People tend to relieve stress in the form of a drink, comfort food or a couple hours in front of the television. The problem with these “fixes” is that they don’t actually reduce stress. They won’t lower the levels of the hormone your body releases (cortisol) after a hard day or tough situation. Unfortunately, we resort to de-stressing by doing whatever requires the least mental work. Instead, developing awareness of what your body tells you is the strongest force to relieve stress, and it doesn’t ask for extra brain power. When it comes to making better decisions on how to keep calm, looking within is always a good choice.
Listen to Your Body
The ability to listen to your body is the most underrated resource to utilize when stressful situations occur. Thoughts only come after the body’s reaction to a situation. The body immediately responds to an external situation by tensing or disarming, and it sends a corresponding message to your brain. You can already tell when you’re hungry or sleepy, but many more emotions go through your body on a daily basis, and they deserve the same awareness. Most of all, the art of knowing what your body tells you makes it easier to identify why you’re stressed. Listening to your body means asking questions that focus on specifics. Consider these “check-ins:”
- If I focus on one part of my body, how does it feel?
- Which muscles in my body feel tense?
- What specific events in my life feel like a weight or burden?
- What’s something that happened today that made my body tense up?
- What’s happening to my breathing?
Once you practice questions like this daily, over time the feelings will register in your mind, just like hunger or sleepiness do.
A Simple Action Step
Our body’s response to stress is still from an ancestral standpoint. Incoming stressors tell the body “there may be physical danger nearby.” We don’t have that problem like our ancestors did with predators, but our body still contains that fight-or-flight emotion. Deep Breathing is the body’s first line of defense. It sounds simple, but it’s still one of the most fundamental teachings to stress relief. Deep breathing reduces cortisol levels dramatically to relieve anxiety and stress. To reduce stress, develop the ability to fully listen to your body and practice deep breathing techniques. Even five minutes of deep breathing compared to the recommended 20-30 minutes are vital to stress reduction.
Watch this TedTalk from Seattle Doctor, Brad Lichtenstein, as he entertains the importance and beauty of breathing.
For more on Dr. Lichtenstein’s practice, visit thebreathspace.com.