Medical Column: Decrease Stress in One Minute or Less

By: Dr. Arian Baker

This last year living and working during a global pandemic has no doubt been very stressful for many people. For example, the anxiety that comes with avoiding COVID-19 exposure and infection. Or, the threat of losing a job or home. What about the pressures of homeschooling your children indefinitely? There are too many to name, but there are also many ways to combat these stressors. This article hopes to help you de-stress in one minute or less!

What is Stress?
Stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (environmental, psychological, or socially related) or internal (during illness or after a medical procedure). During stress the body’s nervous system triggers the release of adrenaline which can increase your heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension. This is known as the “fight or flight response” and it has historically been a survival response to either fight or run from danger. A little stress for a short period of time is normal and is natural. It is the prolonged stress that can trigger headaches, make it hard to sleep, and even increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

So what can I do?
There are many ways to reduce stress and anxiety over a life time, but what can be done in the moment? Here are few exercises that may provide relief and help you get through a challenging day.

  • Deep Breathing
    When deep breathing, take a full, deep breath from your stomach. Inhale slowly and let your stomach expand, then let go of that breath slowly while letting all of your muscles relax.
  • Grounding Yourself – 5,4,3,2,1
    This exercise may be able to help with focusing.
    Name the following: 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, 1 thing you taste
  • Square or Box Breathing
    Imagine a square and begin by breathing all of your air out over a count of 4.
    Next, breathe in through your nose for a count of 4.
    Then, hold your breath for a count of 4.
    Finally, breathe out of your mouth for a count of 4.
  • Tension Release
    Tighten all your muscles in one area at a time and feel the relaxation when you release.
    For example, take a deep breath and hold it as you tighten your leg muscles, then let your breath go all at once while you relax those muscles. How does that feel? Try this with your arms, shoulders, stomach, and even your eyelids.

Although these exercises cannot get rid of the stress in your life, they may help you cope in the moment. If there are times you feel overwhelmed or that things are getting the best of you, reach out to someone you trust, like a friend or family member. Don’t suffer alone! Your family doctor is always eager to listen and help in any way they can.