The holidays are winding down. How did you do? Early sales, Thanksgiving, and many of us were sleepless while saving during Black Friday. The superhuman among us gathered, scrubbed, buffed, combed and dressed the whole family for the Holiday photo which then was sent as this year’s “Seasons Greetings.” As we prepped and planned, baked and cooked; ensured our naughty and nice list was well-rewarded, ready or not, the magic of Christmas blossomed. We gathered, laughed, finally took a breath.
The holidays are special, blessed and a magical time, however, they occur on earth. One thing you can count on: if earth gets ahold of something, it’s going to get skewed, stretched, restated, and put through the misperception blender. We have done a number on Thanksgiving and Christmas. With mass production and advertisements, we inflate our gifts, parties, and deals ad infinitum. What should be a beautiful time for family and friends to gather can easily become a drawn-out pressure cooker.
Everywhere we go throughout January people say, “So, did you survive the holidays?” That’s supposed to be funny. Unfortunately, for many folks the answer is packed with stress, anxiety and a wing and a prayer that they will get through another year. This, also, is not funny. There are many easy ways to control stress and keep calm though any situation.
Before we look at tips for managing stress and anxiety, let’s understand why we have panic attacks or uncontrollable stress in the first place. This goes back to when we lived in caves and regularly faced severe threat. Our survival was based, in part, on some important physiological responses from our bodies. When we faced threat, we had to run quickly, so our bodies would move energy from our core to our limbs, which is why, today, we feel “butterflies in our stomach.” We also feel this way because back in the day, we would have to hide for long periods, so our hunger would shut down, allowing us to comfortably survive. The reason your adrenaline is released, which makes you feel hyper, is because our ancestors needed that adrenaline to charge their muscles to get running.
Every sensation you experience during a panic attack or high anxiety relates to your physiological and psychological systems impression: you just jumped out of a cave and are running to save your life.
Thus, tip one is: tell your mind that there is no threat. There is no tiger coming at you. Breathe and look around. Most people release themselves from even years of uncontrolled, severe, panic attacks when they are given this information. Don’t let your body react to something that is not real anymore.
Tip two: Fact – if you exhale for a longer amount of time than you inhale, your body has no choice than to relax. So, inhale for 1, 2, 3, 4 counts. Then exhale at the same even pace for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. This is even more effective if you exhale as if you are blowing through a straw – it slows your exhale and puts you in greater control. You can use this technique for any stress or anxiety related issue, and bonus: start blowing through that straw when someone gets on your nerves. It will give you time to calm yourself and collect your thoughts.
Tip three is about synching your mind and physiology. To begin, sit anywhere comfortable. As you rest your hands on your thighs, close them, but leave the pointer and middle finger together and pointing toward your knees. Then, at your own, easy, pace tap left, right, left, right you will feel calm come to you as you realign the rhythm your body had lost. Once used to this, tap anywhere: if you are filling out a deposit form at the bank, you can tap left and right on that countertop. The purpose being your hands rhythmically establishing balance.
The fourth tip is one used widely by counselors. It is important that you understand how to do this correctly, it is incredibly effective in establishing inner peace – mind, body and soul. Choose any comfortable place to sit. This time, pick an object in the room, any object, and begin to describe it. If I select a floor lamp, I would begin by saying, “This is a floor lamp, it is made of wrought iron. The base is square in shape … etc.” You must describe absolutely every detail about the object, later in the exercise I might say, “The way to turn it on or off is way at the top where I see a small black plastic round knob. I wonder if it just goes on and off, or if it is a three-way switch, I don’t know.” And so on. Once you have exhausted the description of one object, you might feel fine. If you need to center yourself even more, go to another object. What this does is it tells your brain what is real. It lets your physiological system understand that it does not have to be on red alert. Anxiety is generally tied to a misperception in the brain, taking a few moments to send the message, “I am in my house, nothing scary here!” can make for a calm, pleasant day. It is fine to practice this exercise elsewhere if you can get privacy and feel comfortable.
Beyond these tips are meditation classes, yoga, qi gong, journaling and other breathing exercises. Remember that you are in control of your body’s responses, not the other way around. If you feel anxiety bubbling up, take a break from whatever you are doing, no matter what it might be, and go someplace where you feel safe. Breathe through the straw, tap, do any of the exercises at a slow, steady pace. Nobody can dash through a few of the above tips and enjoy a calm result. Whatever you were doing will still be there when you are prepared.