Hey, it happens to all of us. Things in your week begin to pile up, then overflow into the next week. Work, exercise, kids, social time, more work... it can sometimes be hard to find a balance between it all. As much as I try not to overload, sometimes it is unavoidable. The key for me is to savor small moments of quiet and rest, to remain in the present moment and not get stressed by looking ahead to the busy week. Here are five tips to stay calm and focused through a stressful period.
1. Take full, deep breaths. Stress causes (and can be caused by) short, shallow breaths into the chest. As yogis, we want deep, full breaths all the way into the belly. And, don't be hard on yourself if you catch yourself not breathing optimally. Just take notice of it, and return to your calm, steady breath. Lay down on your back (or sit upright in a chair, if laying down is not a possibility), put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Feel the breath move in through your mouth and all the way down to your belly. Stay here for one minute or longer.
2. Move your body. Do some sun salutations in your office, go for a walk outside, close the blinds and dance to a rockin' song, even just do a few stretches in your chair or walk to the bathroom. Moving your body will do several things: it will change your perspective, give a little space in your mind to process, get your breath flowing, and will physically burn off the adrenaline that your body naturally releases when you are stressed. Your body instinctually goes into fight-or-flight mode and releases adrenaline in stressful times, so you have the energy to run away from your predator. Burn that stuff off! Or you will grow increasingly agitated.
3. Tell yourself, "I am relaxed." Simply by telling your mind to relax, you can make yourself relax. Close your eyes, and with your inhale, quietly say to yourself, "I am," and on your exhale, "relaxed." You could even go through your main body parts, telling yourself the body part that is relaxed. For instance, "My legs are relaxed, my torso is relaxed, my mind is relaxed..." This takes only a couple minutes; you could do it once a day at lunch.
4. Drop your shoulders, soften your jaw. Sometimes when stress creeps in, we begin to clench our jaws and press or even grind our teeth together. People can even do this in their sleep, without being aware of it. Ever wake up with a sore jaw? You're probably grinding your teeth in your sleep. Relax your shoulders away from your ears, soften your jaw, and allow a gap of space between the middle of your tongue and the roof of your mouth. The end of your tongue (towards the tip) can be lightly touching. If you want to go even further, try to widen the base of your tongue. To me, this is an instant cue for melt-ation. It makes my whole face and body relax.
5. Laugh. Find something funny. It could be your hilarious co-worker, your best friend, your kid, even something on YouTube. Just find something funny, and laugh your ass off! Really let yourself go. Laugh from the bottom of your belly; maybe even try on a different laugh than your own -- see how that sounds. Laughing releases endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals in your brain. It will instantly reduce your stress hormones, I promise.