Over recent years, stress prevention and management has become one of my most cherished areas of focus. Since stress grows in intensity the longer it’s ignored, the best stress response is one that happens fairly soon and interrupts stress in its infancy. The “Instant Calming Sequence” lives up to its name, and I invite you to try it, too.
“It is the garden of peace you seek, but it is not a tangible place that exists in the world. It is within.” – Bryant McGill
I love meditation, affirmations, deep breathing exercises, yoga, going for a walk, nourishing my body with foods that boast stress-relieving properties, and anything to do with stress relief, really. I wasn’t born immune to stress, but quite the opposite; that’s why I practice healthy coping mechanisms daily (I need the support).
It’s important to note that perhaps not all stress is bad. New research from Cal Berkeley reveals an upside to experiencing momentary stress. The study found that “intermittent stressful events” promote new cell growth which may improve memory and cognitive ability. This effect is only seen when stress is temporary, however.
Prolonged stress actually interferes with the brain’s ability to function properly and grow new cells.
Stress management consultant Dr. Robert K. Cooper of Ann Arbor, Michigan suggests a fast and powerful five-step technique called the “Instant Calming Sequence” for reducing stress the moment it shows up. It’s unobtrusive and practical, can be done anywhere and anytime, and nips stress in the bud before it grows into something more.
The beauty of this stress reduction method is that it takes seconds to implement, meaning it minimizes negative effects of stress before the body has a chance to react (think: tight muscles, negative emotions, and the like).
No matter how much we meditate, stressful situations happen, and some of them require immediate, on-the-spot action. The ultimate goal with this five-step sequence is to ensure that the stress we do experience is temporary and not prolonged.
The moment you realize yourself becoming anxious, upset, or tense, implement the following exercise. With practice, you’ll be able to interrupt stress and fortify peace in just a few seconds.
The Instant Calming Sequence for In-the-Moment Relief
Step 1: Concentrate on Uninterrupted Breathing
Keep breathing. Yes, it sounds simple, and yes, it’s really important.
If you pay attention, you’ll likely notice yourself holding your breath for several seconds during the first moments of a stressful situation. You might breathe quick, shallow breaths, or you may halt your breathing altogether. This heightens anxiety, triggers panic and frustration, and makes it feel like you have zero control.
When stress happens, continue breathing smooth, deep, and even breaths. This will seem difficult at first, and you’ll need to become acutely aware of your breathing in the face of a perceived crisis—that’s the point.
Focusing on your breath is a distraction as well as a messenger of relaxation to the body.
Step 2: Practice a Positive Face
It’s easy to smile when we’re relaxed and feeling good, but it’s quite a feat when we’re planted smack dab in the middle of stress. There’s an enticing link between smiling and positive emotions, however, that renders it crucial to overcoming moments of panic.
Smiling is a two-way street: We smile because we’re happy and relaxed, yet smiling sends nerve impulses to the brain, signaling that it’s okay to relax. Even a subtle smile instantly increases blood flow to the brain, promoting positive emotions and acting as a buffer between stressful conditions and our internal response.
The moment stress shows up, try flashing even the slightest smile, letting it touch the corners of your eyes.
Step 3: Maintain a Balanced Posture
Poor posture, such as slumping forward, “restricts breathing and reduces blood flow to the brain,” says Cooper. This heightens anxiety.
Do your best to maintain a balanced posture in the face of stress; look it straight in the eye with your chest high, head up, neck relaxed, chin in, back comfortable and straight, hips level, and belly free of tension.
You can imagine a big suction cup or a beam of light gently lifting you up from a central point on top of your head.
Step 4: Visualize a Wave of Relaxation
Perform a quick body scan, taking into account any tension in your muscles. At the same time, picture a warm shower or a refreshing waterfall washing away that tension. While your mind remains alert and conscious of how you’re feeling, allow your body to stay relaxed and calm.
Step 5: Focus on What You Can Control
Feeling victimized, helpless, and hopeless only aggravates stress. We might know this, but still engage in those “Why me?” conversations with ourselves.
The first part of this step involves acknowledging and accepting what is, right in this moment. Rather than wishing things were something else, focus on how you can cope with what is, and devote your mental energy to the positive possibilities.
The second part of this step involves focusing on what you can control rather than on what you can’t. Releasing negative patterns of self-victimization, your mind is freed to listen non-judgmentally to alternative ideas.
Honoring what you can’t control, and highlighting what you can control, maximizes your ability to find something that works.
A closed mind has “tunnel vision,” seeing only the stressful situation at hand. An open mind transcends the situation, seeing beyond it to potential causes for calm.
- Next time you’re in a stressful situation, try this sequence and let me know: how did it work for you?
- What’s one area of your life that’s due for some stress relief?
- Can you think of a time when you felt overwhelmed with stress, and something you did, said, or thought really turned everything around?
Please share your thoughts on this practice and your experience using it, any other stress-relief techniques that work for you, and any inspiring stories of a peaceful shift with me in the comments.
Share this instant calming sequence with someone who would severely appreciate a little more peace in their days.
Keep breathing. Keep smiling. Keep your body standing straight and tall. Keep washing away that tension, and keep your mind tuned to the frequency of what you can do.