Christina Chrysler, InSolidarity, Local 417
For many, the events of the past two years have led to increased feelings of stress and isolation. It is important now, more than ever, that we adopt practices that help to keep us healthy – mentally and physically.
Our mind acts like a complex computer system constantly inundated with information from our environment.
Unfortunately, our busy lives do not always allow us to “switch off”. The effects of this can initially manifest as an inability to sleep, increased or decreased appetite, irritability, fatigue and poor memory/concentration. Left untreated, persistent stress can speed up the aging process, increase our likelihood to develop certain diseases, and most importantly rob us of experiencing joy.
There are a number of little things you can do every day to help reduce stress and experience significant health benefits. Below are two simple (and free!) actions you can start today to help restore balance.
1. Learn to Breathe
Being aware of your breath and breathing pattern is important since breathing allows for the release of carbon dioxide from your body. Improper flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the bloodstream affects every muscle, organ, and system.
There are two primary ways people breathe: chest (thoracic), and abdominal (diaphragmatic) breathing. Chest breathing is characterized by the expansion of the chest and rising of the shoulders with each inhalation. This type of breathing does not allow for adequate intake of oxygen. We typically do this when we are stressed. Taking time to engage in abdominal breathing will trigger a relaxation response, helping to reduce the long term impact of stress on the body.
Normally, deep breathing can be practiced anywhere. Given the current health crisis, however, you may feel most comfortable doing this at home lying flat on the floor. If you feel it safe to do so, the following technique is just as beneficial to practice during your morning commute or on your lunch break.
Sitting up straight (or lying on your back), place one arm on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Inhale deeply into the abdomen until you can feel your hand rise. Do not inhale to the point of discomfort. Your breathing should be slow and smooth, lifting your abdomen with each inhalation and causing little movement in your chest. Continue inhaling and exhaling through the nose in this manner.
Once you are breathing comfortably and you have found your ‘rhythm’, smile slightly and inhale slowly through your nose, and exhale through your mouth gently, making a ‘whooshing’ sound. As you do so, focus on the rate of your breathing and the sound you are creating, releasing any tension you are experiencing throughout your body. Continue this for 5 minutes, gradually increasing your deep breathing sessions to 10 minutes twice a day.
2. Be Present
We live and work in a culture that often forces us to multi-task. The problem with dividing our attention is that nothing ever truly gets 100 per cent. Our brains simply do not function as effectively when we are constantly shifting our attention from one situation to the next. Picture a computer (in my case the Commodore 64) trying to run a number of programs and at once. Eventually it slows down or crashes. Much like turning our computers off and back on again, we need to reset and clear our mental cache. We function more efficiently and more effectively when we focus on one thing. Learning to quiet internal ‘chatter’ allows us to experience life as it is happening.
To help with this, identify a task in your day that you can make your primary focus. For example, eating. Rather than quickly downing your packed lunch while responding to emails, focus only on the food you are about to eat. Notice the smell, the colour and the texture. Enjoy it. Experience it. Practice making yourself aware of the messages your body is sending you as you chew and swallow. Concentrating on the act of eating allows the mind to slow and focus on one task. Doing this will have the same benefit as any other meditation practice in that it will slow your heart rate and breathing naturally. The added bonus of doing this form of meditation is that you are less likely to overeat – something we commonly do when stressed.
This technique can be added to any activity, whether it is a sport, walking, or something as mundane as brushing your teeth. Increased practice will result in an increased ability to manage stress. Most importantly, you will learn how to truly experience your surroundings.
Though there is no one solution to relieving stress, applying simple techniques daily can have a tremendous impact on your overall ability to clear your mind and regain focus. This improved state of being will allow you to manage stress more effectively and improve sleep. Improved rest reduces irritability, while improving concentration and memory functioning.
So, what are you waiting for? Chill out!