Serenity Now: The Instant Calming Sequence

Try the Instant Calming Sequence, a quick stress management technique, when pressure is bearing down on you.

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Need a quick stress-management technique for those moments when hitting a yoga class is impossible and holiday pressure is bearing down on you? Try this Instant Calming Sequence from stress-management consultant Robert K. Cooper, Ph.D.

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

2. Smile. The link between smiling and positive emotions is a two-way street. “Smiling helps make us relaxed and happy,” Cooper 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,” Cooper says. “It adds to anxiety.”

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. “Feeling victimized aggravates stress,” Cooper says. “Focus, instead, on how you can cope.”