“Calm down,” he said. “Just relax.”
Immediately, I felt my blood pressure rise. Calm down? CALM DOWN?
“Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.” – Anonymous
The truth is, though, that knowing how to create calm for myself is a skill I rely on all the time.
Not because I shouldn’t get angry. Not because my feelings aren’t justified.
But because, when I shift myself into a calm state, I think clearly. My words come more readily. I feel grounded and ready to respond to the demands of my day rather than feeling pushed around and put upon. I reduce my baseline stress so that I have more room for the challenges of life, which we all know will inevitably arise. I give myself a chance to be the leader in my own life rather than living out my stress response on auto-pilot.
I used to let stress accumulate in my system. I didn’t have an outlet. And frankly, sometimes talking about it didn’t always lead to a resolution. Before I was a life coach, I could get stuck in complaining mode, and not know how to move beyond it. Thankfully, I now know how to empower myself around all of the challenges I face so I don’t get stuck there anymore.
When I’m carrying my accumulated stress around, I know it’s gone too far when I feel compelled to drink too much coffee, stress eat, or binge on Netflix. It’s gone too far when my patience is wearing thin. Little things start to irritate me more than they should, and that irritation starts to spill out in places where it doesn’t always make sense.
So I know that I need to take care of my nervous system so that my body can let go of all the crap it’s carrying.
There is a scientific term for this: allostatic load. Allostatic load refers to the physiological consequences of accumulated stress, such as increased cortisol, heightened blood pressure, and inflammation in the body. In other words, this is how stress leads to health issues. If your life is consistently stressful, if you find it difficult to come down at the end of the day, or if you feel less capable of responding to challenges, it’s time to learn how to manage your allostatic load.
There are three ways to approach this. We can work directly with the body to cultivate a sense of relaxation, we can reduce the stress that comes in in the first place by reevaluating our environment and commitments, and we can shift our relationship to stress by working with our mindset.
My favourite self-care practices to help down-regulate the nervous system are breath work, constructive resting pose, and mindful self-compassion.
- Equal ratio breathing involves matching the length of your exhalation to the length of your inhalation. This has a calming effect on the nervous system. Try inhaling for 4 and exhaling for 4 for 5 minutes, and notice how you feel.
- Constructive Resting Pose is a great way to give the psoas muscle a break. The psoas muscle is deeply involved in the fight or flight response, preparing us for action when acute stress hits. When we relax the psoas muscle, it’s like we’re telling the body that it’s ok to relax out of that readiness. Lying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Do your best to create a 45 degree angle between your shins and the floor. Rest in this position for 5-10 minutes…while practicing equal ratio breathing & self-compassion for bonus points!
- Mindful Self-Compassion is a meditative practice that invites us to be present with ourselves with the spirit of kindness and curiosity. We offer ourselves comfort where we’re suffering, acknowledging our own humanity. When I practice mindful self-compassion, I can feel my body and my mind letting go and landing in the moment.
I’m sharing these practices in depth (along with many more) at my upcoming workshop in Toronto, Deep Release. It’s the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in all this goodness. Get more info and buy your ticket here.