In part one of this post, I talked about your stress response vs. your relaxation response. We covered what happens in your body during the stress response, and how we can get stuck in “survival mode”.
If you haven’t already, you can go back and read part one here. Now that you’re familiar with the stress response, let’s focus on some ways you can shut it off by activating your relaxation response instead.
3 steps to activate your relaxation response:
1. Identify your biggest stress triggers
The first step is to be aware of the situations and people that regularly trigger your stress response—anyone or anything that causes you to feel threatened, anxious, or overwhelmed.
List your major triggers in your journal or in a notepad on your phone. Highlight items that you have control over, that you can immediately remove from your life.
I’ll share some of mine below, to help you get started.
- Cut out negative world news. I first got this idea from the book The 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferris, and I’m so happy I gave it a try. I used to wake up in the morning and immediately check the news, but I found that reading negative, sensationalist headlines and articles was triggering my stress response—there couldn’t be a worse way to start my day. So I stopped checking the news first thing in the morning, I turned off distracting news alerts on my phone, and I unfollowed news outlets on social media. Now I’m very selective about when and where I get news updates—and I’m so much happier because of it.
- Spend less time with negative people. Are their certain people in your life that cause you to feel drained? Spend less time with them. I know this can seem harsh when it’s a family member or an old friend, but consider the positive impact of surrounding yourself with inspiring people who love and respect you for exactly who you are. My favourite way to meet and spend time with people that share the same interests as me is to join classes, recreational sports teams, or local business networking groups.
- Simplify EVERYTHING. I don’t know about you, but when my schedule gets swamped and my house gets messy I start to feel chaotic—and it puts me into survival mode. Over the past year I’ve really focused on how I can simplify every aspect of my life. From completely de-cluttering my house, to batch cooking food, to asking a family member to take the kids for dinner once a week so I can block off “me time”.
You may be surprised to find that you have much more control than you initially thought—I found this exercise to be so empowering.
Yes, there will always be circumstances that are out of your control, but being aware of them is important so that you can be better prepared with positive coping mechanisms and reduce your risk of chronic stress. The next two steps will help you do just that.
2. Practice deep breathing
Deep breathing is also known as abdominal breathing, because it causes your belly to expand instead of your chest. Research shows that deep breathing is a simple, yet powerful tool to help you turn off your stress response, and turn on your relaxation response.
Try this before bed each night, plus anytime you feel triggered:
- Slowly inhale through your nose for a count of four, then exhale for a count of six
- Allow your belly to naturally expand and rise as you breathe in, then fall as you breathe out
- Focus on your breath—when your thoughts wander, just acknowledge them, and return your focus back to your breath
- Continue your deep breaths for at least one minute—gradually build up to five, ten, or 15 minute sessions
Performing deep breathing exercises triggers your relaxation response, and puts you in a better position to view a stressor as a challenge to overcome, a problem to solve, or an opportunity for growth (instead of a reason to panic).
I know that it’s hard at first to adopt this skill, but I promise, it gets easier with practice. If you need a little help to get started, you can find guided deep breathing exercises online at Gaia or even on YouTube.
3. Change your thought patterns with daily gratitude
When you feel overwhelmed with negative news, angry people, and relentless life demands on a daily basis, your brain can become conditioned to constantly scan for perceived threats in your environment—leaving you in perpetual survival mode.
Fortunately your brain is highly adaptable to change—you have the ability to interrupt negative thought patterns and replace them with new, positive thought patterns.
Research shows that regularly writing down and reviewing the things you’re grateful for helps you to feel happier, more optimistic, and better prepared to cope with stressful situations when they do arise.
Try this gratitude practice for the next 3 weeks:
- Keep a small notebook beside your bed
- Each morning, before you get out of bed, write down at 3-4 things that you’re grateful for
- Take a few minutes to review your lists at the end of each week
I’ve committed to daily gratitude since getting my Weekly Panda Planner, an agenda that doubles as a gratitude journal. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my mood and productivity since I started using it! If you’re a person like me who loves an old-school written agenda to stay on track, then I highly recommend the Panda Planner. Otherwise you can get started with your gratitude practice right away with a simple little notebook on your night table.
Alright, we’ve covered a lot here!
- Your stress response (fight of flight) turns on when your brain perceives any threat, whether you’re panicked because there’s a bear on your path, or because your mother-in-law is coming to dinner. Your brain doesn’t know the difference.
- If you frequently react with panic to every-day stressors, your stress response can become overactive. I call this getting stuck in “survival mode”, which can lead to anxiety, fatigue, poor sleep, cravings, and brain fog.
- You can reduce stress by activating your relaxation response. Try these 3 steps to get you started:
- Identify your biggest stress triggers
- Practice deep breathing
- Change your thought patterns by practicing gratitude
The above strategies have helped me at times when I’m stuck in survival mode, losing perspective and spiralling into overwhelm. The more I practice, the faster I can get myself back into thrive mode—a much more calm, happy, productive place.
What are your favourite strategies to reduce stress? Did you find the above strategies useful? Comment below, I always love hearing from you!
Sending you all the relaxing vibes,
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