The last year has been perhaps one of the most challenging in recent history. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted virtually all areas of life. Many students are now returning to virtual schooling after several weeks of in-person or hybrid programs. As a result, many parents are struggling to juggle work and finances with the need to supervise their children and ensure they are participating in their education. Children do not have as much opportunity to play and interact, and people of all ages are feeling the effects of restricted socialization. Stress is rampant during the holiday season during a good year, and with this particularly stressful year coming to an end soon, many of us are looking for healthy ways to center ourselves and focus on what matters most. Try using these evidence-based stress-reduction practices when things start to feel a little overwhelming:
  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Techniques – CBT is based on the theory that thoughts influence emotions and eventually behavior. You can stop the cycle of negativity by becoming more aware of your thought processes. One way to do this is to keep a thought log. Are there “hot thoughts” that tend to put you in a bad frame of mind? Becoming more aware of these thoughts and finding evidence to challenge their accuracy can be helpful in reframing stressful situations more positively.
  2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) – This technique forces your body to relax, helping to increase feelings of calm and well-being. It is also a good technique to use if you have a hard time falling asleep. Start by breathing in while contracting one muscle group (ex. calves, upper thighs) for 5-10 seconds, then breathing out while you gradually relax those muscles. Allow 10-20 seconds to relax your body before moving onto the next muscle group. Do this in slow succession, working your way up the body one muscle group at a time, until your entire body is relaxed. Visualize the stress leaving your body every time you relax your muscles.
  3. Deep Breathing – Like PMR, this technique taps into your body’s parasympathetic nervous system. You need to breathe from your diaphragm, rather than your chest. Place your hand over your belly and breathe in deeply through your nose; you should feel your belly rising as you inhale. Breathe in for four counts, hold your breath for seven, and exhale through your mouth for eight. This is known as the 4-7-8 method, but there are other methods as well. Ultimately you want to be exhaling through your mouth for longer than you inhale through your nose. Be cautious when using this technique if you have anxiety; it can lower your heart rate, and breathing differently than you are used to could potentially lead to a panic attack. Start with just a few breaths and see how you feel. Better yet, try with a friend or family member!
  4. Humming – This is a simple technique that can be done just about anywhere. Humming stimulates the vagus nerve, causing the release of oxytocin which helps to relax your body. Singing can have a similar effect. Next time your family is feeling stressed out, try having a family sing-along!
It has been a difficult year and many of us often feel like we have no control over what is happening. These methods are small ways to give you back some of that control and restore peace to your life.