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When you're under pressure, there is always a very strong temptation to rush everywhere, and to take life at a trot. Kids with activities, fitness, lousy commutes, work, responsibilities all take large bites out of your time, building up the feeling that you are never, ever going to achieve everything that you need to do. As most of us aren't bomb disposal experts, employed by the emergency services, your child is not in any danger and the last time I researched this, being tutted at by that irritating person didn't kill anyone. You can hopefully get yourself out of a stressed-out mindset by employing a few tricks and tools.
Whether the stress you're feeling is due to external factors, or something that you are generating yourself, there are ways and means to create a little stillness that will allow you to regroup. Marshal your thoughts and bring yourself back to a level place where your thoughts are less fizzy. Mindful movement can help with this as it pulls in the tentacles of your unruly mind.
Always remember that, more often than not, your brain is utilising it's ancient reptilian responses to react to stressful situations. So your thoughts are not necessarily going to be useful or constructive. In times of stress and anxiety, your brain literally throws the kitchen sink of boundless and irrational possibilities at you. Simple tools to help you filter the useful out from the noise and turn the volume down so you can think are always helpful.
Here are my top tips that can be applied at any time. I've deliberately pitched this as the walking that you get to do between activities on a normal busy day, rather than when you get to choose where, when and at what pace you undertake your mindful movement. Practice mindful movement in a work building, or on an industrial estate if you like.
If you only have a minute, or you can't get away...
Consciously slow down your walking speed as you're going from one place to another, even if all you're doing is walking a dozen steps to go and make a brew. Obviously you won't be able to fit all of this in if all you've got is a short stumble to the kitchen, but focusing on the act of standing, moving and walking, rather than the thing that's stressing you out can be quite freeing. Also if you feel self-conscious, or thinks it's going to be too obvious, try it out at home first.
- When you get up from your seat, make sure you've stood up fully before you start to walk. If you have little niggles of pain, it's probable that your body is trying to tell you that you need to slow things down a little.
- Think about putting your feet down with purpose.
- Think about the action of walking.
- Think about your shoulders.
- Drop your shoulders. (This is super important.)
- Have you dropped your shoulders? Good :)
- If your breath feels like it's coming up short (because stressed out people breath shallowly), breathe through your nose slowly and out through your mouth slowly. Trust me, no-one will notice.
- Hold your head up high and draw yourself up to your full height, like that there's a string attached to the top of your head.
- When you get to your destination to do the activity (tea making, standing at the printer or whatever), make sure that you stand in a gently firm upright posture with soft shoulders, and resist the temptation to slouch.
When you've got a quick shop dash...
Apply all of the actions in the above paragraph with a couple of additions.
- Try walking to the approximate pace of a piece of music that you enjoy. Just choose any tune that makes you happy and isn't too frenetic and go with it. I appreciate this doesn't always work for everyone, and if you're banging to Speed Metal or Paganini, "relaxed" is probably something of a stretch.
- Look at your surroundings while you are walking (Taking care to avoid cars, dogs, low walls, other people and open manhole covers for obvious reasons).
- If this doesn't work, count every time that your foot hits the ground. I quite like doing this in four/four time. So one, two, three, four and one, two, three, four etc. It brings your focus back to the deliberate act of walking, rather than allowing your brain to throw a million unfettered and unfiltered thoughts at you that increase your stress levels.
- Think about how your body feels and moves.
- Remember to breathe evenly and consciously.
- Bringing your focus back to your physical self can be a very powerful tool to relieve stress and anxiety. I hope you enjoy putting these tips to good use and let me know how you get on.