When was the last time you unplugged…    yourself?

We often hear that to relieve stress and be more mindful, we need to disconnect or unplug ourselves.  But in a world where we are constantly connected, it seems to be harder and harder to achieve balance in our lives.  And, like most health habits we seek to adopt, disconnecting is commonly perceived as taking a lot of effort or time.  

Let’s be honest, stress is a normal part of life. Whether we endure stress through our work, relationships or managing our kids, most of life’s responsibilities come with a certain amount of stress. However when we find ourselves juggling multiple demands all at once, we can wind up putting ourselves in overdrive and feel the side effects of stress. We might become intolerant or short-fused, experience a lack of focus (i.e., brain-fog), or simply hit a wall from exhaustion at the end of the day. It is only so long we can expect our bodies to function properly when we run on all cylinders.  And, we might not necessarily feel we are under stress when our mind and body is in this state continuously.  It is not until physical symptoms surface that we get a signal from our body that is telling us, “It is time to unplug and re-charge”.

Many of us are familiar with the “fight or flight response” – the physiological reaction our body creates when we are in a stressful situation. This efficient process recruits stress hormones to kick in which quickly provide us with the energy, focus and strength needed to function under pressure.  Just as effectively as this system kicks in, it then “shuts down” after the event has passed and the waters are calm again.  Although this defense is highly useful in the short term, if our body recruits these hormones too often, levels can remain elevated. This is when we usually feel the physical symptoms of stress.

There are a variety of symptoms that might creep up when our mind is in this heightened state.  We may experience stiff or achy muscles, digestive issues, headaches or even a skin condition. We often dismiss these things as mild ailments and afflictions that everybody experiences from time to time.  Our natural inclination is to try to alleviate or subdue symptoms by turning to over-the-counter medications, doctor’s visits, or other treatments. Treating our symptoms may very well relieve the discomfort in our body, but until we actually disconnect from constant doing and thinking will we treat the cause of these symptoms and give much needed relief to our mind.

Although we all would like to achieve balance between responsibility and enjoyment, the percentage of time we spend working and doing usually far exceeds time we take for re-energizing breaks.  Unless we engage in a planned leisure event or activity, the common tendency is to stay on the hamster wheel without recharging… in healthy ways. Even if we know how important taking a break is, going to a yoga class or meditating can feel like too much of a commitment. Breaking this pattern for any reason can be difficult when we’re moving quickly between life’s demands.

So, how do we manage stress when we feel like we can’t always manage everything else in our day?

Learning to “unplug”… so we can recharge.

It doesn’t feel natural and it sounds counter-intuitive, but the best way to alleviate daily stress is as simple as putting your mind “on pause” for a few minutes – ideally a few times a day. You are probably asking, “How can a few minutes of anything be effective enough to manage my stress?” Well, just as we have to plug in our iPhone for a few minutes when the charge runs low, we have to recharge ourselves in between things to avoid becoming drained. Believe it or not, the action of redirecting our brains and focusing on something else – something calming – for only a few minutes, can bring our heart rate down and make our muscles less tense. I call this a “Redirecting the Mind Break”; when practiced regularly, stress hormones are kept at bay helping us feel a little calmer and a little clearer.

These mini breaks do not have to be structured or time-consuming. There are simple things you can do to get into a calmer state in as little as 5 minutes. (But if you can spare 10 or 15, please do!)  Remember, something is better than nothing so always start small and build when you can.

 Some ways to redirect the mind may include:

  • Going for a short, brisk walk outside (without talking on the phone)
  • Sitting quietly, closing your eyes while focusing on breathing (place one hand on abs to help you pay attention to the rising and falling of the diaphragm)
  • Reading a few pages of your latest book
  • Doing a few standing stretches or yoga poses (again, while focusing on breathing)
  • Listening to relaxing music while walking or sitting quietly

It doesn’t matter which “activity” you choose, as long as it is quiet, uninterrupted, and without active thinking.  Doing this 2 or 3 times a day, for 5 to 10 minute, only takes about 20 minutes out of the day.  This small amount of time doing a simple exercise will help clear your mind and give a little recharge to your day. I suggest starting with one short break and building from there. It can be helpful to set reminders at different points in the day. When practiced regularly, over time you will become more mindful of how important it is to stop, breathe, and refocus in between things.  This is a great tool for buffering little stressors that pop up throughout the day, and preventing little annoyances from snowballing into higher stress loads. When stress loads are high, we tend to decompress from in not-so-healthy ways (like mindless eating, drinking or other behaviors), which makes us feel worse and creates more stress.

So, set an alarm to hit the pause button and take a moment to disconnect once or twice today. It is a good first step in managing stress, becoming more mindful, and having your mind – and body – recharge in a healthy, positive way.

For more information about stress management and mindfulness, connect with MAP 2 Wellness Health Coaching. Working with an Integrative Health Coach will help you define your goals and get the support you need in achieving them. If you can use help with nutrition, fitness, or overall wellness, M2W is here to guide you to a healthier lifestyle!