We all encounter stress in our daily lives--it’s part of being human. But that doesn’t mean we have to let it overwhelm and consume us. Believe it or not, there are many easy ways to control your reaction to stress and keep calm in environments that would typically cause your blood pressure to skyrocket. Here are four ways to do so, according to neuroscience.
1. Breathe. As simple as it sounds, breathing mindfully can have a huge effect on your stress and anxiety levels. The connection between the mind and body is strong, and slowing your breathing can help to calm your nervous system.
Try what’s called four-square or box breathing: inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds and hold for another four seconds. Repeat as many times as you need in order to calm yourself down. The best part of this technique is that you can literally do it anywhere--even in the middle of a high-anxiety meeting or while having a one-on-one conversation with someone who’s stressing you out. Think of it as your secret weapon against stress!
2. Label your emotions. Often times self-awareness is the first step to solving a problem, and that’s very much the case in the face of stress. When an anxiety-inducing situation arises, instead of embarking on a downward spiral try labeling your emotions. It’s as simple as it sounds, but be creative in naming what you’re experiencing. For instance, instead of identifying an emotion as sad, explore if there’s an underlying theme of disappointment, shame or regret. Labeling helps us to make situations feel less threatening and better recognize how to regulate our feelings, thereby lessening our emotional and physical reactions.
3. Meditate. When you picture meditation, do you think of a Buddhist monk sitting atop a peaceful mountaintop in a perfect lotus position, Om-ing for hours? Well, meditation can be way less intense--and a lot less time-consuming--than that. In fact, starting with a just a few minutes of meditation per day can be hugely effective at reducing anxiety and helping you to chill out overall.
Not sure where to start? Try an app like Meditation Studio, Calm or Headspace and do a short session (five minutes or less). Pick a time of day, like when you first wake up, when you know you won’t be distracted and will actually remember to do it. If you’re digging it, stay with the shorter meditations for a while until you feel ready to upgrade to a longer session. With practice, you’ll be able to bring the principles of meditation to any situation without the help of an app.
4. Remain present. It’s easy to get caught up worrying about what’s going to happen in the future, or to dwell on something that happened in the past that you wish went differently. But guess what? The reality is that no matter how much time you spend on either, it won’t change the outcome. By focusing on the present--aka practicing mindfulness--and not assigning judgment to those thoughts, you’ll reduce the levels of stress in your day-to-day life.
Remember that stress is inevitable, but you have total control over how you respond.
Kaitlin Bitting is a vice president of public relations at Allen & Gerritsen and a certified health & wellness coach. She's passionate about helping people find the motivation to create lasting, positive change in their lives, whether personal or professional. Learn more at kaitlinbitting.com.