Creating a Relaxation Plan, and Why Your Brain Needs One

A big part of the work I do at Enodia Center has to do with coping. Coping with stress, coping with transitions, and coping with life in general. A resounding theme that arises among the women I see is that many of us "know" how to cope (meaning we know the things that are good for us), yet we don't do it. For example, we "know" that going for a run after a stressful day helps us release tension, or we "know" that taking deep breaths helps ease our racing thoughts when anxiety builds. However, when we're at the height of anxiety and/or stress, we don't always do them. A key factor in not beating ourselves up over this is to be aware of what's actually happening. It's not that we simply are "not doing what we should be", but rather it has to do with how our brain actually functions.

The Reptilian Brain

When we’re experiencing stress or what feels like a crisis, the part of our brain that “knows” how to care for ourselves is simply not calling the shots. When at our most stressed,  the oldest part of our brain, referred to as the "Reptilian Brain" takes over. This is the part of the brain that controls the body's vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. It's also responsible for fight, flight, or freeze actions. It's not, however, the part of our brain where we hold memory and intellectual thought processes. 

This is why our stress response can lead us to get angry at a spouse (fight), pour a big glass of wine (flight), or feel completely blocked (freeze). In these moments, the conversations about healthy habits, and those "good on paper" coping skills simply are not accessible. 

What You Can Do

Having some insight into how our brains operate can help us have a greater understanding of why we don't always practice healthy coping skills. What we can do with this information is to stop relying on distant memory and attempts to recall inaccessible coping. We do this by turning these healthy coping skills into habits. By practicing stress management techniques regularly, we're able to build them into our subconscious routine along with other routines such as showering, eating, and brushing our teeth. Just as with taking vitamins and eating well to build our immunity, we need to build up our psychological immune system so that we're able to bounce back much quicker and healthier when confronted with stress.

Creating a Plan

Start by building these simple techniques into your daily routine to help prepare you for whatever stressful situation may arise.

Deep Breathing

Practice deep breathing. Place one hand on your stomach, inhale slowly counting to 5, feeling your stomach expand. Pause. Exhale slowly, counting to 5, feeling your stomach deflate. Practice this 10 times. Bring awareness to your breathing and the sensation of your stomach as you inhale and exhale.

Square Breathing

Imagine the waltz; inhale 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, exhale 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, repeat. You can also modify the count to ensure that you are comfortable. Whatever the count may be, make sure to breathe deeply and keep the count and pace in your mind.

Simple Grounding Techniques

Sometimes we need to re-orient ourselves to the setting, especially when becoming lost in our thoughts or feeling disconnected. Try this 3-3-3 technique to ground yourself in the moment. Take a deep breath, look around the room, and quietly notice:

3 Things You See
(i.e., a window, the person across from you, the pattern on the carpet.)

3 Things You Hear
(i.e., the ticking of a clock, an airplane outside, the sound of your breathing.)

3 Things You Feel
(i.e., a pen in your hand, a breeze on your skin, the ground below your feet.)

After you’ve practiced these, add some of your own Stress Management tools and create a personalized plan just for you. To help build your existing coping skill set, and to learn some new ways to relax and manage stress, check out Enodia Center's Classes for Relaxation & Stress Management.

Please comment below to share your experience, and let us know what else you're doing to manage stress! 

Lauren Debiak