For four years in a row, I had to get a root canal. Four root canals in four years! Every year when I went to my dentist appointment, they would tell me that I needed another root canal. I couldn’t figure it out: I brushed, flossed, used mouthwash, brushed again. Why was this happening? Having four root canals in four years was not normal, was it?!
I needed to figure out what was going on. I had to find out what was causing all of these painful teeth issues before it was too late. I needed to save my teeth! After multiple visits with my dentist and many tool-filled, open mouth conversations (my dentist and I became very close over the past few years) we finally figured it out. Too much junk food? Nope! Bad brushing? No Way!
Stress? Yep! Wait. What?! Stress was causing all my root canals? It sure was!
You see, anytime that I was stressed I would clench my teeth. Anytime that I was anxious about something, on a deadline at work, frustrated with my kids, even working at my computer trying to get stuff done, I was feeling stress in my body. Little did I know that I was carrying my stress in my teeth and jaw. I was clenching my teeth so hard, and so often that I was causing damage to the roots of my teeth. Hence, the four root canals in four years!
We all have stress. It is an unfortunate way of life for so many of us. Although stress is common in our lives, it is not ‘normal.’ We are not meant to be consumed with stress. We are not supposed to eat antacids like candy because we have gut issues. We should not require pain relievers regularly because our heads, necks, and shoulders carry the weight of the world and cry out in pain. We should not need four root canals in four years because stress is destroying our bodies.
There are many strategies we can incorporate into our daily lives to prevent stress from consuming us. But what about those in-the-moment stressors? Those moments when we are so frustrated we want to scream or cry. When we are freaking out because our boss wants to talk to us privately in 10 minutes. The times when our kids are driving us crazy. Or, when we are on our way to the dentist for another root canal. How do we deal with those stressful moments?
Surprisingly, combating in-the-moment stress is a lot easier than you think, all you need to remember is ABC.
A: Awareness: Become aware of how you carry stress in your body. What does your body feel like when you are stressed, anxious or overwhelmed? Our bodies are often in a constant state of stress or ‘fight or flight’ mode. We are so used to functioning in this state that we often don’t even realize we are feeling stress. This state of stress has become so common that it feels ‘normal.’ The first step to combating stress is to get a clear understanding of how it manifests in your body. Where do you carry your stress? Do you tense up your shoulders? Clench your teeth? Tighten your jaw? Do you feel it in your stomach or your gut? Are you popping antacids like candy? Are you continually having headaches? Spend some time taking notice of your body and become aware of where your stress is located and how it feels. Once you recognize where you are holding your stress, release it. If you are a clencher, unclench. If you tend to tense up your shoulders, release them. If your stomach is contracting or tight, try to bring relaxation to that area. Becoming aware of what stress actually looks like in your body and where you carry it is the first step to being able to release it.
B: Breathe: There are many different ways to use your breath to combat stress, but the most important thing to remember is that the intention, or goal, is to regulate your breathing. Take slow deep breaths to calm yourself down and release the stress. Breathe into the place in your body where you are holding your stress. Visualize your breath filling up that space. Here are some simple breathing techniques that you can use anytime or anywhere:
- 4-7-8 breathing: Inhale through your nose for the count of four, hold for the count of seven, and exhale through the nose for a count of eight. Repeat this as long as you need until you feel your body slow down and relax.
- 8 & 1: This exercise is one you might have to work up to, so you might want to start with four breaths and work your way up to eight. Inhale four ‘strokes’ (taking four separate breaths in through your nose without exhaling in between) then release all the breath in one long exhale through your nose until your lungs are empty. Repeat for one minute or until you feel a bit more relaxed.
- Alternate nostril breathing: I learned about this exercise through my Reiki teacher. This exercise is excellent for in-the-moment stress relief, although it may look a little odd! You are going to use your thumb and ring finger to block your nostrils gently. Hold your right nostril closed with your thumb and breathe in through your left nostril then using your ring finger (of the same hand) cover your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril, then inhale through your right nostril. Cover your right nostril with your thumb and exhale through your left nostril then inhale through your left nostril. Repeat this as long as needed, alternating between nostrils. (This technique is a lot easier than it sounds, Google alternate nostril breathing to watch YouTube videos if you are confused!)
These are just a couple examples of breathing exercises that you can use as in-the-moment stress relievers, but they are also great exercises to use when you are just trying to relax or get into a meditative state. When feeling stress or anxiety in your body, the key is just to breathe. Whether you use one of these techniques or simply breathing in and out, the ultimate goal is to regulate and slow down your breathing. Make sure you are sitting up straight and taking full deep breaths in and out. You will be amazed at how something as simple as breathing can positively change your life.
C: Communicate: The last trick in the ABCs of stress relief is communication. Although this is better explained as self-talk, the ABSs of stress relief didn’t have the same ring to it! When you feel any strong emotion like stress, anxiety, fear, anger, whatever, positive self-talk can help. All that you have to do is speak to yourself in a positive and calming way. Shift your mindset to focus on the positive. Say calming things to yourself. Not quite sure how to do this? Think about a friend or loved one being in this same situation, what you would say to them to calm them down? Now, turn it around and say this exact thing to yourself. The most significant stressors, or anxiety fueling situations, are often the ones that have never, nor will ever, happen. The ‘what if’s’ are the things that can bring our stress or anxiety into a tailspin. Get away from the ‘what if’s. Learn how to calm yourself down through your positive and loving self-talk instead of continually getting yourself even more worked up (which is super easy to do because, well, we seem to know our triggers and will often use them against ourselves!) Have a positive mantra ready for when these moments strike, maybe repeat “I am calm and confident’ or something similar. The most important thing is to speak to yourself with encouragement, kindness and in a loving way.
The next time you find yourself feeling stressed out, anxious, freaking out, mad as hell, or any other BIG emotion, use the ABCs of stress management: become Aware of where you are holding your stress, Breathe into it, and Communicate with yourself with love and encouragement.
Combating stress can be as easy as ABC.
Lisa Wyckoff is a wife, mom, teacher, and Confidence and Mindset Coach. She helps women discover how to own their power, shift their mindset, and transform their lives. You can read more articles like this, or find out about working with Lisa on lisawyckoff.com or follow her on Facebook.
Image courtesy of Brittani Burns.