How many of us feel like our lives are completely stress-free? If you answered “I do!”, good for you! I’d love to know your secret to reduce stress! The reality for most of us is that we are seeing clients back to back and have very little time to breathe between sessions. This isn’t fair to our clients, our loved ones, or us. How can we possibly be our best selves if we cannot fully show up for our clients in an embodied way? How can we be present for our loved ones? How can we enjoy our lives if our nervous systems are constantly taxed by stress?
Although it would be great to be able to have a significant chunk of time between clients, I don’t think this is always realistic or ideal in the long run. I mean, who has time to be at the office for an extra hour or two because we have to build in 20 minutes between clients? The good news is I don’t think you have to completely reorganize your schedule to reduce your stress and be your best self. I personally like a bottom-up approach when working on calming and centering the stressed out nervous system, meaning we start with the body and then move to the higher functions of the neocortex of the brain. Below are five things that you can do in five minutes to center yourself and reduce your stress.
The power of a good breath does not cease to amaze me, no matter how many times I use it. When we are wound up, we do not breathe deeply which precipitates and reinforces stress on the nervous system. When we can consciously remind ourselves to take a deeper breath, the nervous system gets the message that we are not actually in danger and that we can relax a bit. This will help you to think clearer and to feel more embodied.
Rocking, stretching, or moving in any other way that feels good also sends a message to the nervous system and reinforces your own capacity to soothe yourself. Simply stretching in a way that feels good for 30 seconds is enough to bring your mind to the present. Try adding breathing to this for a little extra stress relief.
Our minds can get caught up in worry and stress-thoughts. Once your brain hooks into a string of worry thoughts, you can very quickly get sucked into the rabbit hole of tension and anxiety. At any point, whether deep in the rabbit hole or about to jump in, disrupt the chain of thoughts by stepping back and observing them with curiosity and without judgment. It’s sometimes helpful to try to visualize your thoughts as clouds in the sky blowing by, on a conveyer belt passing in front of you, or any other object that can move. The idea is that you see your thoughts come and go, without getting hooked in. As you observe your thoughts, ask yourself “Is there anything I can do about this right now?” If the answer is yes, do something. If the answer is no (which is likely the case), let the thought go until you can do something about it. Remind yourself that thoughts are not facts and that they can pass by if we allow them to flow and don’t feed into them.
You have access to your senses at all times. This makes them valuable and easily accessible tools for quick stress reduction. Pull up a picture on your phone that is soothing or look around the room and focus on a specific color or item and really focus your vision on it. See if you can make it clearer in your visual field. Use essential oils, scented lotions, incense or other smells and take your time to really focus on the sensations that come up in your body as you use your sense of smell. Use your sense of touch to focus on an item that has an interesting texture and really explore it. Have something sweet or sour handy and take at least a minute to eat it, savoring and exploring using your sense of taste. Listen to sounds around you (traffic, voices of others outside your office, the sound of the clock, the wind, birds outside, etc.) and try to hear sounds you didn’t notice before.
We can be really hard on ourselves. I find this to be ironic, since we tend to be cheerleaders for our clients and are frequently encouraging them to be kinder to themselves. It’s time to take a dose of our own good medicine and start redirecting our inner cheerleaders towards ourselves. The reality is that you are probably doing a good job. Could you do better? Maybe but you will be more likely to improve performance if you are encouraging yourself with some compassion and kindness.
Anastasia Pollock, LCMHC, a psychotherapist with 13 years of experience in the field of mental health, specializes in treating complex trauma and dissociative disorders. As an EMDRIA Approved Consultant, EMDR Institute & Trauma Recovery Facilitator, she is known for her dynamic, engaging and interactive style of presentation. Anastasia is passionate about making EMDR therapy more universally accessible to clinicians and clients. She also writes for the news outlet, KSL.com, GoodTherapy.org, and makes regular appearances on local news television shows to discuss and bring awareness to mental health issues. For more information, visit www.anastasiapollock.com.