Whether there are too many obligations or too much stress, feeling anxious and overwhelmed can bring your productivity to a screeching halt. When the stakes are high, the last thing you need is low focus and low motivation. Our bodies are designed to protect and preserve our well-being. But when stress is prolonged and our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) takes over, it can have negative effects on our health and peace of mind. The fight-or-flight reaction that our SNS creates to keep us safe from danger actually causes panic like symptoms including, short & shallow breaths, tightening of the muscles, increased heart rate, and intensified negative emotions in preparation for survival. When this happens, we’re lit up like a billboard in Times Square on New Years Eve. Use these quick tips to bring mindful relaxation practice to your day.
There are many ways to practice mindful breathing. Being mindful simply means being fully aware of something, without judging or resisting it, and being fully present in the moment. Begin by getting into a comfortable position and take three deep breaths all the way into your belly. Feel your belly rise and fall as you notice the sensation of the air entering your nose, filling your lungs, and exiting your body. Now relax each breath to feel like a natural, full breath without forcing its length or depth. Simply focus on the the act of a comfortable inhale and exhale 10 times. This can slow your heart rate, reduce the activation of your SNS, and activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which calms, soothes, and relaxes your body.
Bring your attention to your body. Close your eyes and scan your body from head to toe or toe to head, progressively working your way up or down all of your body. Notice your shoulders, arms, hands, chest, back, hips, legs, and feet. Where are you feeling tension or tightness?. Remembering to take mindful breaths, focus on the area that aches. Breath in and out while focusing on that part and gently say or think, “relax”. Spend a few minutes on this each day.
Meditation is known to develop regions of the brain responsible for attention, compassion, and empathy. Studies have shown it decreases stress related cortisol, strengthens the immune system, and improves mood. So what’s stopping you from doing it? It only takes 10 minutes each day. Begin by getting into a comfortable position. Focus on mindful breathing. Take 10 breaths to get started. Use your breath as your anchor. Be aware of what is moving through your mind – thoughts, dreams, wishes, plans, images, memories, feelings, environmental sounds. Simply notice what you are experiencing without getting pulled into them. Keep settled into your breath, noticing increasing peacefulness. Be aware of the changing content of your mind as you accept and let it go. Fully experience the growing peace and spacious awareness. When you are ready to end your mediation, take in the calm relaxation.
Imagery quiets the internal verbal chatter, the self critic, the worry wart. It can activate your parasympathetic nervous system by processing images rather than words. When you are feeling stressed or are having trouble sleeping, imagine yourself in a favorite place. It might be a beach, a lake, in the mountains, or your in own bedroom. Maybe its an imaginary place you’ve never visited by always dreamed about. Visualize walking around in that place or lying down and simply observing. What do you see, hear, smell, and feel? Fully put yourself there in your mind.
The benefits of exercise are not a mystery. The physical exertion reduces stress as it balances hormones, and builds muscle strength and bone density. Once a certain level of intensity is reached, endorphins are released which soothe and calm the body. They are your natural source of morphine-like chemicals. Cortisol, a stress hormone diminishes through exercise. Refocus your thoughts and efforts to self care and strengthening your body. It will help you feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally.