When we get overstressed, we hold tension in the muscles all over our bodies, from our jaws to our shoulders and even our shins and the bottoms of our feet. We have trouble focusing and feel anxious, jittery, and overwhelmed.
What can we do if we, or our clients, are overcome with stress?
Take two minutes to practice this stress relieving technique, and you’ll find yourself feeling lighter, more focused, and calmer to take on the task at hand.
Want to learn more ways to help your clients cope with stress? Read this post: Help Your Clients Cope with Stress & Anxiety.
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Why Do We Feel Stressed?
Many situations can cause a person to feel stressed.
It all begins with what we call a stressor—or something that triggers a stress response. Stressors include things like threats on your health or safety, trying to make a deadline, feeling short of time or energy, or feeling uncertain about the future.
The stressor triggers a stress response, which is a series of chemical processes that occur in the body after your senses have identified a cause of stress, including hormone and energy release. The hormones that are released modify your behavior—for better or for worse.
Many situations can cause you or your clients to feel stress. Some of the most common include:
- Isolation from friends and family
- Not feeling validated in your relationship
- Losing a partner or a friend
- Feeling unfulfilled at work
- Losing a job
- Starting a new job
- Getting a divorce or ending a relationship
- Uncertainty about what is to come
- Feeling overworked
- Not getting enough rest or sleep
- Being overbooked or having too many commitments
- Having an illness or perceiving the risk of an illness
While these events are normal for any individual, at times it may be more difficult for individuals to manage their surroundings to reduce stressors or to manage their emotions. This is where stress-reducing techniques, like the ones we mentioned above, are useful tools to put into practice regularly.
Some Stress Is Healthy…
We tend to think of stress as a force that is always negative to our health. This is because we live in a time where chronic stress is becoming more and more common.
However, it is important to know that stress isn’t always bad—in fact, healthy levels of stress are essential to our survival and wellbeing. When stress levels are moderate, then the changes in your body make you act quicker, be more focused, and even exert greater strength.
If we didn’t feel stress when we saw a car coming straight at us, we’d be less likely to move out of the way.
And for a less extreme example, when we feel stress before a big life event, like starting a new business or having a baby, stress allows us to make sure we are on top of important decisions and that we are prepared for what is to come.
This phenomenon is best described by the Yerkes-Dodson Law. With light to moderate stress, performance increases. However, when stress levels become too high for us to manage (which is different for each individual), performance decreases.
This phenomenon is illustrated in the graphic below.
What Are Some Common Signs of Stress?
Physical signs of stress
- Muscle tension
- Pounding heart
- Clenched jaw
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Stomach ache
- Sexual difficulties
- Problems sleeping
- Loss of appetite
Psychological signs of stress
- Bad or negative mood
- Feeling dazed
- Feeling anxious or hypervigilant
- Angry outbursts
- Overwhelming desire to cry
- Inability to focus
When the causes of stress are not resolved over a long period of time, you may develop chronic stress. Long-term stress has a major impact on your health and wellbeing, including mental health problems, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and eating disorders, skin and hair problems, menstrual irregularity, and digestive disorders.
Two Minutes and Two Ways to De-Stress
There are many techniques that can help you de-stress, and you may find that you or your clients prefer certain techniques over others.
Some of the most common do-it-yourself techniques for reducing stress include:
- Breathing techniques
In the two-minute technique we detail in this article, we have combined exercises and stretching to help release the physical signs of stress and a well-studied breathing technique developed by Dr. Andrew Weil to help relieve the psychological signs of stress.
Follow the steps below:
1 minute of Muscle Tension Release: for the physical signs of stress
- Find a place to sit quietly or lie down.
- Tense the muscles in your body for 3-5 seconds, one area at a time, and release.
- Start with the muscles in your face, including your forehead, eyelids, cheeks, and jaw.
- Move down your shoulders by lifting them up to your ears and releasing them, then down your arms, and to your hands by clenching your fingers into a fist. Release.
- Next, tense your back muscles, abs, glutes, thighs, calves, feet, and toes, one muscle group at a time, and release.
- Consciously make an effort to focus only on each muscle group and how it feels when they are relaxed.
- Feel the physical tension leave your body.
1 minute of 4-7-8 Breathing: for the psychological signs of stress
Once your muscles are relaxed, you can use this breathing technique to gain and retain a sense of calm and clarity.
- Keep your eyes relaxed, either closed or slightly open.
- Inhale through your nose until the count of four.
- Hold your breath until the count of seven.
- Exhale with a sound (ahh, zzz, ooh) until the count of eight.
- Repeat three times.
A Note About Mental Health
If you or your client feel that you can no longer manage your stress or anxiety on your own, it is important to seek professional help with a therapist or psychologist. Your mental health is a pillar of your overall health, so paying attention to signs of chronic stress, anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue is essential to everyone’s wellbeing.
Enroll in AFPA’s yoga certification program to become certified.
If you are in need of resources to support your own mental health or to recommend to a client, you can reach out to these organizations:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
- American Psychiatric Association: Find a Psychiatrist
- American Psychological Association: Psychologist Locator
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Find a Therapist
- Crisis Text Line: Text “HELLO” to 741741
- Health Resources and Services Administration: Find affordable care options
- Mental Health America: Provide COVID-19 specific and other resources