Seven Tricks to Rein in Stress in Just Minutes

It might sound cliché, but mother nature shows us that spring is a time for waking up, refreshing, clearing out, and starting new. In the spirit of making a fresh start, my husband and I bought a townhouse, and we’re in the final stretch of finishing up a few updates before we move in the next few weeks.

This is the first time I’ve ever done these kinds of renovations, and it’s like having a second job. For the last couple months I’ve been researching wood flooring, appliances, kitchen countertops, lighting, faucets, painters, movers, and other projects that I have the delusion of being able to DIY until I look it up on You Tube and then decide, “Uh, no.”

So I’ve been meeting and coordinating with lots of folks, and the other day I was juggling three groups—the kitchen countertop installers, the painters, and our handyman—along with running a few other errands.

By late morning, the countertop guys had to stop early because of an unexpected problem. My smoothie and tea had run their courses, and my eyeballs were floating. With the water in the townhouse off, I made a mad dash back to our apartment, which thankfully is close, to relieve myself.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

There’s a reason it’s called a mad dash. Rushing is crazy making. You can look crazy as you’re rushing, and you can end up feeling rattled because you rushed.

Physiologically, rushing can hijack your nervous system and throw you into fight or flight mode, a response that helps us handle danger. The brain perceives a threat and the body automatically begins a cascade of hormone releases that affect your body’s ability to fight or flee. In the short term, that means that you have more energy for running and fighting.

In the long term, you can end up with chronic stress from going into fight or flight too often and staying in it too long. That chronic stress can lead to all kinds of health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, obesity, etc. The problem is that your body doesn’t always realize there’s a big difference between the threat of a hungry tiger stalking you and your need to use the restroom. Your body doesn’t necessarily know that you’ll probably survive that presentation you have to make at work, that meeting with your micromanaging boss, or that criticism from a catty co-worker.

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No matter what the threat is, living our lives in fight or flight mode has consequences for ourselves and those around us.

Through my study of yoga and myself (Svadhyaya), I have learned that rushing is one of the worst things I could do for myself. When I rush, I know I’m not following the yogic principle of peace (Ahimsa). It’s a small act of violence towards myself, because it can put me into fight or flight, and towards others, because when I’m stressed out, the way I interact with people changes. I become impatient, selfish, and rude. I tailgate. I honk. I sigh when someone’s taking too long at the checkout. I interrupt people. My tone of voice changes. I end up anxious, exhausted, and less productive than if I had taken my time.

So now, I usually do everything possible not to rush. I leave early. I build extra space into my calendar. I’m choosy about what I say, “yes” to doing. I trust in Divine timing and often slow down even when I feel the pull to rush. It’s a work in progress, as my example shows.

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In my experience, unless I consciously rein myself in, one mad dash easily can lead to another, and another,as it did for me that day. I rushed back and forth to the townhouse four separate times in a short window. My body stayed in that frantic, stressed out state for much of the day, even though rationally I knew my survival wasn’t at risk.

But here’s the really scary thing. After I left the townhouse the third time that day, I went back to our apartment and realized how badly I needed to pee again ONLY when I went into the bathroom. By that time, my stress response had gone into endurance drive and caused my body to curb my awareness of the need to go. Since the urge to relieve myself was what caused my frenzy in the first place, I could see how easily it could become a vicious cycle.

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When we push through, we lose the connection to ourselves. We stop listening. It’s happened to me plenty of times. I’ll be working really hard, notice that I start to feel anxious, only to realize that it is because I need to use the restroom or eat. My body tries to get my mind’s attention to take care of it. As my teacher Jehangir Palkhivala says, “The body never lies.”

There are times when “pushing through” might be necessary and helpful. Giving birth comes to mind, though I’ve never had children. Running away from a terrorist attack or even an Olympic athlete finishing a race are other examples, but these are isolated moments.

There are times when perseverance (Tapas) is necessary to complete a task or meet a due date. When it overrides your self-care (like when you don’t take time to eat or use the restroom), then it can become a problem. (See my related post 10 Signs You’re Letting Self-Discipline Trample Over Your Self-Care.)

Far too many people live in traumatic situations—dealing with an abusive partner, living in a gang warzone, getting sexually harassed when you walk down the street, serving your country in hazardous situations, not having enough food to feed your family. Figuring out how to stay safe can be a daily struggle.

I’m not a psychologist, social worker, ER doctor, or law enforcement officer. If you need help with a trauma and survival-related danger, please get out of the situation and get professional help now. As a trauma survivor, I know that both of these steps are critical to healing.

If rushing has hijacked your nervous system, you find your heart racing before you give that presentation, your blood pressure is rising as you meet with that micromanaging boss, or you realize that something is really stressing you out, you could use some quick and easy tricks to rein in that fight or flight response. Here are my top seven favorites:

  1. Get grounded. Feel your feet touching the floor. Press them down and feel the safety of gravity, the support of the earth. Studies show it’s especially helpful to go outside and either lean against a tree or place your bare feet on the grass or earth.

  2. Get back in your body. Find some part of your body that feels safe and focus on it for several breaths. It could be your nose, your belly, your heart center, or whatever you choose.

  3. Lengthen the exhalation. Breathing in and out through your nose, make the exhalation at least a count or two longer than the inhalation, without forcing or straining the breath.

  4. Get curious. Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way? What do I need?” Do you need to pee? Do you need to eat? Do you need to sleep? Do you need to leave a situation to get grounded? Do you need to get help?

  5. Shout it out. Go to a safe space where you can be alone, and shout out what you’re feeling. You don’t even have to shout. Just saying what you’re feeling can sometimes be enough to acknowledge it and start to change it.

  6. Come back to your heart. Place your right palm on your heart center, just below the notch in your sternum, or use your right middle finger to make small, slow clockwise circles.

  7. Rest your forehead. Place your forehead on your desk or a wall, or even take Balasana (Child’s Pose) with your forehead resting on your forearms or hands.

Over the long-term, there are lots of other solutions you could explore, including restorative yoga (come join me in class or for a workshop!). The most important thing for you to know is that you have the power to interrupt the stress in your life. I know you can do it!

Speak Your Truth

Have you ever gotten super stressed because you needed to go to the bathroom or is it just me? What throws you into a fight or flight type of stress? What’s your go-to trick for calming yourself down in moments of stress?

In wellness, joy, and inspiration,

Tami

How Restorative Yoga Prepares You for the Hard Stuff

How Restorative Yoga Prepares You for the Hard Stuff

We’re back from our trip overseas for my father-in-law’s memorial, and March has flown by us, between jet-lag, “spring forward” into daylight savings, a couple of drop-everything-else projects, renovating our new townhouse, and guests. It’s hard to believe that we’re in the last days of March!

I’m still processing all of the ceremonies, beauty, and emotions that I experienced as our family sent my father-in-law on his way and will share more thoughts about it at some point. For now, here’s a little taste of what I learned.

As we arrived at my mother-in-law’s house, the air was hushed with sadness even as dozens of relatives and friends filled the space. Cousins and sisters ushered me in one direction to see my mother-in-law right away. Though we don’t often speak the same language of words, we understood each other clearly with our tears and hugs as the shared language of grief. I realized something important that night that will help me so much in the future.

10 Signs You’re Letting Self-Discipline Trample Over Your Self-Care

10 Signs You’re Letting Self-Discipline Trample Over Your Self-Care

I used to work in an office on the fourth floor of a large, seven-floor building. The cafeteria was on the first floor, and a few of my bosses were on the fifth floor. I had to meet with people on all floors and in opposite corners on a regular basis, including in the basement of the building. Unless I was going from the ground floor to seven, I always took the stairs…in heels and a skirt suit.

People would say they heard me coming, because I always walked fast and had a particularly noticeable step (that my friends of course made fun of). All those years of marching band made my heels come down first, which creates a certain clickety-clack when you’re hurrying to a meeting to tell something important to someone even more important.

I got up every weekday morning and went to the gym or for a run at 5:30 a.m. Unless, of course, I had to be at work by then for a special meeting. I worked crazy hours, and sometimes even stayed late on Friday nights when I didn’t have to so I could pack in a few hours of uninterrupted work. You might think I had no social life, but I somehow managed to squeeze in happy hours, dinners with friends, hikes, and even dating. I was rarely asleep before 12 a.m.

After a few years, I noticed that when I met a big deadline, which often came up suddenly and carried with it a lot of pressure to get things right, I was fried the next day. We’re talking like a donut fried, with nothing but fluff on the inside. I would sit and stare at my inbox, not sure where or how to start. More coffee didn’t help. More protein and sugar only slightly did until I crashed again. I should have seen it starting then.

My Journey From Pancakes to Smoothies and Back

My Journey From Pancakes to Smoothies and Back

Throughout my childhood, I LOVED pancakes. Spoiler alert—I still do.

My step mom dubbed me Pancake when I was about four because that’s all I wanted for breakfast. I made Mickie Mouse pancakes with my grandmothers every chance I got. We didn’t have any fancy pancake molds back then. We just made a big circle and added two small circles for the ears. They were magical in my wide, five-year-old eyes.

I also remember (and now regret) feeding pancakes to the chipmunks at Yosemite National Park. I thought they would love my fluffy, syrup-laden clouds of heaven just like I did—poor little Chip N Dale. I can’t imagine their gluten-loaded tummies weren’t bloated and achy after that.

Then along came my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Jenkins. She was the kind of healthy person who always wore running shoes and had a perpetual tan from running outside (I’m pretty sure there were no tanning beds in my tiny little town back then). I’m forever grateful to her because she sparked my interest in nutrition. We learned about the food groups and how to write out a recipe. We even cooked in class and had healthy eating challenges.

Between Mrs. Jenkins and my mom’s interest in nutrition and mindful eating, my love for exploring healthy foods and lifestyles, much like my curiosity of yoga, started at an early age.

My body is my laboratory, and I’ve experimented with a lot of different eating plans. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Bringing The Sun's Warmth To You

Bringing The Sun's Warmth To You

I was just getting ready to step up on the scale at the doctor’s office, when the fire alarm sounded.

You know how sometimes when a sound totally unrelated to you happens just at the same time that you move and can make you feel like you caused the sound? Is it just me? Well, I had just taken my arm out of my jacket, sweeping it past the alarm, which was above the scale. I jumped, thinking maybe I set it off!

Once I recovered from thinking I had caused a major fiasco, the nurse and I looked at each other and mused about whether it was a drill or not. Pretty soon others in the office started ushering us out. It was the real deal.

We all gathered on a grassy island away from the building, and after the initial confusion, many of us looked towards the building for signs of smoke, flames, or the signal we could return. Eventually, the firetrucks arrived.

My Favorite Fatigue-Fighting Pose and How To Maximize it for You

My Favorite Fatigue-Fighting Pose and How To Maximize it for You

The other day I was sitting at Starbucks and staring at my screen through squinty eyes that wanted to shut into a comfy slumber. I was shivering (why is Starbucks always cold to me?) and felt like I was sitting on a rock. I woke up super early that day, after a night of tossing and turning, so I could get my husband to the train and myself to the doctor to get some routine bloodwork done. I missed my morning breathing session, and really was longing for that battery recharge that my breathing practice offers. I was committed to dedicating a good chunk of time to writing that day, though, and knew that my time at Starbucks was it, given that I had meetings and yoga practice in the afternoon.

So, I did what any yoga girl would do.

Order coffee? Nope. Drink a matcha latte? Nah. Put my head on the table and take a nap? Nyet.

I went home, and instead of crawling into bed or curling up on the couch, I got out my bolster for my favorite fatigue-fighting pose.

What My Turquoise Pen Taught Me About Yoga

What My Turquoise Pen Taught Me About Yoga

I held a turquoise pen in my hand and took a deep breath as I looked down at the blank page. At the top, I wrote, “I’m proud of…” and took another deep breath. A few obvious items came to mind immediately.

  • Moving across country with my husband.

  • Helping my husband through a tough work transition.

  • Packing up half of our belongings and staging our condo right before taking a trip overseas.

  • Birthing a yoga teaching practice in a new city.

I wrote about half a dozen items on the page before a long pause. The directions for the exercise, which I found through money and manifesting expert Denise Duffield Thomas, were to have a partner ask “what else?” every time you got stuck until you had 30 to 50 items on your list. I wondered how I was going to list 10 accomplishments let alone 30 to 50.

6 Simple Wellness Tips for the Holidays

6 Simple Wellness Tips for the Holidays

I will never forget that January 2nd, when I woke up with chest pains, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, and pain in my jaw.

The holidays had been full of comfort and joy, yet I could barely see out of my right eye due to a cyst on my inner eyelid. I’d attended two funerals. The priest at one passed on his blessings as well as his cold. I was teaching more classes and seeing more private yoga and coaching clients than ever. Now, chest pains. My body was trying to tell me, “Enough!”

It wasn’t the first time I was sick at the holidays. My annual holiday illnesses were dependable. I had come to expect that I would be sick around that time of year. Usually, I got “normal” upper respiratory infections. One year it was whooping cough. (Yes, you can still get this illness. I thought it only happened during the times of Little House on the Prairie and prior…until I got it.)

Though my heart ended up being fine that early January morning, I knew I needed to make some changes. I had to face the fact that as joyous as the holidays are and as much as I love them, I neglected my self-care in favor of doing it all.

Doing Laundry and Slaying Demons

Doing Laundry and Slaying Demons

I’m fresh off of almost three weeks of travel, and boy, am I glad for a break from living out of a suitcase. We had such a wonderful time in Chicago! In addition to teaching three workshops, holding private sessions with students, and meeting with coaching clients, my husband and I cheered on the runners at the Chicago marathon and filled our hearts with laughter with friends and lots of hugs and kisses from my little niece and nephew. I am so grateful that I got to see many of my Chicago students and meet some new faces as well. We dove deeper into breathing techniques, tuned up our bodies and lives with the chakras, and found nourishment by doing less.

First Downs: A Simple Formula for Boosting Your Confidence

First Downs:  A Simple Formula for Boosting Your Confidence

We missed it.  Completely.  Not one kick off.  Not one Hail Mary pass.  Not one plowed run through hundreds (maybe even thousands?) of pounds of muscle might.  Not one Belicheck tantrum.  Not one funny commercial.  Not one second of half-time show fireworks and music.  The Super Bowl came and went this year, as we were awakened by the call to prayer on our first full day in Bangladesh for the wedding of my husband’s nephew.

Though I had no emotional attachment to either team this year, I enjoy watching the game, the halftime show, and, of course, the commercials.  As I lamented missing this annual touchstone of American culture, I remembered how my yoga teacher once likened life to a football game.  I started to observe the “first downs” in my life and discovered something powerful. 

It's a simple formula for boosting your confidence, and it starts with doing something new.  You see, as you step into new experiences, your courage and appreciation have the opportunity to expand.

Resolution Redo

Resolution Redo

“Do 100 squats every day for the entire year.”

“Read a book a week.”

“Get up at 5:30 a.m. every day”

“Lose 20 pounds.”

“Give up processed sugar for good.”

 

Sounds good, right?  Except for when, on day 10, you fall ill and can’t get out of bed to do your squats.  Or, when one month passes and you’re only a few chapters into the first book.  Or, when you went to bed at 3:00 a.m. after your friend’s birthday bash and can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed at 5:30 a.m. Or, when things get so crazy at work that you can’t make it to the gym or the grocery store for healthy food to keep your weight loss going, and instead eat greasy take-out at your desk every night until the project is over.  Or, when you realize that you really are addicted to chocolate and the sugar that’s in it, and where the heck is your secret, emergency stash?  Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

 

That last one is all me. ;-)