It wouldn’t be hard for you to picture someone in a great deal of stress. Maybe you picture their posture slumped, fists and jaw clenched, toes curling, eye twitching, breathing tense, chin tucked and head forward in “fighting position”. Now quickly look at the position you’re reading this in! The positions I described are natural physical responses to a fight or flight situation and associated with the sympathetic nervous system. It’s the nervous system responsible for adrenaline release and the stress hormone cortisol. Burning through these on the daily is not good for your overall health, relaxation, weight loss/gain goals or restoration (parasympathetic nervous system aka the opposite).
What’s going on either consciously or deeper down in the subconscious tends to manifest itself in certain ‘triggers’ or actions unique to you. I’ll give you some examples of mine:
- Ill scrunch my toes into the floor
- Hold my breathe then exhale laboured as if breathing through resistance.
- Slump forward with the dreaded “desk posture’
There’s a common theme here and they all involve flexion as opposed to extension. You’ll have your own individual triggers, do you know what those are? And what do you then do about them? Here’s a step by step strategy to help.
First step figuring out what your stress triggers are! Clench your jaw or grind your teeth? Squeeze your fists? Frown heavily? Maybe you hold your breathe? There are lots of potential triggers and they will be individual to you. Start paying attention.
#2 What am I feeling?
As you catch yourself forming the trigger what is it your currently dealing or not dealing with that’s setting it off? Maybe your annoyed with a colleague at work? Maybe your football team is losing? Maybe a painful memory from the past was brought up? Maybe you’ve been sitting down for hours now? The trigger is a sign from the body, reminding you what’s going on between the ears, deal with or aim to change it before it consumes you.
#3 Do the opposite
Remember most triggers are a form of flexion so naturally the best go to is to consider the opposing movement or extension. Here are some simple examples to get you started.
If you clench your Jaw, open your mouth as wide as possible 3 or 4 times (you could argue this is one of the reasons we yawn)
If you’re constantly making a tight fist, don’t get a stress ball, open your hand as wide as possible.
If your slumped at your desk, set up a variable desk position, go for a walk often and get yourself in a better upright seated position.
If you curl your toes, spread them as wide as possible and try to kick the shoes off wherever possible.
If you hold your breathe….well, I’m sure you get what to do here.
Think for a moment how many unconscious tense breaths you take in a day? Imagine if you changed that by one present, smooth breathe every day. That is your first goal! Every time you notice your stress triggers kicking off, your going to do the opposite movement and then take 1 consistent long breathe. The trick here is to be completely present, no distraction for that one breathe. If you’re unsure how to breathe for relaxation, try a box breathe. 4 seconds in, 4 second hold, 4 seconds out, 4 second hold (or 2/2/2/2). Nasal breathing and deep into the belly for the win!
#5 Move consistently
It goes without saying getting your body to move into different positions and those that challenge your posture are excellent additions to your day to day. Remember if you sit down all day in a flexed position it is important to challenge that position with an extension focus, your body will thank you for it! Restoring balance through the body and range of motion does wonders for your stress levels, there’s something very energising about moving better.
Hopefully this will give you some more awareness over your body’s subtle hints that your experiencing a stress overload. Always consider posture or body language that a happy and confident you would exhibit and try to recreate that as often as is reasonable, your mind will thank you for it. They work together you know! Everything is everything, how you move is how you experience the world. Happy stress relieving!