Think back to a time you felt really happy, calm and relaxed. What were you doing? Who were you with? How do you feel recalling this memory? Notice it in your body. Check in with your breath. Is it fast and shallow, or deep and smooth? Are you breathing from your chest or deep down into your abdomen?
When I recall the walk with my son last week during a beautiful spring day I feel calm and at peace. I can feel it in my body. My breathing is smooth, deep and regular and my muscles feel loose and relaxed. My mind feels clear and focused. It’s like reliving this wonderful moment all over again!
We can pay attention to our bodies to raise awareness about our current state of mind. Our heart rate, level of muscle tension and how we’re breathing can tell us whether we are calm and relaxed or stressed and anxious. Our body functions as our very own barometer that helps determine how much internal mental and physical pressure we are experiencing. When we are in a happy memory or experience, our breath tends to be smooth and rhythmic and our muscles are loose and relaxed. Contrast that when we experience anger or anxiety. During an anxiety or anger episode our stress hormones release to prepare us for the “fight or flight” reaction to protect us from danger. Our heart rate increases, and we might experience a “nervous” stomach, shallow breathing, a headache, or other painful condition. In the midst of a real dangerous situation this is a necessary process to prepare us to escape from imminent danger. However, when we are caught in the vicious loop of re-experiencing anger or anxiety-provoking situations from the past, our bodies will kick into high gear to protect us from this perceived threat as if it’s happening in the present. Over time, these repeated episodes cause wear and tear on the body, and in the short term will leave us feeling drained and exhausted.
Repeated stressful reactions like this can trigger episodes of depression, overwhelming anxiety or substance use to alleviate the pain (both emotional and physical). However there are natural ways to obtain relief from stressful experiences. Visualization coupled with deep breathing is a powerful method that works to calm your mind and body so you can feel grounded and at peace.
The audio visualization below about accessing a happy memory was recorded live with my stress management group. You can practice it in the quiet of a private space where you will not be interrupted. I invite you to take a 10-minute break from whatever it is you are doing, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, close your eyes and listen.