As Stress Awareness Month winds down and Mental Health Awareness Month begins, it’s more relevant than ever to find helpful ways to reduce the burden of stress in your life. “Our level of regulation — or dysregulation, as the case may be — feeds into everything we do,” says Aurena Green, LGPC, RYT, a Clifton-based mental health counselor with the Viva Center. “It impacts our connection with others, our connection with ourselves, and even the quality of our work.” Stress itself is inevitable, says Green, but the way we approach it and support ourselves through it is what’s going to determine how much it impacts us — and for how long. Increasing nervous system flexibility means giving yourself the gift of moving through life with a greater sense of ease and flow — which is going to feed into every single area of your life.
You can start by taking steps toward overall wellness and quality of life, beginning with learning how to better manage your stress.
The types of coping tools that you implement depends upon the level of stress that you are experiencing. Typically, this is broken down into three categories: mild, moderate, and acute. And it’s important to first determine your stress level to ensure you choose and implement proper coping techniques.
Table of Contents
Mild Stress Management
For milder stress levels or even just for stress maintenance, one might implement some gentle meditation, suggests Green. “This helps you to feel more grounded and promotes a feeling of readiness to take on whatever comes next.”
Crafting a gratitude list or practicing some freestyle writing to get out any thoughts or feelings floating around in your head are also great ways to maintain or manage mild stress, Green says.
And it’s always great to get outside and get your feet in the grass to do some Earthing, she adds.“ Nature is a great healer and spending time outside enhances a feeling of connectedness within yourself, your senses and the world around you,” Green says.
Moderate Stress Management
For those with a more moderate level of stress or those who can feel it building up, something like progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) could be useful.
You can find guided PMR medications for this on apps like YouTube and Calm.
This involves tensing and relaxing the muscles in each body part as a way of inviting intentional relaxation into the system.
“This practice enables you to shift your attention from the mind to the body, which is particularly helpful if you find yourself getting lost in your thoughts,” explains Green. “It also offers a sense of control in that you are voluntarily tensing and releasing different muscle groups.”
Another technique to manage moderate stress is pinpointing one area of your body that currently feels comfortable, grounded, or calm.
Identifying one “calm place” in the body increases our capacity to shift from dysregulation to a more balanced state of being.”
It can be something as simple as the tip of your nose, says Green.
You then focus on this part of your body for 30 seconds.
“Exploring this sensation helps you find a calming center in the midst of turmoil, and it’s a reminder that you can hold both calm and stress in the same body,” Green explains. “It also helps create distance from the tension of stress and enhances nervous system flexibility.”
Acute Stress Management
For acute stress — the highest level of stress — something like breathwork is vital, says Green.
“This is especially helpful when we’re in that state where we find ourselves only breathing in short, shallow chest breaths,” she says. “That type of breathing brings on our fight or flight response.”
Instead, when you find yourself experiencing high stress, try practicing deep belly breathing and focus on making the exhales longer than the inhales, Green says. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps you calm down as its function is to help you rest and digest.
Another useful coping technique is 5 4 3 2 1 grounding.
This technique asks you to find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
“This is a helpful intervention for when the stress is at an acute level and perhaps you’re finding yourself on the brink of shutdown,” says Green. “Its purpose is to re-orient you to your surroundings and allow you to tap back into a sense of presence.”
Lastly, Green says you could try something called a ‘sweeping hug’.
“For this, basically what you want to do is cross your arms and bring your hands to your shoulders,” she explains. “Then, you apply gentle pressure to your shoulders and as you exhale, you sweep your hands slowly down your bicep until they reach your wrists.”
This movement helps shift the brain into relaxation mode and boosts oxytocin, a hormone that is usually conjured by human touch and bonding.
“In a way, it’s like giving yourself a hug,” says Green.
Looking for more resources? Check out the Resilient Brain Project, a free comprehensive library of resources offered by the Viva Center to help support those dealing with things like grief, stress, anxiety, addiction, traumas, and more. Visit resilientbrainproject.com to learn more.
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