We all probably know that feeling all too well — the work day is over and you're headed back home completely pooped, with no energy left. Your mood then spills over into a bad evening at home, which can affect relationships with your family too.
In my 14 years of working as a DEI and Mental health consultant, I have found that a constant barrage of unaddressed stress could lead to full blown mental health issues.
When stress is relentless, as is the case with quite a few jobs these days, it can wear down the body and affects the functioning of the mind. People undergoing chronic stress can develop physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms like anxiety, irritability, depression, panic attacks etc.
During the pandemic, organisations that were able to offer mental health benefits to their employees were able to adapt faster to the situation as well as help employees de-stress. In my experience, companies that will continue to focus on mental health services to their employees, rather than winding down efforts, will be able to offer a better value proposition to its employees.
Here are simple mindfulness and de-stressing tips that you can take up
Start off your day well
Researchers have found that we release the most stress hormones within minutes after waking because thinking about the work day that lies ahead triggers our fight-or-flight instinct and releases cortisol into our blood.
Thich Naht Hahn often referred to as the 'Father of Mindfulness' for his work popularising mindfulness worldwide says, "Guard the morning and start it gently. Train yourself to begin the day with a few gentle breaths and a smile, before even getting out of bed or checking the phone. Make the vow to live every hour of the day deeply, with compassion."
A pause to breathe
When you get to work, take a few minutes at your desk for short mindfulness practice before you dive into activity. Close your eyes, relax, and sit upright. Place your complete focus on your breath. Simply maintain an ongoing flow of attention on the experience of your breathing: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
If your mind is very agitated you can count the breath (1 to 9) with each exhale. At the 9th breath, reverse the order and count down back to 1. Any time you find your mind distracted, simply let go of the distraction by returning your focus to your breath.
The most important aspect is to allow yourself to enjoy these few minutes of solitude. Throughout the rest of the day, your boss, colleagues, to-do-lists and competing urgencies will fight for your attention. But for these few minutes, your attention and time is all your own.
The previous mentioned technique is observation of the breath as it is and not a regulation of the breath. Deep breathing on the other hand is intentionally changing the breath to consciously change the pattern of breathing.
Your breath isn’t just part of your body’s stress response, it’s key to it. In fact, you can induce a state of anxiety or panic in someone just by hyperventilating — having them take shallow, short breaths from their chests.
That means that purposeful deep breathing can physically calm your body down if you’re feeling stressed or anxious. It can be helpful for dealing with day-to-day anxiety as well as more pervasive problems such as generalised anxiety disorder.
Stretch to de-stress
Not only does stretching help with physical health, but research has shown that it also gives a boost to mental health. Stress can cause muscles to become tense, which in turn causes muscles to tighten, leading to discomfort and chronic pain.
Stretching reduces the muscle tension, thereby reversing the cycle of tension. Stretching has been shown to increase serotonin levels — the hormone that helps stabilise our mood, reduce stress, and overall makes us feel good.
A quick Google search can bring up multiple websites and YouTube videos for daily stretch routines with different types of techniques. Just a few minutes of stretching can make you feel relaxed and ease the tension from your body and mind.
Chanting has been practised for thousands of years by almost every culture and religion in the world. Many consider chanting to have only spiritual advantages but recent research has found that chanting can decrease stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as increase positive mood, feelings of relaxation and focused attention.
Repetitive vocal chanting can have a direct effect on the parasympathetic nervous system as it can slow down your breathing and activate the vagus nerve. Scientifically, it does not matter what you choose to chant but it’s better to choose something that has some significance to you or a word or phrase that helps you calm down.
Apps and guided meditation
There are a number of apps that can help you de-stress and clear your mind.
Some of the more popular apps are Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer, Plum Village etc that have a whole gamut of different techniques.
Guided meditation can be of great help if you're first learning to meditate. It’s easier to meditate when someone is guiding you, and each time your mind drifts off the voice guiding the meditation can bring your attention back. This is especially helpful if you're particularly anxious or stressed out, or your mind is particularly busy and agitated.
Most people however find that there's a point after they've learned how to meditate, where they need less guidance and more silence.
A number of guided meditations are available on YouTube. Guided meditations by SN Goneka (Anapana/breath meditation), Tara Bach, Thich Nhat Hahn, Sharon Salzberg, Mingyur Rinpoche etc are very effective.
Non Sleep Deep Rest
Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) are specific techniques to reach self-directed states of calm through mental focus. NSDR is a term coined by Stanford neuroscience professor Andrew Huberman, who says it involves "self-inducing a state of calm" and "directing our focus to something." NSDR protocols can improve learning, help you relax, reduce stress, and help you fall asleep more easily.
Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, has said he unwinds with the help of NSDR
Pichai says, "I found these podcasts which are non-sleep deep rest, or NSDRs online. So while I find it difficult to meditate, I can go to YouTube, find an NSDR video. They're available in 10, 20, or 30 minutes, so I do that occasionally"
(The author is a renowned DEI and Mental health specialist working with leading MNCs in India and abroad. She is also the author of the bestselling book The Hangover of Choices.)