Modern life is stressful. Everything happens at a thousand miles per hour, workloads feel higher than ever, and we always feel like we’re ‘switched on’. The rapid progress of technology hasn’t helped either; now we can receive work emails at any time of the day, and some of us feel like we’re obliged to reply to them. The gap between our personal lives and our professional lives has never felt smaller. We take our work home, and we take our home life into work too. Sometimes, it all feels like it’s getting a little bit too much.
Ten years ago, if you complained about stress becoming an issue, you’d have been told to take up yoga or meditation, but who has time for that? Taking time away isn’t always an option either; especially if the stress is actually coming from home. What you need is a ‘quick hit’ solution that drops stress levels there and then, and allows you to cool down and think about things rationally. That’s exactly what we’re going to give you right now. Here are five days to dial back stress when it’s becoming overwhelming.
1. Try The 4-7-8 Breathing Strategy
You don’t have time to meditate, and you probably couldn’t do so in the office anyway, but you do have time to take a second and breathe properly. Becoming conscious of your breathing, and breathing in a structured manner, is like a meditation shortcut. You get most of the benefits without having to spend time sat in the lotus position.
Simply sit back in your chair (or even on the floor if you’d prefer), and straighten your back. For the next four seconds, breathe in slowly. Once you get to four, hold your breath for seven seconds. At seven seconds, breathe out as slowly as you can, and try to keep breathing out for eight seconds. You’re breathing out for longer than you’re breathing in, and if you do it right, you’ll physically feel the tension leaving your body. It might take a couple of attempts to get it right, but you’ll be glad of it when you do.
When your stress levels have peaked, you’re not in a position to do any good for yourself or anybody else. Whether you’re at work or at home, you may not be able to step away from what you’re doing for an hour, but you can manage fifteen minutes. You wouldn’t have been able to focus or do anything productive for those fifteen minutes anyway. If it helps, go to the toilet and seal yourself in. Get your phone out, and do something that’s going to cheer you up.
If you like reading e-books, fifteen minutes reading time will help to focus your brain and sooth you. Fifteen minutes is also enough time to listen to a lot of podcasts. If you have a hobby, you might want to indulge that for a short burst. Do you do crosswords? See if you can get a quick one done. Do you like to gamble? Have a pop over to Rose Slots and hit the mobile slots for a game or two. Fifteen minutes isn’t going to hurt anybody, and it should be all the time you need to step back from the brink. Although we are definitely not suggesting that gambling is a good escape from reality, but it can be fun if you gamble responsibly.
3. Focus On One Thing
When you’re really stressed, what your mind really needs is a distraction from whatever’s pushed you to that level. It’s like you’re in a car, driving towards a wall, and you need to reach across and pull the steering wheel round to get back onto the road. You can force your brain to change course by telling it to focus on one thing, and one thing only.
It can be anything you like; whatever is easy to dial in on at the time. Become aware of your heartbeat, and start counting it. If you’re walking somewhere, focus on how each footstep feels. Notice the wind or the air moving across your face? Really be aware of it. Feel it. If it’s an option, take a bite of some food and put all your effort into noticing how it tastes. None of this solves the problem of whatever is stressing you out; it just cools your brain back down to a level where it can think about dealing with it.
4. Get It All Written Down
Quite often, stressful thoughts build up and spin around our head, going nowhere, but feeling like they’re getting faster each time. You need to get them out of your head so the process stops. Writing them down is the easiest way to do it. It might seem like you’re doing nothing but transferring the problem onto paper, but you’d be surprised at how much better it makes you feel. It’s almost like your brain treats writing the problem down as the first step in solving it, and relaxes to let you think more clearly.
Some people call this process a “brain dump”. It takes the emotion out of a problem or a frustration, and turns it into a simple fact written on paper. Because the emotion isn’t there, the issue looks easier to solve, and you may find that writing it down even helps you to start coming up with solutions. Nothing can be solved when it’s all locked up inside your head. Release it, and reduce the burden on yourself.
5. Stroke An Animal
We realize straight away that this isn’t a solution that’s open to everyone, especially in a work environment (although more and more businesses are bringing in official office pets for this exact reason). If you have a pet at home, go and spend fifteen minutes with them. If you don’t have a pet, and you find yourself becoming stressed often, then a pet might be exactly what you need.
Stroking furry animals actually releases both serotonin and dopamine into your brain. These are the chemicals that make you feel good. The more contact you have with a friendly animal that lets you stroke it, the better you’ll feel. The worst problem in the world can feel like nothing after fifteen minutes with a helpful dog or cat. It won’t make the stressful feelings go away forever, but it will reduce their impact for now, and when stress hits you hard that’s exactly what you need.