Here’s how to build up mindful strategies on a regular basis to better cope with stress when it hits.
Taking time for yourself every day is not an indulgence; it is a necessary strategy to have a well-stocked toolbox when stress hits.
“When we have a routine that includes ‘me time’ throughout the day, we can pull from those coping mechanisms we already know how to use when daily stress does hit us,” says Rachel Goldman, Ph.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine.
Goldman suggests having at least three go-to behaviors to use and practice at times when you’re not stressed out. “At least one should be 100% you – something that is totally in your control,” she says. Also at least one should be doable anywhere and at any time. Maybe running is your “me time,” but it may not always be possible to stop what you’re doing and go for a run.
Here are Goldman’s top tips for cultivating mindful moments:
Diaphragmatic breathing. Anyone can do this at anytime, anywhere. To practice, lie down on your back with your knees bent, with one hand on your abdomen and one on your upper chest. Breathe in through your nose so that your stomach – not your chest – rises, then tighten your stomach muscles and exhale slowly through your mouth. Goldman recommends practicing first thing in the morning and before you go to bed.
Use imagery. “It sounds silly, but try imagining an orange – you’re peeling the orange, you can see it, smell it and feel it,” she says. No matter what the imagery is, focus on something that engages all your senses. Ask yourself what you’re seeing and feeling. Once you lock it in, you can use it when stress hits, such as when you’re stuck in holiday traffic or last-minute shopping.
Change your location. If you find your stress level rising as your home fills with extended relatives or during a long day of work, try changing your environment. “It could be a matter of just a few minutes,” says Goldman. Just stepping outside for one minute or changing rooms can help alleviate stress.
Mind your routine. The bustle of the holidays means that routines fall by the wayside, but this is a time when it’s more important than ever to keep the part of your routine you can control. This includes eating whole foods throughout the day so that if stress hits, you will not be confusing psychological hunger with real hunger, says Goldman. “During the holidays, we often put ourselves last,” she adds, “but we need put ourselves first during stressful times.”