Less Stress? Yes, Please!

Stress Reduction Basics

by Dr. Kelli Ritter


Want to feel less stressed? Breathe.

Yes, it's that simple! The secret to becoming stress hardy is to evoke the relaxation response. There are as many ways to effectively practice eliciting the relaxation response as there are ways to evoke the stress response (aka, get stressed out!). One of the most effective ways to connect to what is going on in your body is through the breath. Conscious breath. Why pay attention to your breath? To find the peace that lives inside of you.

What we all call "stress" is just the body's way of attempting to stay alive. We are hard-wired for survival, which means the stress response is actually a helpful automatic response. Unfortunately, anything we perceive as dangerous will kick in our stress response. The keyword here being 'perceive'. While many of us stress over actual problems we also experience stress over the stories we make up in our minds about what might happen.

The good news is that we are also hard-wired with the relaxation response. In my experience, the most successful ways to combat stress are the simplest and involve the relaxation response. Small ways of eliciting the relaxation response are easier to incorporate in your daily routine than you might think. Some breathing techniques take less than a minute (see 4-7-8 Breathing Technique below) - you can reduce your heart rate, increase relaxation in your body and slow down your respiration. The more relaxation techniques you practice throughout your day, the easier it becomes to quickly feel better.

4 Tips to Reduce Stress:

·      Breathe

·      Meditate

·      Practice Simple Self-care

·      Explore Mindfulness

Breathe. A wise teacher once asked me if I knew why every esoteric practice in the world emphasizes focusing on the breath. The answer is shockingly simple. You cannot breathe for yesterday and you cannot breathe for tomorrow. The only breath you have is one you are taking right now. Focusing on the breath brings our awareness to the present moment. We are not anxious about the future or worried about the past when we are fully present in the moment. There are many useful breathing techniques (box breathing, yoga breath, etc.), but really all you need to do is begin by paying attention to your breath whenever you can throughout your day. This one simple practice will decrease anxiety and help you journey inward.  

Here, Dr. Kelli demonstrates 4-7-8 Breathing Technique: https://youtu.be/ColGO_fnQKk 

Meditate. Peace is already inside you; meditation practice is the way to find it. Renowned spiritual teacher and author, Eckhart Tolle, tells us that one conscious breath in and out is a meditation. If you think meditation has to be done in a certain way (silent and seated for an extended time), it is time to re-think meditation. Walking meditation, Shower Meditation and Yoga (moving meditation) are also great ways to journey inward. The benefits of meditation are vast and you don't have to spend a large amount of time to reap the benefits.

Practice Self-care. Most of my students and clients think that self-care is something they will eventually get to when they are not so busy. Some clients even find the idea of self-care to be selfish. My philosophy is that it is important to "put your own mask on first". Self-care can be even small acts that contribute to your health and wellbeing. Maybe you shower regularly? Floss your teeth? Eat healthy meals? There are most likely many ways you already practice caring for your self, and again, if you think you could add to your self-care, I would encourage you to start adding small things.

Explore Mindfulness. I was skeptical when I first started hearing colleagues talk about mindfulness in counseling. That is, until I read the research. Mindfulness is an ancient practice of being fully present in the moment while also suspending judgment. There are many mindfulness techniques, and all I have explored have been helpful. The real practice is incorporating mindfulness in whatever tasks you do during your day. Aside from remembering to be present, the hardest part for me has been letting go of judgment. Our minds naturally want to decide whether or not something is good (survival mode), and it takes practice to just be in the moment.

Here is one of my favorite talks on Mindfulness by Dr. Shapiro: https://youtu.be/IeblJdB2-Vo

Be well friends,

Dr. Kelli

Kelli Ritter