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From minor inconveniences to major events, stress is a part of everyday life. Any sort of stressful situation, small to large, can trigger a rush of stress hormones that produce changes in our bodies. For example, you may feel your heart beat faster, your muscles tense, or your breathing quicken. But did you know there are things we can do to eliminate stress from our bodies in real-time?

Instead of letting these reactions take over, when you feel your body’s stress response kick in, push back on it and signal yourself to relax by trying the following in-the-moment exercises.

1. Extended Exhale

One of the best ways to resist the stress response in the present is to extend your exhale while you breathe. You can do this without even stepping away from the stress-inducing activity or moment. This can help your body to slow your heart rate and return to its baseline in about 30 seconds.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Inhale through your nose.
  • Hold for a brief second.
  • Slowly exhale as much air as you can through your mouth.
  • Repeat for three rounds — or as many times as you need to feel relaxed.

Learn more: Dr. Andrew Huberman on the Physiological Sigh 

2. Panoramic Vision

When you’re stressed, your pupils dilate, which affects your inner state of mind and creates a narrower visual field of the world.

You can change this with this simple technique:

  • Hold your head and eyes as still as possible.
  • Look forward and relax your eyes so you can see as much of your environment as possible — what’s in front of you, to the sides of you, above you, and below you.
  • Continue this for two to 10 minutes or however long you need to feel your nervous system relax.

Learn more: Dr. Andrew Huberman on Panoramic Vision

3. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Tapping

Just as we rinse off our physical body in the shower, if we don’t rinse off our nervous system, stress and emotion can build up within. EFT tapping is one “rinsing” tool to try. This involves a special type of tapping acupressure along with a series of eye movements, intention statements, humming, or counting.

Here are two guided EFT exercises to try:

4. Name It to Know It

Stress is our body’s response to both obvious and sneaky stressors. External stressors tend to be more obvious and might include things such as finances, family, physical health, cultural expectations, discrimination, or microaggressions, to name a few. Internal stressors can be sneakier and may include things like criticizing self-talk, body-image thoughts, shifts in identity, loneliness, dwelling on the past, or anxieties of the future.

Think about this for yourself: What are some of your stressors?

Raising awareness can empower you to personalize your approach to stress, both in the moment and as a general practice. To do this, cultivate a practice of paying attention to your inner experience. When you start to feel stress, ask yourself, “What’s going on here?” with curiosity, and notice any judgement that comes up. You can do this through journaling, meditation, gentle movement like walking, jogging, or yoga — or even sitting in stillness with a cup of coffee or tea at the start of the day.

Some of your thoughts may be unhelpful and unproductive, and others may better serve you. Rehearsing helpful thoughts and affirmations can change your entire body chemistry and outlook on life. Follow this three step process to change your thoughts:

  1. Thought awareness: Ask yourself, “Is what I’m thinking supportive or unhelpful?”
  2. Thought stopping: If the answer is no, tell yourself “This is not helpful” or “I don’t have time for this thought.”
  3. Thought replacement: Choose a new, more helpful thought for your circumstances.

Some examples:

  • “Today, I allow myself to live in the moment and release any worries about the past or the future.”
  • “I am a vibrant and healthy human being.”
  • “My life is filled with joy and connection.”
  • “I am grateful for this body and all its capabilities.”
  • “I appreciate each day of this life.”

5. Facial Massage

When we lack sleep from stress (which causes even more stress to the body), the first signs may show up on our faces. Our facial muscles hold onto tension and deserve recovery, just like weary legs after a tough workout. A facial massage can help relieve this tension and increase circulation.

How to do this:

  • Using your middle and index fingers, apply light pressure to your forehead, lightly massaging in circles.
  • Breathe long and slow. After one to two minutes, do the same on your temples.
  • After another one to two minutes, repeat again on your cheeks.
  • Finish with gently pressing your thumbs to the top of your eye sockets on either side of your nose. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat this step five times.
Brie Vortherms, MA, LMFT

Brie Vortherms, MA, LMFT is a therapist in private practice and a Mind Coach for Life Time.

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