Stress is part of everyone's life. Often we cannot change our external circumstances. But we can always do something about our physiologic responses to stress. There are many ways of learning to deal with stress, and whatever way you choose, it is likely to be a life-long process.
We have developed a fairly simple program to reduce the harmful effects of stress on your mind, on your body, and on your headaches. It can be practiced for a few minutes/day when you first wake up in the morning and when you go to sleep at night. But the real key is learning how to bring the practice into the heat of battle - your day-in and day-out life.
It's a 3-step program:
Progressive muscle relaxation
Bring your relaxation response into your daily activities - One breath relaxation
Allaboutdepression.com is a comprehensive site that has some great audio downloads to get you started. Start with the diaphragmatic breathing, and practice it until you are doing it naturally throughout the day. Then practice the progressive muscle relaxation exercises. It usually takes 1 - 2 weeks of practice before you can recruit this relaxation response during your daily activities - which is the goal.
If you're familiar with diaphragmatic breathing, you can start with progressive muscle relaxation. If you're familiar with progressive muscle relaxation, and actively practice it, you can go straight to One-breath relaxation.
You can reduce your stress in the timespan of a single breath, simply by adjusting your breathing, and allowing yourself to smile! You’ll be surprised with the results if you try it.
How could this be? Every thought, feeling, and action registers inside your body and changes your physiology. Stress and irritability are reflected in your posture, breath, and facial expression. But scientific studies have shown that you can also change how you feel by changing your breathing, facial expression and posture.
Most people breathe by expanding their chest, using their upper back and neck muscles to raise the rib cage. A relaxation response can be triggered by breathing from your belly (like a cat, or a baby).
Although “putting on a happy face” can be artificial, allowing a genuine smile to form creates a powerful sense of relaxation. It is a subtle change in facial expression, a half-smile, a “ghost of a smile.” The smile should touch your eyes and the corners of your mouth – think of Mona Lisa. The feeling that comes with a genuine smile spreads through the body – there is a sense of tension letting go. You might want to picture something that makes you smile naturally – watching a cat, taking a soothing bath, your first sip of coffee in the morning. You want to capture the feeling of “aaaahhhh . . . ” relaxation. If you can’t do it, try forcing a big belly laugh (“ha-ha-ha”). That will get you to smile.
The proper breath -
1. Place one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest. Take a good breath. If you’re like most people, your chest expands but your stomach does not move much.
2. Lie down on your back and close your eyes. Place your hand on your stomach and chest again. Most people naturally breathe through their stomach in this position. Take some normal breaths to be sure your stomach expands as you breathe in, and goes down as you breathe out.
3. Once you have the hang of it, continue breathing this way. Place your hands wherever they are most comfortable.
4. Now, let a smile spread from your lips and eyes to gently spread through your body. Enjoy this “mini-mental massage.”
5. As your thoughts wander (which they will) and your smile fades, just bring yourself back each time to an awareness of the breath and the smile.
6. Once you are pleasantly relaxed, open your eyes, but continue the calm breathing and the smile.
7. When ready, sit up, but continue to breathe from your stomach, and to smile.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile;
but sometimes your smile may be the source of your joy.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Starting the day.
As soon as you wake up, lie on your back, and start your abdominal breathing. Let a gentle smile spread from your eyes and mouth, through your body. Your thoughts will wander into the day or into worry – picture yourself going through the day’s activities breathing and gently smiling. Once you have felt a good deep sense of relaxation, open your eyes, but keep your breathing and smile. See how far through your morning routine you can keep the breathing and smile going.
Throughout the day.
There are numerous opportunities throughout the day to get back the sense of tranquility that you are developing with your breath and smile. Three specific opportunities are: pauses, reminders, and “paradoxical relaxation.”
Every time there is a pause between activities, go back to your breath and your gentle smile. Many of these are times when you are “stuck,” and might otherwise feel frustrated.
· stuck in line at a grocery store
· stopped at a red light
· if you’re in a service industry, in between people interactions
· before starting any new activity (household chores, meals)
à During activities. Any “mindless” activity can be turned into a “mindful” activity.
· household chores
· meetings (where you are listening most of the time)
Throughout the day, think of events that occur repeatedly that might now feel like interruptions, but could be opportunities for a breath/smile break.
· telephone ringing – instead of responding immediately, purposefully allow it to ring one extra time, and in the space of that moment, take your breath and smile.
· red lights while driving
à “Paradoxical relaxation.”
These are the greatest challenge, and the greatest reward for the breath/smile. Anytime you find yourself feeling irritated/frustrated/annoyed, return to your breath (even if you can’t” get to your smile).
· TV commercials
· telephone solicitors
· annoying interactions with co-workers, friends, and family