Let’s face it – life can be stressful. And while we know that there are things we can and should do to manage our stress, such as seek the guidance of a professional, set healthy boundaries, and get plenty of sleep and exercise, we know we will still encounter tense moments throughout the day. And those moments often happen when we can’t exactly step out and go for a walk around the block or close the door for three minutes of deep breaths. These moments bubble up in staff meetings, hallway interactions, or Zoom calls. They happen when we’re in front of another person who may be the cause of the stress. They happen when we’re the responsible adult in a room full of children. They happen when we get a big piece of news. And in these moments, we need quick, easy ways to manage the tension and stress that can help us feel calm and regulated – all while keeping it under the radar for everyone around us.
Here are three quick, easy in-the-moment strategies to manage stress that those around you won’t even notice.
1. Plant your feet on the floor.
Whether standing or seated, take a moment to place both feet firmly on the floor. Feel the pressure of your feet as they push into the floor and feel the counter-pressure from the floor as it pushes back against them. Take a moment to focus on the different zones of your feet – your toes, the arch, the heel. Notice how each zone feels. Notice any tension in your feet or your legs. This simple act can draw your attention away from the stressor and can help you feel grounded, bringing attention back to your body.
2. 4-4-4-4 breathing
An easy way to relieve tension is to slow down your breathing. But in the moment, it can be hard to do deep, focused breathing. However, the 4-4-4-4 strategy is an easy way to slow it down while also being sneaky. No one will notice! Here’s how to do it: breathe in slowly as you count to four in your mind. Then hold your breath for four seconds. Breathe out slowly for four, hold for four. Repeat. Focusing on the counting can pull you out of the tense moment and direct your energy toward your breath. In doing so, your body receives a signal to calm down and slow down.
3. Tense and release.
This strategy – also called “progressive muscle relaxation” involves tightening and relaxing of various parts of your body to relieve tension. You can do this in the moment without anyone noticing. Start with your hands. Ball them up in to fists and tighten them, squeezing tight. Then release them and gently wiggle your fingers. Continue with other parts of your body – your jaw, your feet, the muscles in your legs and arms. Not all muscles get tense the same way – so you may want to shrug your shoulders, touch your chin to your chest, arch your back, etc. The important thing is to tighten and then relax the various muscles in your body. This also draws your attention away from the tension at hand and back to your body, but it also relaxes your body and releases tension that may be stored up.
We hope these three tips, in combination with a comprehensive self-care plan, can give you more tools in your toolbox for managing the inevitable stresses of life.