Watch as this simple, yet highly effective, practice calms your nervous system and your overall response to stress.
3. Prioritize Nature. Getting out in nature is often undervalued, something that we may want to do, but it ends up on the bottom of our list. Exposure to nature reduces fear, worry, stress and anger as well as reducing stress hormones in the body. In fact, spending 20-30 minutes a day in nature has been associated with the biggest drop in the body’s cortisol levels. Nature typically operates at a calmer pace, and we become in sync with that rhythm the more time we spend in nature. Focusing on the birds chirping, the clouds moving in the sky or the leaves rustling in the wind, nurtures us in a way that nothing else can.
These simple practices require very little effort, but making them a conscious priority can have a dramatic impact on the overall quality of our lives. As we operate from a calmer state, we increase our emotional intelligence by becoming less reactive and overwhelmed, and we feel happier and more connected, improving our relationships with others and our own well-being.
Avery Neal, PhD, LPC is a practicing psychotherapist, international author and speaker. In 2012 she opened Women’s Therapy Clinic, which offers psychiatric and counseling support to women. Avery is the author of, “If He’s So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Recognizing and Overcoming Subtle Abuse,” which has been translated and published in twelve languages. Her articles and interviews have been published by Oprah.com, DailyOM, Counseling Today, American Counseling Association, Best Self Magazine, Hitched Magazine, Bustle, POPSUGAR and PKWY Magazine and her courses have been taken by nearly 18,000 people worldwide. For more information visit www.averyneal.com.