Relieve intense stress in 60-seconds – OurWarwick

Relieve intense stress in 60-seconds

Following on from the post on dealing with negative thoughts, here are 2 techniques that take no more than 60 seconds and are taken from the book “The Happiness Trap”. I have personally find these 2 techniques instrumental in relieving stress, especially in the most challenging academic month of the year.

Technique 1: Connection.

Connection means becoming more fully aware of your present experience rather than dwelling on the past or future. More specifically, connection engages with the observing mind as opposed to the thinking mind, which is the cause of those dwelling thoughts. This observing-mind-focus is a common thread throughout all techniques aimed at developing psychological flexibility.

This approach does not solve your problems, but it puts you in a mindset where you are more able to take effective action.

To do this technique, simply notice 5 things you can see, hear and feel (20 seconds each if you want it to be within 1 minute).

[1] 5 things you can see.

The first exercise is probably the easiest since we are in a visual sensory feast – the seeing part is usually easier than the hearing and feeling section, so I will add some tips for the latter two below.

[2] 5 things you can hear.

Do not just limit these to obvious sounds from the external environment. Also include sounds coming from you (e.g. your breath and movements).

[3] 5 things you can feel.

Start by noticing 5 things you can feel against the surface of your body.

Notice where your legs and arms are and the position of your spine. Inwardly scan your body and noticing the sensations in your head, chest, arms and legs can make this part go well beyond the prescribed 20 seconds (for the whole exercise to take less than a minute).

When trying to connect with the environment using the steps above, you will become distracted. So, when your mind wanders, simply acknowledge it – silently saying to yourself “Thanks, Mind!” then gently bringing back your attention to the exercise usually works well. Also, I find an inner commentary guiding your mind through the process usually helps retain focus.

Technique 2: Expansion.

Expansion is another powerful technique when trying to turn off the struggle switch with thoughts of the past and future stemming from the thinking self that runs rampage in your mind. Again, this technique engages the observing self. Before outlining the 4 steps, a summary of expansion is as follows: It starts with noticing what we’re feeling in the body, being precise about the different sensations, and then develops towards breathing into those dispositions and making space for them.

Step 1: Observe.

Notice uncomfortable sensations as you scan your body and choose one that bothers you most. Maybe it’s a tension below your forehead, or a tightness in your shoulders, or a knot in your stomach. Then focus on that sensation – almost like observing it as a scientist would when they discover something new. What shape would it be if you had to draw it? Where is it most intense? What temperature is it?

Step 2: Breathe.

Now breath into and around that sensation. This may seem abstract, but it simply means taking a few deep breaths (slowly) and emptying your lungs as you breathe out. You should notice the tension of your body reducing – almost like lowering an anchor while at storm in the sea. As Russ Harris says, the anchor will not get rid of the storm, but it will hold you steady as it passes.

Step 3: Create Space.

Developing from the breathing, the penultimate part is using that movement of air to make space around the area of tension – like inflating a balloon if you were to visualise this.

Step 4: Allow.

Finally, don’t get stressed when the sensation stays there. Just let it be and remember to thank the mind when it tells you this won’t work and other unhelpful comments. Something important Russ Harris keeps coming back to in the Happiness Trap is that developing psychological flexibility is like learning to ride the bike and these exercises, although they may seem strange at first, are like the supporters that help us transition to riding the bike with more fluency later on.

Hopefully at least one of these 2 quick techniques will help relieve some of the uncomfortable stress and tension for you that inevitably build up during exam season.

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