Pulling out a post that's been in my drafts for awhile. Some stress-reducing steps from the
Top 10 Cool-Down Strategies, by Katherine Raymond1. "Belly breathing:" One of the simplest ways to calm the body down is by breathing into your stomach. "Put one hand on your belly and softly breathe into your hand, so it rises with the inhale and falls with the exhale," instructs Jon Seskevich, a stress management expert at Duke University Medical Center. "Every time the belly starts to rise, it sends the message to the body: 'It's safe, I can start to relax.'"
2. Humor: "Joy is this wonderful thing that relaxes your whole system," explains yoga instructor Cathy Calderon. "So it's a very practical thing to laugh and feel enjoyment." Bookmark a comedy Web site or keep a funny photo of your kid in your wallet for the next time you need to let off steam.
3. Exercise: "Exercise is a fantastic way to de-stress," says Kathy HoganBruen, Senior Director of Prevention at the National Mental Health Association. Even stretching out or taking a walk around the block will do wonders to clear your head.
4. Tune in to your body: Dr. HoganBruen also recommends doing an internal scan of where you feel tight or rigid. You may not even realize how much tension you're storing up. "Look at your body language and physically make yourself relax with a looser posture," she suggests. "Close your eyes and cool yourself down."
5. Muscle relaxation: You can also calm the body by systematically "relaxing select muscle groups," says Christian VanDenBerg, Director of the Executive Health Program at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Begin at the top of your body and progress downwards. Tense each muscle, see how it feels, then relax it. Concentrate on the difference between the feelings."
6. Redirect your attention: Look up from a frustrating project to keep from burning out. "If you can break the hold of the computer and look out the window, stress starts to loosen," observes Dr. Fred Luskin of the Stanford Forgiveness Project. "If you're stuck at something, step away and picture yourself being successful at what you're stuck at."
7. Visualize: "If you're going into a stressful situation, give yourself a calming mental cue, like 'If I start feeling my heart rate go up, I will think of the color blue,'" says Carolyn Lopez of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
8. Repeat a mantra: "Think a short positive thought that has meaning to you, like 'easy does it,'" advises Jon Seskevich. "And silently repeat that to yourself over and over. So you might breathe in 'easy' and breathe out 'does it.' As soon as your mind wanders, let go of the thought and come back to the relaxation word. With this exercise, when worries come up, you learn to let them go and come back to your focus."
9. Vent: If your last nerve is frayed and you're about to snap, "find someone you trust whom you can talk to about how you feel," Seskevich counsels. Open up to a friend who can listen without judging or trying to fix things.
10. Practice: Trying any of these strategies for the first time during a crisis probably won't work. "Make the effort to practice — don't wait until you're under stress," urges Dr. Lopez. Spend five minutes daily on the way to work or before bed to ingrain the habit. Dr. HoganBruen adds, "Try out different things and work with what works for you." Mastering stress management takes time — but when you find the strategy that clicks, your nerves will thank you.
Katherine Raymond is a freelance writer, editor and Web producer based in NYC. She has written and edited features on health, wellness, fitness and food for numerous print and on-line publications.