B - Breathe
This crucial bodily function is often the last thing we think about on a day to day basis, but when stress levels rise, it is our breath that can quickly return us to a state of balance, physically, mentally and emotionally.
Did you know: by slowing down the rate, and changing the pattern of your breathing, you can activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system? This powerful response can reverse the fight or flight response triggered by stress and anxiety, as shown below:
Parasympathetic response: effect on the body
- oxygen consumption decreases
- breathing slows
- heart rate slows
- blood pressure decreases
- muscle tension decreases
- growing sense of ease in body, calmness in mind.
There are plenty of suggested breathing techniques to induce calm but the 4-7-8 method is a simple one to remember:
- Inhale to a count of 4, expanding into your abdomen as you do so
- Hold for a count of 7
- Exhale for a count of 8, feeling the air slowly release and your abdomen contract.
A - Awareness
When it comes to stress, the truth is that we can only tackle our problems when we are aware of the issues that are causing them. Personally, I have also found it incredibly useful to keep track of my own unhelpful thoughts and behaviours. It is often our own reactions to people, places and things that cause us stress, not just the outer situation that triggered it.
One way to become more aware is to observe our thoughts: how often are we self critical or critical of others? If we start to listen to the language we use (internally and externally) and notice too much negativity, rather than being our own harshest critic, try practicing self forgiveness.
Our old defaults die hard and it can take time to build a more positive state of mind, so don’t give up too soon. Instead, each time the negativity trap beckons, try shifting your focus onto something or someone you love or mentally making a note of your gratitudes.
This is not about suppressing feelings (which I would not advocate) but just about being mindful of how our own negative thinking can bring us down. For further tips, take a look at my previous blog.
L - Laughter
Laughter is a fun and healthy way of relieving tension. It decreases stress hormones whilst increasing endorphins: those neurotransmitters which not only make us feel good but also naturally relieve pain.
Laughter also brings connection to those with whom we share the moment, creating greater closeness and empathy. Why not actively seek out people and situations that add more humour to your life?
You could choose a TV sitcom, go to a comedy show, hang out with entertaining friends, regress and play with children, or even try out Laughter Yoga. The options are endless and the internet provides plenty of inspiration should you need more ideas. If in doubt about the benefits to overall health, take a look here:
|Physical Health Benefits
||Mental Health Benefits
||Adds joy and zest to life
|Lowers stress hormones
||Eases anxiety and fear
||Attracts others to us
|Relaxes your muscles
||Helps diffuse conflict
|Prevents heart disease
||Promotes group bonding
A - Acceptance
How often, when under stress, do we find ourselves trying to resist and battle against the uncomfortable situations that we encounter in life? Sadly, this resistance tends to exacerbate the feelings of stress, impact on our health and keep us locked in a vicious cycle.
We may not like the situation in which we find ourselves, but the arsenal of weapons we tend to employ, such as over analysing, blaming, manipulating, bargaining and endeavouring to control, only further our suffering. Suffice it to say that we will not solve a problem with the state of mind that created it.
Odd as it may seem, the way out of this cycle often lies in the power of acceptance. When we give up the fight and can say to ourselves, ‘this is just how it is right now and it will pass,’ we allow space and open to outer guidance. It may come as a flash of inspiration or as a remark from a friend; the point is when we reach acceptance we are much more likely to find a way forward.
In case you need a quick and easy reminder, the Serenity Prayer says it all:
Grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.
N - Now: Living in it!
How often do we exhaust ourselves by pondering the past with regret and trying to figure out ways to escape a future we fear may be ahead? Projecting fearful images and anxiously worrying about what may or may not happen takes us into our head and out of the present moment, the very moment where we have a choice and the ability to take action about how we would like to live.
Practices such as mindfulness are great tools for bringing our attention back to the now. The techniques practised are proven to help ease states of anxiety and depression and can sometimes be offered through GP referral.
C - Creativity
Creativity is such a healing balm for the mind and a great method for accessing the present moment.
Many of the physical and mental benefits of creativity involve being ‘in flow’ – psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s term for that state we get into when we are so engaged in a creative task that our sense of time disappears and we temporarily forget ourselves and our “internal chaos“.
Whether we seek to create through cooking, gardening, dancing, writing, crafts, projects or pursuing goals and dreams, connecting with a place deep within us, from where we can express an aspect of ourselves and be completely present, is a remarkable resource for wellbeing, improved confidence and positive brain stimulation.
E - Enough sleep
The gifts of rest and sleep can never be under estimated. Studies have shown that even partial sleep deprivation has a significant effect on mood.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood.
It’s not only mental wellbeing which benefits from sufficient sleep but also the healthy maintenance of many other bodily functions by:
- Boosting immunity
- Helping to manage weight
- Warding off heart disease
- Improving libido and fertility
- Decreasing inflammation
- Improving skin tone
- Allowing bodily repair and detox
If you struggle with sleep, head over to A.Vogel Talks Sleep for inspiration.
So there we have it. If we endeavour to keep our lives in ‘BALANCE’ we can hope to minimise stress in 2019 and maximise our opportunities for greater health and happiness. May you be happy, may you be healthy, and may you be at peace as you enter this New Year.
Originally written on 31/12/2015, updated on 1/12/2018.