Tips to increase your energy, maintain and build health
Tips for de-stressing and revitalizing in 5 minutes or less
We all experience stress for different reasons. What creates stress for one person, may not present any challenges for another. Additionally, what is stressful at one point in life may be easier to deal with at another time, depending on what else is happening.
Regardless of the circumstances, what is common is the feeling of overwhelm and it’s effects on our body-mind. In Cellular Management Part 1, we saw how stress can impact the body’s physiology and divert valuable energetic resources away from the essential operations that maintain health.
One of the major challenges with stress is that while ‘stressed,’ it can be difficult to recognize that it’s happening. This is especially true when we are intently focused on getting something done or meeting a time-based demand.
With self-awareness, stress can be useful in guiding us to take breaks and make changes as required. However, often the tendency is to push on until the task is complete or we are forced to quit due to some failure of our body to carry us any further (burn out). Quite often, another task emerges and we don’t fully recover from the previous push before the next one begins. If we’ve made a habit of ‘pushing through,’ we may have conditioned ourself to ignore the body signals that are meant to create a course correction in our life. Additionally, stress actually shuts down our ability to feel what’s happening. This is an intelligent design and is meant to be a short-term strategy to survive the moment or crisis however, if we cannot feel the stress while it’s happening and/or it’s left unaddressed, the accumulation of stress and tension in the body can have serious health complications.
In my experience as a chiropractor, even though most people don’t report feeling stressed, they’re exhibiting significant signs that their body is stressed (and has been for some time). Stress-related symptoms can include: body pain, chronic disease, digestive problems, trouble sleeping, fatigue, headaches, weak immune systems, rapid heart rate, compulsive behaviours, addictions, irritability, impatience, decreased focus, decreased productivity, depression, anxiety, racing thoughts, worrying, memory loss and withdrawing from others, just to name a few. Any of these sound familiar?
“If you can hear your body when it whispers, you won’t have to endure it’s cries.”
– Author Unkown
We don’t wait for thick layers of plaque to accumulate on our teeth and then brush with harsh abrasives and steel wool once a month. Likewise, it makes sense to create habits that maintain and build health by helping the body-mind reference and return to a place of peace and ease. This way we don’t get so wound up with tension and energetically depleted that it turns into a major health crisis that derails our entire life.
When practiced regularly, the following simple and powerful strategies will help you shift from mind to body quickly so you can return to life more energized, be more productive and still have energy left when the day is done.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Breath is right at the top of the list as an incredible tool to create instant stress relief that we carry with us everywhere we go. With as little as one breath, it’s possible to move your body into a more peaceful state. In our chiropractic practice, breath is a fundamental focus to help people find and release tension from their bodies.
Focusing your attention on your breath for a couple of minutes can quickly shift your state into one of more ease. The great thing about working with the breath is that it’s something you can do anytime and anywhere, even in a meeting at work!
Try this simple practice:
Place both hands, palm over palm, on top of your belly button to help you focus in that area (if you’re around people and don’t want to do this part, just skip it). Breathe into your belly pushing the air into the space underneath your hands. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 and then out through your mouth for a count of 6, elongating the outbreath. As you inhale, focus on feeling the air enter the space and stretch the surrounding tissues as they push into your hands. On the exhale, feel the air exit the space and the tissues and your handing moving back into the body, softening and relaxing. Continue this practice for a few minutes. Keep experiencing your breathing and feel your body relaxing, especially on the longer outbreath.
Move or exercise your body for a few minutes. Taking a 5 minute movement break can be a quick and powerful way to instantly shift your state and relax your body. Exercise is a well known stress reliever, especially when done on a regular basis over longer periods of time. Every minute of movement serves to benefit your body and mind.
Stretch and mobilize
Move your joints: roll your neck, roll your shoulders, rotate/roll your wrists, move your hips in a circle, and rotate/roll your ankles.
A few quick exercises
Try doing squats, lunges, pushups, and/or sit-ups. Climb the stairs a few times. Take a walk around the office or block.
Dancing is one of my favorite movement practices and can be a fun activity to do (although not for everyone!) Blast some music you love and see what happens!
Strike a pose
Do a single yoga pose. One of my favorites is the mountain pose which you can do absolutely anywhere. In mountain pose you stand tall with your feet together (imagining them planting roots into the earth). Stretch your head toward the sky keeping it pulled back over top of your shoulders. Keep your arms by your sides, lengthening them towards the ground. Roll your shoulders open and lift your chest. Contract and energize your legs, rolling your calves outward and thighs inward. Tuck the tailbone. Hold the posture for one to 5 minutes.
Energize with emotion
Emotion is a powerful way to move energy and create a shift to quickly lower your stress level. Have you ever had a good laugh or a good cry and felt completely different afterwards?
Have a good laugh
Laughter is widely accepted as a way to produce psychological benefits and there is even growing evidence to support that it helps to improve the body’s physiological or physical functions. Try belly laughing for a few minutes. You may need a prompt of a funny video or something to get you started, but it’s hardly necessary, you just need to get started. It may feel forced or contrived but you’ll be surprised at how you can feel after a laughter session.
There’s evidence that simply practicing smiling can increase happiness. Start with the physical act; if the corners of your mouth go up, your brain will start to believe you’re happy. Combine smiling with thinking of something that makes you smile or makes you happy and get even more benefit!
Gratitude has benefits to relieving stress and the practice of gratitude can go far beyond. Gratitude can improve your physical health, improve sleep, improve psychological health, improve empathy, reduce aggression, enhance social connection, enhance self esteem, and improve mental strength.
A simple gratitude practice can be to sit and reflect or write down 3 to 5 things that you are grateful for in the past day, few days or a week. Sometimes when you are feeling off it can be hard to find things that you feel grateful for, but they can be things as simple as having a roof over your head or having running water and food to eat. With practice gratitude can get easier and more powerful.
Have a mini tantrum
If you’re feeling angry or frustrated, it’s great to get the emotion moving so you don’t stay stuck in the feeling which only adds to your stress. If you’re in your car, try gripping the steering wheel tightly and screaming. If you’re alone, but somewhere you feel people could hear you, take a pillow and scream into the pillow. If you’re on your own, punch a pillow and kick the bed. Don’t do any of these activities for more than a minute. It doesn’t take long to get things moving and if you spend too long, you’re probably stuck in the thoughts and may benefit from some alternative strategies.
As humans touch and connection are basic needs. Touch can release the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is associated with higher levels of happiness and lower levels of stress.
Get a hug from a friend or loved one. A quick hug is nice but won’t likely affect your stress levels that much. When you have a longer hug it will cause the release of more oxytocin. Hug someone for at least 20 seconds to get more benefit.
Cuddle with your partner or a child. It’s great for both of you!
Hug your pet
Pets love unconditionally and are fully present. Interacting with or petting your pet can relieve stress.
Mindfulness is being fully present in the now moment, being more aware of where we’re at, and what we’re doing; engaged in the experience of the moment; attuned to our senses, our thoughts, our feelings and our environment. Mindfulness is potentially a huge topic and a lifelong journey and practice, however just a few moments of mindfulness can be a stress reliever.
To practice mindfulness for a few minutes, choose something to focus on within your sensory experience. You could simply sit quietly and focus on the breath entering and exiting your nostrils. You could pay attention to the sounds going on around you. You could sip a cup of tea and experience the taste and feel the warmth of the tea in your mouth. You could look around you and pay attention to things you wouldn’t normally see. You could smell something pleasant like some essential oils. You could do a few of these different techniques to bring yourself into the present moment for a few minutes.
A very popular mindfulness technique is a body scan and can take just a few minutes. If the mind is stressed then the body is stressed, whether we know it or not. Often the body is holding tension that we’re not aware of, or maybe we are aware of it as headaches, pains, aches, or general discomfort. Body scanning can help us to check in with our bodies, connect and bring awareness. Staying present with and breathing into these sensations can help to release tension and also help us to get to know our bodies more so we can learn and better manage what’s happening with us.
During a body scan you’ll be directing your breath to different body parts as you scan down the body. Pay attention to what you feel, noticing what feels comfortable and what feels uncomfortable. Be aware that it is not the goal to change what you feel, just to observe it and experience it as it is. You will be surprised how – with this type of non-judgemental and non-controlling focus – some things will effortlessly change.
To do a body scan, sit or lie comfortably. Close your eyes and begin with 3 deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Notice the overall feeling in your body. Continue breathing, in any fashion, and direct your breath to the top of your head. Notice what you feel. Scan down through your head, noticing what you feel. What’s comfortable? What’s uncomfortable? What are the sensations like? As you scan, feel free to linger on any areas where you notice stronger sensations, breathing into these areas and allowing yourself to experience the sensations fully. For some people it may help to imagine you are scanning down like the line of light on a photocopier. Continue to scan down your body: your neck; your shoulders; your arms; your hands; your torso; your hips and pelvis; your thighs; your knees; your calves; and your feet. After you complete your scan, take a few more moments and again be aware of the entire body. Do you feel different than when you started?
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique that has been serving people to relieve stress, tension, anxiety and insomnia since the 1930’s. I remember learning it as a child when my swim team brought in a sports psychologist to work with us, I would often fall asleep during the exercise!
The goal with PMR is to contract a group of muscles for a short period and then to release them, allowing the tension in the body to release from where it began. In our chiropractic practice this is something we will often observe the body doing automatically on our tables. When the brain (consciously or sometimes unconsciously) contacts a muscle, it gains more awareness that the muscle is tight and then has the opportunity to release the contraction more fully.
This exercise can be done for a few minutes or can be done in a longer period of time (over about 20 minutes). There are thousands of videos on Youtube you can watch. Be sure to check our blog as we’ll create our own sometime in the future.
To do a PMR you can sit or lie down. Take a breath in and on the inhale, contract the muscles of your face and hold your breath for a few seconds while contracting. As you exhale, release these muscles. Then take a moment to relax for a couple of breaths. Continue this with different muscle groups from head to toe (neck, shoulders, arms, hands, upper chest, abdomen, back, hips/pelvis, buttocks, thighs, calves and feet). Be gentle with any areas of pain in your body, doing only a very gentle contraction or skipping them altogether. Gradually work your way up or down the body, contracting and relaxing as you go.