Dr. Frank Lawlis, author of The Stress Answer and chairman of the Dr. Phil Advisory Board, offers the following tips to de-stress.
Listen to Music
The best way to stop your brain from getting stuck in anxiety is to turn on some music. The tempo and melody of your favorite song can turn stress levels down to manageable emotions in 15 minutes.
Move to the Beat
The body likes rhythmic, soothing movement. Yoga and tai chi are particularly effective in getting your motor neurons "hooked up" with feeling soothed.
Take Deep, Cleansing Breaths
Taking quick, shallow breaths usually signals to the brain that a threat exists, which stimulates a stress response, and therefore establishes destructive thinking patterns. Conversely, taking slow, deep breaths usually signals to your brain that the coast is clear and all is well.
Circle Breath Technique: Keeping a steady exchange of air inhaling and exhaling, thereby creating a circle of air flow through the lungs. Inhale while visualizing good nurturing air coming into your body and mind, and then exhale while thinking about releasing your inner toxins and unhealthy mental habits.
Knee-jerk response habits really can be changed. You need to learn the art of self-distraction from your worries, such as changing the subject, or taking away a worry's power over you by moving it from the high-priority filing cabinet in your head to the "no big deal" drawer. Your brain really will catch on and shift its priorities.
These forms of cognitive therapy are very helpful in shifting behavioral patterns. Think of this process as ditching the old recorded messages that play in your head and replacing them with far better, infinitely more accurate, brand-new ones. As you note the beliefs that cause anxiety, consider the following criteria to help you decide which beliefs are keepers and which need to be ditched:
1. Is the belief absolutely true?
2. Even if the belief might have some validity, does refusing to let it go best serve my spirit?
3. Even if the belief might have some validity, does refusing to let it go best serve my emotional and physical health?
4. What possible payoff am I getting by holding on to this negative belief?
5. Can I name one way that I would feel better (physically or emotionally) if I chose to let this belief go? (If yes, that's reason enough.)
Celebrating is extremely important to your brain patterns. Too few people know how to celebrate themselves. They wrongly think of it as tooting your own horn. Nothing could be further from the truth " especially when it comes to your brain patterns! Experiencing joy (not to mention fun and laughter) has genuine therapeutic value. Have a party for yourself and allow yourself to enjoy a day where you stop and really think about all the good things in your life.
Give yourself at least 30 minutes every day to relax. You deserve it, and it will make you healthier. Listen to a relaxation CD, do yoga, play a relaxing game or sing a song. This is your time to restore your brain pattern to normal. The value of relaxing is not just a once-in-a-while thing. Relaxation is essential to your emotional and physical health and needs to become a process as basic as brushing your teeth.
Participating in physical exercise has been shown to be one of the most powerful behaviors you can use to positively impact your mind and body. It works more effectively than almost anything else we can do for ourselves, especially when it comes to mood improvement and depression. The secret isn't so much related to the amount of exertion, but rather, it's the rhythm of the body and breathing that does the magic. Exercise is vital to your brain and uplifting for you in many ways: it increases oxygen to the brain, relieves the stress on the brain and body and strengthens the brain's interactions, helping to facilitate problem solving.
Mental health professionals know that one's posture influences one's emotional state and vice versa (our body posture is an indication of our mental state). For example, if you hold a standing position with your head stooped over, your chest withdrawn, your back bent forward, and your eyes cast downward, your brain will soon follow, and you'll begin to feel down, too. However, if you assume a posture with your head up, your eyes looking straight out into the world, your chest thrust out with your shoulders back, it becomes far more difficult to hold on to a negative thought.
Consuming high-sugar, high-fat, nutritionally empty foods on a regular basis will only send you deeper into your depression, and possibly to overwhelming depths.
Sleep is probably the chief method for our bodies and minds to find flexibility in our lives and to balance our incessant worrying. Reintegrating our experiences while we're sleeping is an extraordinarily important brain function.
Adapted from the book, The Stress Answer.