Although some level of stress is an essential component of evolution (think fight-or-flight survival instincts or the emotional response to a sad situation), most experts agree stress has taken on an entirely new form in modern society, turning into a true epidemic. These days, we have a hard time “shutting down” at all: bringing work on vacation, checking emails right upon waking up, and even creating demanding activity-filled schedules for our children and family. But what's even more concerning is that stress doesn't just stop with the time frame of the triggering circumstance. Rather, stress can have profound long-term effects in the body as well.
John Carpi for Psychology Today reports, “Psychological stress doesn't just put your head in a vice. New studies document exactly how it tears away at every system—including your brain. But get this: the experience of stress in the past magnifies your reactivity to stress in the future. So, take a nice deep breath and find a stress-stopping routine this instant!" If you're as ready as we are to relax, here's a simple five-step plan for hitting reset on your stress response that you can do anytime, anywhere:
1. Change Your Senses. There are many environmental culprits that induce a stress response. Fluorescent bulbs, for example, emit an almost imperceptible “flicker,” which can trigger nervous system stress, while artificial scents or even chemicals and cleaners can provoke inflammation. Even if you find yourself often in an environment you can't control, you can manipulate your sensory experience to improve your mental state. If possible, find some natural sunlight to step into for a few moments throughout the day; place your bare feet for a few minutes in some grass; or inhale a whiff (or rub on your temples) a natural stress-reducing aromatic such as lavender, lemongrass or sage. Think of these techniques as a sensory “reset.”
2. Change Your Breath. One of your best tools for stress regulation is built right inside of you: your breath. Deep breathing has been scientifically proven to stimulate a parasympathetic nervous system reaction, helping you to biologically relax and slow down. You can download breathing apps on your phone for timing guidance or simply take 10 long, slow inhales and exhales, with a brief “hold” at the top of the inhale. Even just a minute or two of breathwork will slow your heart rate and signal your body to cool down.