Stress is sneaky. Especially right now, as we are all stuck at home in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Sometimes you don’t even know that you are stressed out until your start feeling it very clearly in your body. You turn your head and your neck hurts. You feel a constant pit in your stomach. You notice your heart is beating faster than normal, even when you are not physically active.
Some stress is normal and not all stress is bad.
Yet, chronic stress can do a real number on your body. It can mess up your hormones, it can weaken your immune system and pave the way for illness, it can make you eat way more than usual and gain weight… Let’s be honest: who hasn't gained a couple pounds since the beginning of the quarantine? I can tell you, I have!
Stress and Inflammation
Scientists are learning more all the time about the impact stress has on our health. According to a study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience in 2019, “chronic stress is associated with increased inflammatory activity”. Considering that inflammation is associated with practically every disease process affecting our bodies, that alone is a good reason to do what we can to lower our stress level.
A common way to fight off stress
Many of us were taught to ignore stress and “walk it off”, hoping that it would just magically disappear. Honestly, sometimes, it works! More often than not, though, it doesn’t.
“Pushing through” is not always the best thing you can do to get through a tough period, since it can keep your stress hormones elevated. Feeling stressed can even become your new "normal," and some of us don’t feel like ourselves unless we are under constant pressure.
What can YOU do about stress?
The good news is, you can take back control by learning some simple techniques that will calm your body, ease your mind, and lift your spirit. The most effective way to beat stress is to eliminate it at the source instead of reacting to it. To discover a step-by-step process to eliminate stressors from your daily life, I encourage you to read my previous article Make Fewer Decisions To Reduce your Stress.
But once stress is here, is it too late?
No, it's not! You can equip yourself with tools to reduce your stress level and improve your quality of life (and health!) as we deal with this pandemic and stay-at-home orders.
You can learn how to use the powers within your own body to cope with stress.
Breathe Stress Away
Breathing is a very powerful tool to combat stress. It is so efficient that it is actually worth taking several short “breathing breaks” a day.
Deep breathing helps calm your autonomic nervous system, the system that controls your automatic functions like heartbeat, blood pressure, swallowing, etc. It only takes a few minutes to feel more relaxed and less stressed.
Let's review 3 techniques to help get you started with a breathing practice that could really make a huge difference in the way you feel and navigate the current situation (and life in general!).
1. BELLY BREATHING
Shallow breathing and stress go hand in hand. Retraining your body to take deeper breaths will help you feel more relaxed and it can even help strengthen your deep core muscles.
Make time for belly breathing sessions every week or even every day if that’s a possibility for you right now. You can do this lying down or seated. Breathing deeply can make you feel sleepy, at least until you get used to it, so it might be a good idea to do it whenever you are able to take a short nap, and definitely at night, before bedtime.
- Sit comfortably in a chair or lay comfortably on your back, your knees bent and your shoulders, head, and neck relaxed. Place one hand on your stomach, just below your rib cage, and the other hand on your upper chest.
- Breathe in slowly through your nose, feeling your stomach move out against your hand. The hand against your chest shouldn’t move.
- Next, draw your stomach in as you exhale through your mouth. Again, the hand on your upper chest shouldn’t move.
- Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
2. THE 5/5/10/5 TECHNIQUE
Dr. Hill, Founder and Owner of New Balance Chiropractic in Seattle, shares with us his favorite breathing technique for stress relief. It is very simple and you can do it anywhere, anytime. You can breathe this way several times throughout your day and will most likely feel the effect on your body right away.
3. BOX BREATHING
This calming technique has been used by Navy SEALs, first responders, nurses, teachers, and many more. It involves controlling both parts of your breath: breathing in AND breathing out, as well as holding your breath in between.
- Sit up straight in a chair, feet flat on the floor.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth as much air as you possibly can, for a total of 4 counts.
- Hold your breath for 4 counts.
- Gently and slowly breathe in through your nose for 4 counts.
- Hold your breath again for 4 counts.
For a full session of box breathing, repeat the cycle for a total of 4 times through.
4. ENERGETIC BREATHING
There is another powerful breathing technique out there, that was made popular by Wim Hoff, also called the Iceman. He is a Dutch athlete who has set world records for swimming in cold water and withstanding freezing temperatures. This breathing technique will supposedly leave you feeling energized and relaxed. Yet, it might also make you feel lightheaded and some people have passed out. For that reason, I am not going to describe the technique here. I would rather have you look it up and decide whether it is something that you feel comfortable and safe trying out. Personally, I don’t like that breathing method… It stresses me out big time!
Stress relief beyond breathing
Breathing is only one way to lower your stress level and there are a myriad of techniques that will help you feel less stressed. It would be too long to list them all in this article but you can download my Beat the Stress eGuide. It includes 20 additional tips to help you relax in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.
From time-out sessions to prioritizing tasks, I am confident that you will find some tools in this eGuide to help you feel more at peace. If you share this guide with other people in your household, they will most likely find suggestions that work for them too.
I hope these tips will help you lower your stress levels during the COVID-19 quarantine and way beyond, so that you can find more balance in your daily routine.
Take it easy when you can
Whatever the source of your stress, keep in mind that we are going through very challenging times. Don't try to be perfect! If you need a little more comfort food that usual, so be it! If dinner is not balanced every night, who cares? If some days the kids spend hours watching YouTube instead of doing their online studies, it will most likely not ruin the rest of their life.
Please, give yourself some slack and if you need support, feel free to reach out to me.
We will talk about your main stressors and ways to mitigate them if that's what you think will be helpful for you. Allons-y ! Let's go!