Using Your Senses to Quickly Change Your Response to Stress
Everybody has the power to reduce the impact of stress as it’s happening in the moment. With practice, you can learn to spot stressors and stay in control when the pressure builds. Learning quick stress relief won’t happen overnight. Like any skill, it takes time, self-exploration and above all, practice. But think of it as an education with a huge payoff.
Learn to recognize stress
Recognizing stress is the first step in lessening its impact. Many of us spend so much time in a stressed state, we have forgotten what it feels like to be fully relaxed and alert. Being stressed out feels normal.
What does it feel like to be calm and stress-free? You can see that “just right” inner balance in the smile of a happy baby—a face so full of joy it reminds adults of the balanced emotional state that most of us have misplaced. In adulthood, being balanced means maintaining a calm state of energy, alertness, and focus.
Calmness is more than just feeling relaxed; being alert is an equally important aspect of finding the balance needed to withstand stress.
If you don’t feel calm, alert, productive, and focused most of the time in your daily life, then too much stress may be a problem for you.
Tips for recognizing when you’re stressed
Hush the voice that’s telling you, ‘Oh, I’m fine.” Notice how you’re breathing has changed. Are your muscles tense? Awareness of your physical response to stress will help regulate the tension when it occurs.
When you’re tired, your eyes feel heavy and you might rest your head on your hand. When you’re happy, you laugh easily. And when you are stressed, your body lets you know that too. Try to get in the habit of paying attention to your body’s clues.
- Observe your muscles and insides. Are your muscles tight/sore? Is your stomach tight or sore? Are your hands clenched?
- Observe your breath. Is your breath shallow? Place one hand on your belly, the other on your chest. Watch your hands rise and fall with each breath. Notice when you breathe fully or when you “forget” to breathe.
Identify your body’s stress response
Internally, we all respond to stress the same: blood pressure rises, the heart pumps faster, and muscles constrict. When stressed, our bodies work hard and drain our immune system. Externally, however, people tend to respond to stress in three different ways: some become angry and agitated, others space out or withdraw, and still others freeze up.
The best way to quickly relieve stress may relate to your specific stress response.
How do you act when stressed?
When it comes to managing and reducing stress quickly in the middle of a heated situation, it’s important to be familiar with your specific stress response.
- Over excited stress response – If you tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet you down.
- Under excited stress response – If you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating and that energize your nervous system.
- Frozen stress response (both over excited and under excited) – If you tend to freeze—speeding up in some ways while slowing down in others—your challenge is to identify stress relief activities that provide both safety and stimulation to help you “reboot” your system.