Despite all your efforts…
Often, even when you are working at keeping the stress down, something will happen. For me, it seems like once a month some crisis develops, often related to money. The car breaks down, someone gets sick, the dog needs some new medication; something unplanned. And when this happens, what one tends to do is to go into crisis mode. And that means, we start to get stressed and stop our Mindfulness, and eat more junk food, and skip exercise, and… you get the idea. We stop doing the things on the list for the 2 valve. We shut it off. And what happens? The stress in our bucket accumulates even faster.
Instead, what we need to do, first, is to keep doing our daily skills. “But, there’s too much stress” you will say. Exactly! Which is why we must keep the 2-valve open and flowing. But it isn’t enough. That’s why there is a 4 valve and a 6 valve. Those are for additional skills when the stress of life isn’t being managed by our daily skills. The idea is to add additional coping skills when life gets rough.
There are lots of coping strategies to avail yourself of and, in the following sections, I will outline and explain some of my favorite skills.
Stress Management Skills
Initially, before taking on the challenge of personal growth, we must determine how we cope with the challenges of daily living. The Stress Bucket gave us a model for reducing our stress response.
Now we need to determine what skills we can use to cope in effective ways.
Up Until Now.
One of my favorite skills is a simple one. Whenever you start to describe a problem, I suggest you start with the phrase “Up Until Now”. For example, “Up until now I had a problem with worrying about the future.” Notice that we have put the problem in Past Tense. This is a sneaky way of beginning to reprogram our Unconscious Mind to look for new, better ways of coping with a problem. We validate that, yes, this has been an issue in the past (Up Until Now) and we are looking for better alternative ways to deal with this issue. This is not a dramatic solution to all our problems, but it is a fun way to suggest that change is possible.
Using the Breath
The breath can be a grounding point for us, particularly when we are stressed. Everyone has heard the advice “just take a deep breath.” That’s because it works. Focusing our attention on the breath and becoming aware of the rising and falling of our chest and diaphragm engender a profound opportunity to pause, to center our attention on the body. To breathe. In the Indian tradition, the breath is Prana, the life-giver. Prana is not only the basic life-force, it is the original creative power. It is the master form of all energy working at every level of our being. Indeed the entire universe is a manifestation of prana. It’s no wonder that focusing on the breath can be so healing. One form of Mindfulness Practice focuses the attention on the breath.
Here are some ways to focus on the breath:
Square breathing is named that because there are 4 equal parts, just like a square has four sides.
Important note: It doesn’t have to be a 4 count, it could be any number, i.e. 3, 6 or 8 for each side of the square. One therapist I know uses a count of 4 (in), 7 (hold) and 8 (release). Experiment with your counting to find what works for you.
Thich Nhat Hanh uses this Mindfulness exercise to center and ground.
With your eyes closed, breathe in and think the word “relax.”
Breathe out and think the word “release.” Continue this for 5 minutes. Focus on any part of the body that is tight or tense and imagine any tension or stress just melting out of the body.
Alternate Nostril Breath (Pranayama)
Block the right nostril with your right thumb and breathe in slowly, quietly, without a sound. Release your thumb from your right nostril and block the left nostril with your right middle finger. Now breathe out slowly, quietly. Breathe in with this nostril and then release the right index finger and again close the right nostril with the thumb. Breathe out and in with the left nostril and then switch again. Continue for 5 minutes.
Belly Breathing (diaphragmatic breathing)
One of the most powerful ways to change your mood is to breathe with your diaphragm or belly.
When you breathe with your shoulders or upper chest you only use the top part of your lungs. Because the lungs are surrounded by the rib cage, the upper part cannot expand. You will get about 20 to 40 cc (cubic centimeters) of air with each breath.
If you breathe with your belly your lungs can expand below the rib cage and you get more air, over 400 ccs of air. That means you get 10 times the air per breath.
The easiest way to be sure you are belly breathing is to put your hands behind your neck or behind your back, (or at least at your side) and breathe normally. Doing this relaxes a set of muscles around the belly and you automatically breathe with your diaphragm.