Stress. An all too familiar word in this day and age. While there is nothing inherently wrong with stress, elevated stress levels for long periods of time can negatively affect our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. As physical therapists, we are well equipped with tactics to combat stress and reduce it to a manageable level. Here are some tried and true techniques that are easy to implement in your busy (and stressful) day:
When we are stressed we tend to take shallow breaths, heightening the state of "fight or flight." By purposefully concentrating on taking deep, slow breaths, you can reverse that stressful state of being. Try placing one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. Which hand moves the most when you breathe? If it is the chest hand, you are stress breathing. Try moving only at your stomach hand and very little at the chest. It only takes a few minutes periodically through your day to change your breathing.
Now that your body has slowed down, let's slow down your mind. Mindfulness is the art of being so present that all other concerns melt away. The great thing about mindfulness is it can go hand in hand with breathing! Practice taking 3 minutes every day to close your eyes and concentrate on breathing deeply and slowly. Focus on all of the sensations you feel as you breathe. What does the air feel like? Taste like? Smell like? What does your body feel as you inhale and exhale? Training your brain will help you to de-stress faster and have more control over your response to stressful situations.
You knew it was coming! We are physical therapists after all. But yes, many studies have shown strong correlations between regular exercise and decreased stress levels, improved sleep, increased psychological wellness and even improved cognitive ability. Try to get moving for 30 minutes every day. While regular exercise is important, small doses of activity can reduce stress as well. Change positions frequently, stretch, park your car farther than usual, take the stairs.
- The Whole Shebang
If you want to kill three birds with one stone, try regular participation in activities such as yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi. They each focus on all three components discussed here: breathing, meditation, and exercise.