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,