Most people know that traumas such as a death or a terrible accident can affect a person in a noticeable way. But most people do not realize that mild to moderate stress over a long period of time can actually have similar if not even more harmful consequences on their health.
Take 2020, for example. This year has left many of us in a state of exhaustion, seeking some sort of reprieve and something positive to look forward to.
While I cannot promise the future months ahead will be exceptionally different, I can offer up some ways to find a sense of calm in the midst of a storm. Use these activities anytime throughout your day that you want to feel more grounded.
This is a very short breathing exercise that works best in situations where you are in panic mode. In less than a minute, you can quickly bring your breathing rate and heart rate down several notches. Repeating this activity when you are not in panic mode teaches your brain and body to better regulate your internal reactions to stress, so that in future stressful situations, your automatic reactions aren’t as intense.
How to do it:
- Take a breath in through your nose very slowly while counting to four.
- Hold for one or two seconds.
- Blow the air out through your mouth slowly but forcefully, as if you were blowing out birthday candles.
- Relax for 20-30 seconds and repeat.
- Do this for two to four cycles and then continue with your day.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
This activity helps your body slow down and return to its natural blood flow after a stressful event or busy workday that didn’t include a lot of breaks. The body does not have a natural agent to quickly break down the stress chemicals that are released into the blood system, so they must be filtered out of our bodies through our liver, which can take a while. PMR helps to speed this process along and leaves us feeling relaxed and ready to continue with our day.
How to do it:
- Stretch your arms out in front of you, tighten up the muscles, and clench your fists. Hold them as tight as you can and count to 10.
- After 10 seconds, let everything loose. Open your fists and drop your arms to your side.
- Next, stretch your legs out in front of you and tighten up the muscles. Hold them as tight as you can and count to 10.
- After 10 seconds, let loose and let them drop like putty.
- Repeat this with your feet, neck and shoulders, abdomen, and face muscles.
For Kids: Have them pretend they are holding a ball or squeezing lemons, are a turtle tucking their head into a shell to hide from a predator and then popping their head back out when it’s safe, or sucking in their belly to squeeze through a small door, etc.
Tip: Think about the game “Stiff as a Board, Light as a Feather” from elementary school.
If you want to know how many forms of mindfulness there are out there, just type the word into an online video search and see what comes up. While it’s almost become a buzzword, it’s for good reason. Here, I am offering a very basic, yet very effective, way to reverse the flow of stress hormones and help your body gradually get back to the balanced levels that cause you to feel pleasantly relaxed.
How to do it:
- First, the hardest part: find a private space where you won’t be interrupted for five minutes or so.
- Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.
- Focus on your breath for a few moments. Don’t try to alter or change your breathing in any way – just notice it and notice anything about it. Is it quick and shallow? Is it deep and relaxed? Is the air cool or warm?
- Next, move to noticing your body. Start from the bottom and move up. Are your feet warm or cold? Are they relaxed in your shoes or tight? Are they dry or sweaty? What else do you notice?
- Focus on each section of your body for 20-30 seconds, moving your way up and ending with your face. (Feet, legs, mid-section, arms, back, neck/shoulders, face.)
- Keep your thoughts non-judgmental and show your body kindness through this short process.
- When you are finished, thank yourself for completing this and continue with your day.
For Kids: A tip for teaching kids how to learn mindfulness is to use food. Offer them a bowl of different types of cut-up fruit. Have them use four of their senses to describe the fruit. Start with how it looks – shape, size, color. Then, have them close their eyes to describe how it feels, smells, and tastes.
There are so many more simple and effective ways to reduce stress and feel grounded. What really matters is finding one that you enjoy, that works into your schedule, and that helps you get in a state of pleasant relaxation – even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time.
The activities in this article are meant to be tools you can use for your mental health. If you are feeling too overwhelmed or hopeless, know there is help out there. You are not alone, and you do not have to figure this all out on your own. Please reach out to a licensed professional counselor as soon as possible. // –Cindy Goehring, LPC-MH, NCC
Tips for Adding Grounding Time into Your Day
The more often you do the activities listed here, the quicker you will see results. But a highly-stressed mind can have trouble remembering to complete tasks and sticking to a routine. Here are some helpful tips for jogging your memory on what you can do to feel better the next time your stress levels start to take over.
Tear this page out of the magazine. Seriously! Fold it up and stick it in your back pocket or a jacket pocket, whichever one you empty when you get home at night. Don’t hide it away in your purse or mail pile where it will get lost forever. Keep these activities close, so you’re reminded of the tools you have as you go about your day.
Share what you learned in this article with whoever you have dinner with tonight.
Set a reminder in your phone that targets the most stressful (but not the busiest) time of your day. This will trigger your memory that you have ways to return yourself to a state of calm.
Find a Saving Our Sanity (SOS) buddy and add them to your calendar notifications so you can reach out to someone for support during your stressful times.
Sometimes, the only downtime we get is when we use the restroom or lay down to sleep. These are both excellent times to get in a few minutes of grounding and destressing!