How To Tame Your Stress Monster

This was originally published as my Holistic Outlook column in The Times Herald Record.

Most of us live with levels of stress that are more consistent with running for our lives from a saber tooth tiger than they are with ordinary life. What can you do to tame your stress monster? Try these suggestions, all backed with research-proven results.

  • Breathe. You can do this any time stress strikes, and even when it doesn’t: when you are driving; in the middle of an argument; waiting on line; facing a deadline, etc. Take a minimum of four slow deep breaths in and out through your nose. Keep the inhale and the exhale even, equal, and smooth. There. You’ve dropped your stress hormones and done a quick reset for your nervous system.
  • Meditate. There is such a broad range of meditations available to us, and at least one of them is sure to feel like a good match for you. Here are my two favorites. You don’t need to be in any particular position, or spend a long time. A few minutes will do.
  1. Simply focus on your breath. Follow it through your body. Become conscious of the rhythm, the pace, the depth and let yourself slow down. Each time you catch your mind wandering, or realize you’ve become distracted, simply bring your attention back to your breath again, without any criticism, judgment or recrimination. Set a timer for anywhere from 3 to 20 minutes or more, but just 3-5 minutes is great for beginners, and significantly beneficial.
  2. LovingKindness Meditation (Metta Practice). My yoga teacher taught me this one, and I will always be grateful. “May I be filled with Lovingkindness. May I be well, in body, mind and spirit. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be happy.” Repeat as many times as you like. Now say the verse at least 3 more times: once for a teacher or loved one; once for someone about whom you are neutral, but who might need help; and lastly for someone who is difficult for you.
  • Gratitude Journal. Research shows that spending 5 minutes daily writing what you are grateful for can significantly impact your happiness for the long term. Buy yourself a notebook, keep it by your bed, and get started.
  • Sing! You don’t have to do it perfectly, or even well, just pick music that lifts your spirits, and go for it. It’s what cars and showers are for!
  • Touch. Skin to skin contact generates oxytocin, the bonding hormone. First recognized in childbirth and breastfeeding, it is now known to be more universal, increasing feelings of calm, trust, and optimism. Get your oxytocin boost from hugging, shaking hands, breathing in sync with someone or even gazing in a loved one’s eyes. Don’t have a person to hug? Hug your pet, for the same benefits.
  • Aromatherapy. Research on the brain shows that certain smells have tremendous ability to immediately calm our nervous system. My favorites include sandalwood, frankincense, and several blends from Young Living (especially Valor and Peace & Calming) and a wonderful new company called Well-Scent (Pause for Peace, Over The Moon, or Chill Out).  Note: I carry these oils in my office, along with many others, or you can order online.

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