When stress levels go up, take a mindful breath

Beach Day at the Cape, MA ~Photo by Sofia Reddy
When I feel my stress levels start to creep up I imagine this beautiful day at the beach and look forward to my next escape. 

I’ve been listening to a guided meditation about relieving stress on the Meditation Oasis podcast by Mary Maddux. In it she reminds us that “things can be accomplished in a calm and relaxed way.” It doesn’t always seem like that is the case though, especially when we are faced with daily care-giving responsibilities at work and at home. However, we can use the moments in between the busyness to practice mindful self-care. We can take a moment or 2 to close our eyes and breathe or stretch, or we can give ourselves the gift of using our lunch break to take a brief walk or eat a healthy snack.

When we take mindful breaks we are able to replenish our energy by cueing our bodies to trigger our built in relaxation response. When we tame our stress levels it helps our minds think more clearly to tackle the challenging tasks competing for our attention. Many of my clients and students have shared that “there is no time for self-care, I have so much to do.” Maybe you can relate. However, I find myself being more productive and less irritable and prone to health issues when I practice regular self-care. I find that my energy levels increase, and that my mood and health improve and then I’m able to accomplish even more.

Recently, when my computer was being slow, I noticed my heart rate increase and breath become shallow, as thoughts of anger and frustration raced through my mind. Instead of reacting in the old way and fueling the frustration by lashing out, I chose to respond with mindful self-care. Instead, I closed my eyes and listened to calming piano music while remembering to breathe slowly and deeply. I noticed my stress levels and irritation steadily go down. When I opened my eyes the email message I was trying to send had gone through. Hooray!

Let’s take time this summer to practice awareness of when our stress levels increase so we can then take healthy action – mindfully.

Take a moment now to reflect on these questions:

  • When your stress goes from moderate to severe, where do you feel it in your body? Do you notice your chest tighten or your jaw clench? Maybe you start to breathe more rapidly or get headaches. Notice where you feel stress in your body. Remember, not all stress is bad because at mild-moderate levels it helps motivate us to take action when needed. However, chronic severe stress can turn toxic and wreak havoc on our bodies when it’s not well-managed.
  • What can you do in the moment to stop and allow your nervous system to calm itself down? What helps you the most? Is it meditation, walking, breathing, stretching, or praying? Think of ways you can clam your mind and body down both at work and at home.
  • Do you need some time off? When was the last time you took a mental health or self-care day? Sometimes just a day off to do whatever you want can be restorative. Think about what you need in the short and long term and make a plan for it. Talk about it with healthy supports and take action!

What did you try for self-care? How did it work for you? Share with us by commenting below or through my Facebook page @Sofiasanctuary

Resources: Below are a few recommendations of audio programs that I have found helpful for mindfulness, meditation and relaxation.

You can also browse Self-Care Books for more ideas.

Please note: Sofia Reddy (sofias-sanctuary.com) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Thank you for your support!

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About Sofia Reddy

I am a licensed independent clinical social worker in Massachusetts with over 12 years of mental healthcare experience. My day job is working as a psychotherapist in a mental health program. My second job is teaching graduate social work classes. My 24/7 job is being a mom and managing a home while maintaining my own health, well being and marriage. My specialty is in teaching others mindful stress management strategies to promote health and well being. As a trauma therapist, I work with clients to help them learn about and manage the effects of prolonged stress reactions. However, these strategies are also effective for people who are dealing with the effects of various stressful events in their lives. I also practice what I teach. Through this blog, I hope to bring my practice to you by sharing what I've learned over the years. Take good care, Sofia *Please note: the information presented on this blog is not meant to replace professional healthcare. Always consult with a healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns regarding your health. The views expressed here are solely my opinions and suggestions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of the mental health or educational facilities in which I work.
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