Lift your shoulders up to your ears. Yes, right now - not later - squeeze your shoulders up towards your ears. You can hold in your breath during the squeeze if you want. And then let the shoulders drop suddenly - releasing the breath as well.
This motion will release some physical tension. Now do it again. Squeeze the shoulders, building tension. And then let it all go at once, dropping the shoulders to either a normal position or perhaps a more relaxed position than normal. If you happen to be in a place where no one will look at you funny, you can let out a sigh sound when you let the shoulders drop.
The next step is to take in a full deep breath.
And then let it out slowly.
Notice how you feel.
If stress is a constant in your life, then you need to make some adjustments in order to include stress reduction in your life as well. The alternative is to experience burnout. The above squeeze and release exercise is just one of many techniques available for stress reduction. It takes less than a minute. And taking that one minute on a regular basis is worth your while.
Now put your hands on your belly. The lungs are similar to balloons: when air goes in they should expand. And when air goes out, they should deflate. Notice your own belly. When you breathe in, does your abdomen rise? When you breathe out, does your abdomen fall? If not, see if you can make it happen. Breathing deeply into the abdomen is the basic stress reduction technique. Practice this as often as you can.
Take Control of Your Stress
No one else can breathe for you. You have to do it yourself. In this way, breathing is a good metaphor for all other stress reduction techniques. All stress reduction techniques have this is common: you have to take control of doing them for yourself. There are relaxation techniques that someone else can do for you, such as massage.
Relaxation is a different thing than stress reduction. Relaxation is short term assistance, like a Band-Aid. Stress reduction is something you do that changes the amount of stress you experience. These techniques require an on-going commitment to maintain them, like taking vitamin pills that build your immunity.
Build Your Stress Hardiness
Stress reduction techniques can be considered the things that build stress hardiness. Stress hardiness is defined as:
a mindset exhibited by an individual that makes her or him resistant to the negative impacts of stressful circumstances and events
Building stress hardiness could easily be compared to building immunity to a disease. And in fact, at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, researchers have been documenting the effectiveness of stress reduction as a form of complementary medicine. They have established an eight-week program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. The next Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Intensive starts January 22, 2010, at the NonProfit Center.
Breathing and squeezing your shoulders are very simple things. It is simple to perform stress reduction techniques. But it is not necessarily easy. As stress builds, the easy thing can be to fall into negative coping and avoidance patterns that exacerbate the very problems we want to escape. If you want to avoid burnout, you must make the decision to take care of yourself every day.
Take Care of Yourself
What did you do today to take care of yourself?
- Did you eat a healthy meal?
- Did you squeeze and release your shoulders during a tense phone call?
- Did you practice deep breathing during your commute to work?
- Did you set proper boundaries with your co-workers about your schedule?
- Did you do a super-human amount of work, or did you limit yourself to a human amount of work?
The above are a few of the simple (although not necessarily easy) things that you can do on your own to increase your stress hardiness.
Take Advantage of Community Resources
Joining a support network is another very effective stress reduction technique. If you work in or near the NonProfit Center, you are very welcome to join our yoga classes and/or lectures. There are also many neighborhood resources at community centers and yoga studios. Find one near your home.
Even though it may not be easy to carve out the time, make a commitment to your own health and happiness. It is not selfishness to take care of your health. Your stress hardiness will be a support for everyone in your life.