Less Stress in Seconds: The Instant Calming Sequence

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Stress management consultant Robert K. Cooper, Ph.D., of Ann Arbor, Michigan, understands that when stress strikes, few people can duck out to a yoga class. To nip stress in the bud, he has developed the Instant Calming Sequence. “Use it,” he explains, “the moment you realize you’re becoming tense and anxious.” With practice, you can implement it in a few seconds:

1. Keep breathing. “Most of us hold our breath for several seconds during the first moments of stressful situation,” Cooper says. “This heightens anxiety. Keep breathing and you’ll feel less loss of control.”

2. Smile. We smile when we’re relaxed and happy. But the link between smiling and positive emotions is a two-way street. “Smiling helps make us relaxed and happy,” he says. Smiling transmits nerve impulses from the facial muscles to the emotional center in the brain. It tilts the neurochemical balance toward calm. Try it: Smile right now. Don’t you feel better?

3. Maintain good posture. People who are stressed slump over as if they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. “Slumping restricts breathing and reduces blood flow to the brain,” he says. “It adds to anxiety.” Mom was right: Stand or sit up straight.

4. Visualize a wave of relaxation. Imagine you’re in a hot shower and a wave of relaxation washes your stress away.

5. Take control. At the first sign of stress, you often hear people say: What did I do to deserve this? “Feeling victimized aggravates stress,” he says. “Focus, instead, on how you can cope.”