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Over the past year, we have collectively, as a country and global community, experienced higher-than-normal stress levels due to the global pandemic, political upheaval, and social injustices. This translates to many unique and challenging concerns for each of us as individuals.

 Statistically, we know mental health has declined for a large portion of the population, manifesting in elevated levels of anxiety and depression. Practicing good mental wellness exercises can be a path to increasing our mental health both in the moment and preventatively moving forward, as well as our overall mental resiliency.

 Having mental resilience can help us sustain challenging situations and recover from difficult times. We can grow our “resiliency muscle” with mental workouts, similar to how we develop our physical strength with physical exercise.

In Part One of this three-part series, we’ll explore mind-body grounding exercises designed to deescalate the stress response in the body — and help build our mental resiliency muscles.

When faced with a challenge, we’re wired to react chemically and neurologically to help us survive. However, this primitive response is meant to help us run away from a tiger, for example, not be constantly on high alert. When in chronic stress environments, it’s easy for our stress response to get stuck in the “on” position. There are times when we need to actively turn down the response for our mental and physical health.

It’s best if we practice these skills daily to help strengthen our ability to calm ourselves. However, it’s also important to reach for these exercises at times when we’re experiencing higher stress. If you feel stress symptoms, such as racing heart rate, lack of focus, jaw tension, digestion issues, or trouble sleeping, participating in a mind-body grounding exercise may be helpful.

1. Grounding Exercise

Sit forward in your chair, with your feet firmly planted on the floor. Focus on an even, in-and-out breath. Next, allow your eyes to scan the room from the ceiling to the floor, as well as in front of you and on both your right and left sides, making sure to crane your neck around enough to “check your blind spot.” Repeat this three times and feel your nervous system calm, knowing it is safe and there’s no threat around you.

2. Centered Breathing

Take six deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, as you’re doing so pursing your lips like you’re using a straw. This simple technique helps reset your central nervous system.

3. Focused Breathing

Calm your busy mind by focusing your thoughts. Close your eyes and breathe in and out evenly, repeating a two-word statement that calms you, such as “pass through,” “just this,” or “I’m OK.”

4. Healing Visual

Sit in a quiet space, close your eyes, and breathe evenly. Next, visualize a healing light shining through your body. Focus on every cell drinking in health and serenity. Visualize your immune system being bolstered by this light. Say to yourself, “My body is strong and healthy.”

5. Loving-Kindness Meditation

Sit in a quiet space, close your eyes, and place your hand on your heart. Breathe evenly. Repeat the following statements: “May I be safe. May I be healthy. May I live with happiness and ease.”

6. Mind and Body Movement

Move your body physically through mind-body exercises such as stretching, tai chi, yoga, or walking outside. Moving this way not only helps strengthen your mental resilience, but can also increase your immune system and calm your nervous system.

Jen Elmquist, MA, LMFT

Jen Elmquist, MA, LMFT, is the director and co-creator of Life Time Mind, Life Time’s internal performance coaching program. She’s also the author of Relationship Reset.

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