We’ve all read countless articles about how we need to cut back on work, sleep more, and generally have a healthy work life balance.
Stress is bad for you, blah blah blah, we get it.
We know we need to make changes, but this is the real world. We know that stress is part of the deal.
But wouldn’t it be nice if it was just a little bit easier to manage? If there were ways to help yourself feel less stressed in those pre-meltdown moments? If there were ways you could help yourself get through your day… while you’re going through your day?
Good news! There are.
Adrienne Glasser, a LCSW and life coach practicing in Los Angeles and New York, understands that most of us don’t live the most healthy lifestyles. And that sometimes it feels like we don’t even have time to blink let alone close our eyes and meditate. She teaches stress-relief techniques that are a type of meditation that she says people can actually “do in everyday life.”
The world has changed a lot since the cavewoman days, but our nervous systems haven’t changed very much at all. “Our bodies think that deadlines are the same thing as being chased by a bear,” Glasser explains. “So, when we get stressed, our nervous system gets disregulated and we go into a fight, flight, freezesympathetic nervous system is in charge of the fight and flight modes. When we get stressed it increases our heart rate and blood pressure. The parasympathetic is the system that makes us freeze. It lowers the heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rate. Basically it’s what makes you feel calm. So, the goal of meditation is to find and keep the balance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.”
Ok… how do you do that?
Of course it’s ideal to have a seated meditation and mindfulness practice. To take even just a minute to turn everything else off and sit with your eyes closed, notice your breathing, and do a body scan so you can notice all your sensations—but that’s not always possible.
“If you can’t get a minute, there are ways to still notice your breath or notice body sensations, even with your eyes open,” Glasser explains. “You may notice your heart beating really quickly, but you may also notice the calm sensation of the breath at the same time. So when noticing different sensations that have different qualities, you’re actually toggling between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems and creating balance. It’s a very quick, accessible way of self-soothing.”
Glasser says this can be done anywhere; she used to do it on the subway in New York. It helped her stay aware of the chaos going on around her, but let go of the stress attached to it. “You can even do it while in conversations with people, if you get really advanced,” she says.
Use your sense of sense
Many of us see, smell, hear, taste, and touch innumerable things on a daily basis. We see our computer screens, smell the overpowering cologne Gary in accounting wears, hear car horns honking during our commute, taste the stale coffee in the break room, and touch the conference room door handle. It can feel like sensory overload.
But zeroing in onjust one of your senses can actually be a point of mindfulness.
“Anytime you tap into one of your senses, you’re giving yourself a point of your concentration for your mindfulness practice,” says Glasser. “You could pay attention to smells when you’re at a restaurant if you’re super stressed out at a business dinner. Just taking a moment to notice the smells, even in the midst of a very intense conversation, can help to regulate your nervous system. You have five senses; use them all.”
Remember: variety is the spice of life
Sometimes stress can make us feel like we want to curl into the fetal position. Other times, it can make us want to jump up and down and kick and punch. Most of the time we ignore those impulses. But Glasser says we shouldn’t.
“Ask yourself: ‘What does my body need right now in terms of movement?’ and allow for yourself to do that,” says Glasser. “Kids do this all day long. They don’t have a process around ‘Should I move my body?’ If they want to do jumping jacks and go bananas and jump up and down, they’ll just go do that. As adults, we have to give ourselves permission to take a minute to close the door. If you need to be in a restorative posture and lay down on the floor for a minute, you should do it. Even a minute makes a difference to your nervous system.”
Obviously this works best if you have the luxury of having an office or work from home, but locking yourself in the conference room or another open room for a minute is also an option. And if you’re not sure what your body wants, Glasser recommends “putting on music and letting it guide your movement. Giving that to yourself can be really helpful.”