When we are stressed, our body goes into a fight or flight state. We feel like we are in survival mode, which can be life-saving if we are in a truly life-threatening situation, but which can be burdensome in non-life-threatening situations. Stress manifests in different ways in different people. Some somatize it in the body and feel pain and tension, others become emotionally challenged or unable to sleep because their mind is racing and overactive. So, when you’re in need of stress relief that actually works, you need something that engages both the body and mind in order for it to be effective, and here are a few techniques that do that.
The Sonic Cuddle
Humming, which I call a ‘sonic cuddle’, is a form of body percussion that acts like a tuning fork to ground you. The vibration works on a cellular level – research studies have found that humming can have a positive impact on cognitive functioning. The vibrations that run through the body when you hum can be very therapeutic, especially during times of overwhelming stress.
To master humming for maximum benefit, do it with conscious intent. Start by inhaling deeply from the abdomen and as you breathe out, hum, feeling the vibration in your body. Place your hands on your tummy and feel the vibrations there, then move your hands to another part of the body where you feel tense or tight with stress and repeat the process, visualising and feeling the vibrations resetting that area of your body. Work your way through the body for 5-10 minutes until you feel calm and grounded again.
When you feel stressed, tense or strained, this can manifest in the form of muscle tension, whether in the chest, shoulders, torso or elsewhere. But if you are able to connect with those tensions, you can start to release them so you feel less stressed and anxious mentally and physically.
In a sitting or standing position (or even lying down if you are feeling stressed or anxious before bed), inhale through the nose and raise your arms up whilst clenching your fists, then tense your entire body for the length of the inhale. As you exhale, mentally and physically release the tension and bring your arms back by your side. Take this moment to notice the sensations in your body. Do you feel different, lighter? Repeat the exercise and you should start to feel a little less tense with each repetition. Continue until you feel calmer and more at ease.
Breathwork is a powerful way of neutralising the body’s response to stress. When we are stressed or feel overwhelmed, our breathing shifts to the chest and becomes shallow, and we start to notice panicked, quicker breaths. By controlling our breathing, shifting it from chest to abdominal breathing, we are relaxing the nervous system and telling our body that we are OK again, and we can begin to feel calmer and less tense.
Place one hand on your chest, the other on your tummy, and close your eyes. Breathe in and out naturally a few times to establish your rhythm and as you do so, notice the movement of your hands. Then, when you’re ready, imagine you have a balloon where your tummy is, and as you inhale, the balloon starts to inflate, then as you exhale, the balloon deflates. Count the length of your in-breath, and breathe out to twice the length, so in for three counts and out for six. Repeat this process mindfully for 2-3 minutes and you will notice that your breath naturally starts to shift from the chest to the tummy. You can continue to do this for as long as you need in order to feel calm and re-centered again.