Responding to Stress
I have invited Reverend Vicki Loflin Johnson to share some insights with you regarding well being. Vicki has worked with some of our folks in a coaching cohort over the last several months developing practices to strengthen resilience in this challenging season. Given the number of people impacted the last 18 months by storms and the pandemic of Covid 19, I wanted to offer some resources to help all of us be well.
By Vicki Loflin Johnson (www.coachingtheartofwellbeing.com)
When we are extremely stressed or overwhelmed, or in the midst of responding to a crisis, it is important that we also take some time for rest and recovery.
Here are some simple, quick ways to help you pause, breathe, and reset:
If you have 60 seconds:
- Close your eyes. Breathe in and out through your nose. Consciously relax your mouth, let your tongue rest. If helpful, imagine breathing out the tiredness/tension and breathing in energy/the Holy Spirit.
- Slowly nod your head up and down (yes). Then slowly turn your head from left to right (no). With your inhale face forward; with your exhale move up/down/left/right. If you are in your car, press the back of your head into the headrest while doing this.
- Try taking a “lion’s breath.” Inhale deeply through your nose and then exhale with your mouth wide open and tongue sticking out. Exhale as long as possible. Repeat 3-4 times.
- Take off your shoes and socks. Curl and uncurl your toes. Squeeze your hands into a fist and then open them wide. Open your mouth as wide as possible while inhaling, then purse your lips and blow out hard. Repeat these steps 3-4 times.
- Stop what you are doing long enough to look at something beautiful—a piece of art, a plant, nature outside your window, a treasured decorative item in your home or office. Let an object of beauty evoke a moment of awe and wonder in you.
- Stroke your cat or your dog. Hug a friend, your child, or your spouse.
- Drink 8 ounces of water.
If you have 5 minutes:
- Practice “ratio breathing.” Inhale to a slow count of 3 or 4. Exhale twice as long to a count of 6 or 8. This breathing technique has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and heart rate.
- Gaze out a window and let your eyes be soft. Ask yourself a question and listen: “What am I feeling right now?” If you feel up to it, you can also ask, “Oh God, what are you inviting me to do next?”
- Play with your dog. Do something silly with a child.
- Lie down on a carpet, rug, or yoga mat and pull your knees into your chest (do not cross your ankles). Hold onto your knees or shins and pull your knees as close to your chest as is comfortable. Let your low back completely flatten to the floor. If your chin juts toward the ceiling uncomfortably, place a folded blanket or low pillow under your head. Close your eyes and breathe.
- Watch a funny video that makes you laugh. Save those cute little animal or baby videos for just such a break as this! Laughing restores us!
- Look at your list or think through all the things you think you have to do and ask: “What is one thing I can say no to?”
If you have 10 minutes:
- Walk in silence. You can set your timer for five minutes for one direction and then turn around, but try not to look at your phone. If you feel like it, skip, dance, or wiggle while you are walking.
- Make a gratitude list. Write down even most the obvious things you are thankful for until you run out of ideas. Or list the people who have done something nice for you that day. An ideal time to practice a gratitude journal is at bedtime.
- Take a “hot beverage” break. If you are planning to have a cup of coffee or tea, try your best not to multi-task while you are drinking it. Try not to look at your phone. Just relax and enjoy the drink.
- Practice allowing your feelings rather than trying to control them. Notice what you’re feeling and name it without judgement. It’s okay to feel sad, angry, etc. A wise leader once said she would set a timer when she needed what she called a “pity party.” She would allow herself a certain amount of time to experience her painful or negative feelings; but interestingly, once she allowed them, they sometimes lessened or dissipated altogether by the time the timer went off.
- Stretch your body before getting into bed at night. Start by clasping your hands in front of you and then flipping them outward. As you inhale, raise your interlaced hands above your head as far as you are able. Exhale and lean to the right. Inhale, return to the center. Then exhale, and lean to the left. Again inhale and return to the center. Next, get down on the floor and do any gentle stretches you know. Set a timer. You will be surprised how fast 10 minute goes by.
If you have 15 minutes:
- Practice a longer version of lying on your back with your knees pulled into your chest.
- Write like a psalmist. Get a blank piece of paper and write whatever comes to your mind for 15 minutes. You can start out by lamenting or complaining. Don’t worry! You can throw it away when you are finished. Be sure to allow 60 seconds at the end for praise and thanksgiving.
- Set a timer and move slowly around your kitchen, office, closet, or living space—sorting, ordering, picking up, throwing things away. Rather than think of this as cleaning or organizing, just piddle and see what happens in 15 minutes. Take a minute to observe how ordering one small part of your life affects your emotions.
- Block 15 minutes a day for fully connecting with your closest relationships. This is important even in good times but especially in times of crisis. For those you live with, be sure to put down your devices and look them in the eyes. For those who are away, use FaceTime or videoconference to connect if possible. Prioritize calling a friend who can listen to you as well as expect you to listen.
- If you need to connect with loved ones or others who deplete your energy, visualize putting on your spiritual armor before calling. Ask for protection so that you will not “take to heart” whatever comments might normally trigger reactive feelings. Your spiritual armor can be light and porous so that you will be able to listen and respond but not be wounded.
Choose one or two of these ideas to try and then observe what affect they have on you. Use this list to generate your own ideas! Ideally, you might choose several of these very short rest and recovery practices each day.
For more support and encouragement in challenging times, consider joining one of the January group coaching cohorts of The Art of WellBeing by visiting: http://www.coachingtheartofwellbeing.com.