Stress and anxiety affects us all.
Sometimes it’s a simple moment of panic permeating your Monday morning. Other times it’s a quickly escalating state of anxiety that can lead to an unwelcome panic attack if left unchecked.
Recognising your body’s warning signals when it comes to stress through mindfulness, and learning how to effectively self-regulate your anxiety, can mean the difference between a bad day and a total meltdown.
And while it may be tempting to indulge in a glass of wine or zone out to an episode of reality TV, numbing ourselves to the physiological manifestations of stress can often cause these feelings to snowball.
There’s nothing wrong with feeling like everything is getting on top of you (hey, we’ve all been there), but it’s moments like these that allow us to really strengthen the emotional muscles necessary to build a resilient mentality.
So let’s pivot away from pretending we don’t feel anything and self-soothe without shame.
Here are five fast fixes to help you stress less.
Got a minute? Try yogic alternate nostril breathing
We’ve all heard about the benefits a few rounds of cat-cow can have on the body, but we’re not here to help you perfect your sun salutations. Instead, we recommend stealing the trick of alternate nostril breathing from the meditative practice. The best part? It doesn’t require a yoga mat.
Alternate nostril breathing is a proven technique used to help trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. It can help your mind and body to calm down as well as helping to regulate the production of stress hormones such as cortisol.
We’d recommend finding a place where you can comfortably sit cross-legged but if you can only get a bit of peace and quiet by hiding in a bathroom cubicle at the office, that’ll work too.
Known as nadi shodhana pranayama in yogi-speak, the breathing technique involves lowering the forefinger, middle finger and ring finger of your dominant hand to meet your palm, forming a ‘hang loose’ sign. Then, place your thumb over your left nostril and slowly inhale through your right nostril. Seal your right nostril with your pinky finger and exhale through the left nostril before breathing in.
Follow this pattern for a minimum of one minute or as long as is needed to help you centre yourself.
It only takes two minutes to cool off and have a cold shower
Cold water showers are an easy way to help relieve physiological anxiety symptoms, by helping to regulate the body’s nervous system.
While we wouldn’t recommend spending hours on end in freezing cold water, taking two to three minutes to lower the temp of your shower can actually be very helpful in minimising your stress levels and improving circulation. Cold showers actually help to increase your endorphins and decrease your cortisol levels.
The shock of the cold water to the system is also a great way to ground yourself in your body and get yourself ‘out of your head’ momentarily. So if deep breathing just isn’t working for you and you need a moment of urgent relief, we would suggest hopping into an icy cold shower, stat.
Slip into a relaxing five minute mindfulness meditation
When it comes to meditation, there’s a lot of misinformation out there that tells you in order to find inner peace you need to practice complete stillness and remove every thought from your brain.
But when it comes to mindfulness meditation, the trick is to focus on what is happening right now. And when it comes to anxiety (which is basically stressing about the future and things that have yet to happen), this is a great way to realign your thinking, and hone in on what is actually in your control right now.
First things first, close your eyes. You’re probably thinking you’ve missed a step and need to find a quiet place but that’s really not necessary. At your desk? Forget about your co-workers and close your eyes. Sitting at a park bench on your lunch break? Same sentiment. Realistically, good meditation practice comes from an internal discipline, not from your surroundings. You don’t need to find a chill zone – you are the chill zone sis.
After you’ve got a bit of shut-eye, focus on your breathing. A steady, slow inhale and exhale is ideal. Once you’ve grounded your breathing pattern, let’s check in with the sensations you’re experiencing right now.
What can you hear? What does the fresh air feel like on your skin? How do your feet feel? Can you feel the ground beneath you? What sensation are you enjoying as the soles of your feet settle into your shoes? After acknowledging these outward experiences, let’s go inward.
What thoughts keep popping up in your brain? Acknowledge them. Don’t push them away and pretend they don’t exist. They’re there, so you might as well get comfortable with their presence. They are a part of this experience of your current state of being. Acknowledge each thought and feeling as it comes to you.
When you feel grounded in your body, return your attention to your exterior world and allow yourself to slowly reenter the space around you. When you’re ready, open your eyes, and hopefully by this time you will have regained some sense of peace in the chaos of your day.
Got 10 minutes? Let’s do some EFT tapping
EFT tapping is an alternative practice that was developed in response to the emotional distress related to anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Much like acupuncture, EFT tapping plays on the idea of acupressure but it also utilises mindfulness techniques to alleviate the root cause of your stress.
First things first, you need to identify what is causing you anxiety. This could be anything from feeling underprepared for a presentation at work to feeling social anxiety around a large group of people at a party.
Then, we need to set a benchmark that allows you to monitor how much your anxiety has decreased after you have completed your tapping. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll relieve all of your anxiety at once and drop from an eight on the anxiety scale down to a one. It means being mindful of your response to the process and being honest.
So, if you start at a 10 and lower your stress to a five, that still means you’re doing something to self-soothe. It’s not about being perfect.
Then, we need to create a phrase that you can repeat to yourself as you tap. The phrase is formed by acknowledging the root cause of your stress and blessing yourself with the gift of radical self-acceptance.
Need an example? “Even though I have a fear that I am underprepared for my presentation at work, I deeply and completely accept myself”. Then you’ll begin tapping methodically several times over the following points of the body, repeating this phrase three times at each tapping point.
Hilariously, we start with the ‘Karate chop’ point (AKA the side of your hand used to break boards in karate), then the top of the head, followed by the eyebrow, side of the eye, under the eye, under the nose, the butt of the chin, the beginning of the collarbone, and lastly, under the arm.
Reverse the process until your return to the point on top of your head, remembering to repeat your phrase. Follow this process two to three times before drawing a final assessment of your anxiety levels.
Carve out 15 minutes for a walk to clear your head
Sometimes all you need to cool off is a bit of fresh air and a brisk walk.
Ideally, we’d head out on a hike on one of our favourite trails or explore the city for an hour or two. But if all you have is 15 minutes, like Tim Gunn says: “Make it work”.
We certainly don’t think you need step-by-step (no pun intended) instructions on how to go for a walk. Simply head out your front door and go as far as time will allow or as long as it takes to help you calm down and centre yourself.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try exploring a part of your neighbourhood you’ve never seen (just remember to take your phone with you and keep your maps app handy so you don’t get lost). After some visual fodder while you wander? If you live near an art gallery or public garden, utilise the time to feed your brain as well as calm your nervous system.
We’d steer clear of hiking to your favourite coffee spot, though, as caffeine intake will only serve to further exacerbate any anxiety you might be experiencing.
Briar is a Content Producer at BEAUTYcrew. Her 'down for anything' attitude has resulted in more than a handful of hair transformations, and she doesn't mind being used as a guinea pig for the industry's most unusual products and treatments. Her work has also appeared on Girlfriend and Beauty Heaven.