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  • Easy Relaxation Techniques to Deal With Extreme Stress

    Find some stress relief

    Stress can do some crazy things to you. It can impair your memory, cloud your mental focus, inhibit the areas of your brain responsible for speech, and generally turn off any body or brain activity that won’t help you either fight or run away from your stressor. If you’re lucky, they’ll all kick in at the same time so you won’t remember what a babbling idiot you sounded like when you couldn’t remember simple words or make a coherent sentence. Sadly, that’s never happened to me. I always remember the most embarrassing things I do or say while stressed, while forgetting the things that are truly important, like the password to my online banking or my home address.

    I have, however, found a few ways to keep myself at least somewhat calm and to minimize the effects of stress. And as is fitting to my life, I discovered it by accident. Literally. Here’s how:

    3 years ago, the day after the big blizzard of 2011, I fell on a patch of ice and broke my ankle. As you might guess, this impacted my ability to work for awhile, which also negatively impacted my income. Being self-employed, I made no money while I was laid up. Normally, that would be enough by itself to set off a code red stress attack. To make financial matters worse, I had purchased a new laptop the day before and now had payments to make on that. Oh yeah, and for the first time since getting married, my husband and I weren’t getting a tax refund; we owed. A lot. I kept waiting for the meltdown to happen, but it never did.

    At first, my ego kicked in and I thought my newfound calm was all a result of my daily mindfulness practice. Don’t get me wrong, my mindfulness practice certainly helped but sadly (for my ego) it wasn’t the primary cause of my new cool-under-fire persona.

    Then it dawned on me, I was spending a good portion of every day lying down with both feet elevated above the level of my heart and head. That’s a rest position that begins to turn down, and eventually turn off, the stress response by triggering the body’s natural relax, rest, and digest mode. I had so much swelling that my leg was elevated most of the time. The couch that I spent most of my time on was narrow enough to force me to elevate my “good” leg as well.

    Being forced into relaxation mode during a hugely stressful period in my life made me realize just how stressed out I had been for the vast majority of my life. I seriously couldn’t remember feeling calmer or more relaxed since sometime in my early childhood. I also couldn’t remember feeling more clear-headed or able to problem solve so easily. What a revelation! But more than that, what an incentive to learn more ways to do this.

    Here are a few things I found that can be incorporated into your day fairly easily:

    • Deep abdominal breathing – This may seem trite and over-used, but it works. To do this correctly, take a long deep breath in through your nose making sure that your diaphragm expands enough to make your abdomen rise. Count how many seconds it takes you to do this. Slowly exhale through your nose, making sure to take longer on your out breath than you did on your in breath.
    • Gentle pressure on the eyes – Gentle pressure on the eyeballs triggers the relaxation response. Place an eye pillow over your eyes during part of your coffee or lunch break and keep it in place by leaning back and resting your head on the back of your chair for a few minutes. If you have trouble sleeping you can find one with an elastic band to keep it on while you sleep at night. You can also take a few minutes to gently press the pads of your fingers (as a unit) very gently onto your eyes periodically throughout the day. Note: if you see little spots or have blurred vision afterward, you were pressing too hard. Remember, you’re goal is to relax not to reshape your eyeball.
    • Child’s pose – This yoga pose is known as a restorative pose. To get maximum benefit you want the center of your forehead to touch the floor. If you’re not that flexible use a yoga block or book to bring the floor closer to your forehead. Pressure on the “third eye” stimulates the vagus nerve which serves as one of the main triggers for the body’s rest and digest mode. Alternately, you can put your head down so that your forehead is in contact with the desk, or lower your head into your hands and press on the center of your forehead. They’re not as effective as actually getting down on the floor into child’s pose, but it is definitely better than nothing.
    • Legs up the wall – This is similar to how I spent the first month with my broken ankle, but even more stress-busting. Simply lie on the floor as close to a wall as you can get, place a folded blanket or pillow under your tush, and bring your feet up so that your legs are resting on the wall. Most people find 20-30 minutes to be an optimal length of time to spend like this at any one time, but you’ll get a noticeable benefit after just 5 minutes.  A modified alternative that never fails to calm me down is to take a nice warm bath, raise my feet up, and rest them on the edge of the tub. When I think about it, it’s actually a pretty close mimic to my position on the couch while my broken ankle was healing with the added bonus of being surrounded by soothing hot water.

    I was going to write out a call to action, and have you all tell me how you cope with extreme stress, but after writing out the last paragraph I’m suddenly struck with a strong desire to take a nice long bath.