“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
–Psalm 91:14-16 (ESV)
Are there any tips for the “heat of the moment,” such as in rush hour traffic, or in a tense, heated meeting at work, or in an argument with your spouse or teenager? For those frazzled moments, you need help right now and there are some quick stress relievers to help. Breathing and sensory exercises can rescue you in the moment.
Deep breathing can be one of the best ways to lower stress levels. Each time you drawn in a deep breathe, it sends a message to your brain to clam down and your muscles will begin to relax. Remember that when you get stressed, you heart rate increases, your breathing rate gets faster, and your blood pressure rises. With deep breathing, the opposites of all these begin to occur. How you breathe affects every part of your body. But one of the best things about deep breathing exercises is they are easy to learn, and you can do them anywhere.
Four common breathing exercises are belly breathing, 4-7-8- breathing, morning breathing, and roll breathing. You can experiment and see which of these is more helpful for you and then begin to master it. If you have never practiced deep breathing, belly breathing is the simplest to learn. To begin, sit or lie flat in a comfortable position. Place one hand on your belly just under your ribs and one hand on your chest. Now inhale deeply through your nose and the use your belly to push the air back out, making sure that your chest does not move. As you exhale, purse your lips together as if you were going to whistle. You should feel the hand on your belly go in and you can use it to push all the air out. Repeat these steps three to ten times and make sure you take your time with each breath.
A second type of deep breathing is the 4-7-8 breathing. Again, you can do this exercise sitting or lying. Begin the exercise just was you did with the belly breathing with one hand your belly and the other on your chest. As you inhale deeply from your belly, count to four silently. Then hold your breath as you silently count from one to seven. Then exhale completely, silently counting from one to eight. The goal is to get all the air out by the time you count to eight. Repeat the exercise three to seven times or until you feel relaxed and calm.
Morning breathing is best done first thing in the morning. It can be beneficial to relieving stiff muscles and open clogged air passages. It can be done throughout the day as well to relieve back tension. For this breathing exercise, bend forward from the waist from a standing position, keeping your knees slightly bent and allowing your arms to dangle close to the floor. Inhale slowly as you roll your body op slowly back to a standing position with the head lifting up last. Hold your breath for a few seconds. As you exhale, bend forward from the waist again, returning to the starting position.
Roll breathing helps not only relax you, but helps you focus on the rhythm of your breathing. It can be done in any position, but since some people experience dizziness the first few times they try roll breathing, it is recommended that you start on learning this exercise lying on your back with your knees bent. Again, place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. For moment just notice your hands move as you breathe normally. Now start filling your lower lungs, breathing in through your nose, so that the hand on your belly goes up when you inhale, and the chest remains still. As you exhale, breathe out through your mouth. Try this eight to ten times. Now add the next step. Inhale slowly into your lower lungs as you did before but keep inhaling so that that the hand on your chest rises and the hand on your belly falls a little. Exhale slowly through your mouth. You should make a soft “whoosh” sound and your belly hand begins to fall first, followed by the hand on your chest. As you exhale, you should feel the tension leaving your body. Keep breathing this way for three to five minutes. If done correctly, the motion of your belly and chest would look like rolling waves and you should begin to feel more and more relaxed.
Using your five senses that God gave you can also be a quick answer for stress in the moment. Since we are all uniquely and wonderfully made by God, we each respond more to some senses over other senses. You can experiment with all five to see which is most beneficial to relieving your stress.
To use the sense of sight as a stress reliever, trying to spend a few moments looking at a photo of someone you love and cherish. Add some flowers or plants to your home and office. Take a walk through a garden or on a beach as you observe the beauty of God’s creation. If that’s not an option in the moment, pull up a picture on the internet of a quiet, peaceful mountainside or a beach with peaceful waves. Or you can simply close your eyes and imagine a quiet, relaxing, peaceful place. Imagine Jesus being there with you.
Sounds can also be relaxing. Some people can’t go to sleep at night without “white noise” in the background, such as the sound of a running fan. If sounds can sooth and calm you, listen to your favorite Christian music or quiet instrumental music. Sounds of nature can be relaxing also. You can add an app on your phone for nature sounds such as ocean waves, rain, sing birds, etc. A table top fountain can provide soothing sounds of falling water.
Smells can be triggers to help you relax also. If this is your sensory stress reliever, think about the scents that you enjoy and the ones that make you feel good when you small them. You can try lighting candle or spray your favorite perfume, smell your favorite flower, or try some essential oils. I am not a coffee drinker, but growing up, I would wake up every morning to the smell of coffee because my mother would drink some before waking my sisters and I up. To this day, the smell of coffee is relaxing to me and takes me back to the feeling of home.
Others find the sense of touch to be relaxing. For these, petting their dog, cat, or other animal can restore a sense of calm. Or they might wrap up in a soft blanket or dig their toes into beach sand, or take a shower and feel the warm water running of them. They might hold a certain object in their hand that brings them comfort, such as a deceased spouse’s shirt or some other emotional valued object. These people also find massages to be relaxing.
There is a reason that we call certain foods, “comfort foods.” Taking a few moments to enjoy your favorite treat can be relaxing but over indulging will only add on more pounds. Also, heavy eating can make you feel sluggish and stress will increase, rather than decrease. If tasting is a way for you to relax, try a sugarless gum, eat some fruit or other healthy snack. Have a small amount of dark chocolate or your favorite coffee or tea.
Some people need to get moving in order to lower stress. If this is you, then try running in place, jumping up and down, dancing to your favorite praise and worship music, or go for a walk. You can also try squeezing a stress ball or do some stretching exercises. If you are not able to leave your desk, simply take a few moments and roll your head around in circles.
The mind is a powerful tool, so don’t forget to use it. If you are not able to get away to utilize a sensory relief, take a few moments to think back to a happy moment in your childhood and visualize that moment in your mind. Or use your imagination to take you to a quiet garden or to the beach. Visualize the sounds, feel the wind, smell the flowers, taste the salt from the sea…use your five senses in your visualization for a quick “get-away” where to can relax and destress.
Lastly, when you need to destress, unplug from all your tech toys. Social media, news, video games can all add to your stress. Get back to simpler things instead. Read your Bible, listen relaxing music, practice your breathing exercises, spend time on the porch taking in a sunrise, go for a walk, ride a bike or any other activity that helps you relax.
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