Have you noticed how stress is like a magnetic force that attracts more and more tasks until they just overwhelm you? It begins with one stressful thought that magnetically summons demand upon demand to you until you’re either ready to explode or collapse under the weight of it all. In this article, we’ll explore a simple way to quickly and easily release that stress and regain your inner balance and calm center.
Last week, I had one of those days when I was a stress magnet. I woke up thinking about changes we were making at work and worrying about how to schedule my new tasks and get them all done with all the other work I had lined up. I was already feeling the pressure of the day ahead, when I looked out the bedroom window and saw 8 inches of snow on the ground. “O.K.,” I thought. “I’ll have to leave for work a little earlier to get there on time.” This new thought added more time pressure to the mix.
Just as was getting a handle on that, my wife woke up, rolled over, and said she really needed to talk. I looked at the clock. Adjusting my mental schedule, I said to myself, “I can meditate later.”
“O.K.,” I said to her, trying to sound as supportive as possible. “I can talk for a couple minutes.”
Twenty minutes later, I told my wife I really had to get going. I went in to wake up my youngest son and get him ready for school and he was moaning about not feeling well. So, I took a few extra minutes with him, making sure he was fine—but now I was running even later. I went downstairs and looked at my phone and had several urgent messages. Tension shot up my spine. My day had barely begun, yet I felt like I was already outside battling traffic in the storm.
Before I went any farther down that road, I knew I needed to decompress. I had to stop the stress cycle before it took me down. Because I’ve witnessed this cycle countless times, I knew that I could reverse it by taking a few moments to relax and shift my inner state.
When you’re wound up in stress, you’ve activated your sympathetic nervous system, your body’s “full engagement mode” that gets you ready for what you’re facing. That’s great to prepare you for action. However, in our non-stop, everything-right-now culture, we tend to stay in this hyper-activated state, never fully coming down to rest and recover. That’s why these days it’s essential to learn how to consciously let go and relax deeply.
Here’s an easy way to stop the magnetic build-up of stress and activate your parasympathetic nervous system, your body’s natural recovery mechanism. The role of the parasympathetic nervous system is to bring you back to calm, centered, balance. Here’s how to engage it in three simple steps:
1. Give yourself permission to take a time-out. Find a private environment, away from the action, even if it’s just a bathroom stall. If you can get outside in the sunshine and fresh air, that can be even better.
2. Sit down with the soles of your feet firmly on the floor or ground. Rest your palms down on your thighs. Imagine a string attached to the top of your head gently drawing your posture upright. Lightly close your eyes and feel what is happening inside your body.
3. Take a few, slow, deep breaths. As you inhale, feel your breath expanding to fill your abdomen and your chest all the way up to your collarbones. As you exhale, mentally say the word “relax” and allow your torso to empty out, “letting everything go” just for this moment.
Continue sitting upright, paying attention to inner-body sensations, and practicing slow, deep, conscious breathing until you feel a shift in your inner state. Recognize when the edge comes off and feel the relief of relaxation inside your body. Smile. You’ve just activated your natural relaxation response—and stopped being a stress magnet. You can do this whenever you need to.