Our brains and bodies react to dissatisfaction, unhappiness, anxiety, stress, anger, and threats in the same way, and to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the intensity (immediacy) of the actual or perceived situation. The brain’s warning center sands a “squish” of chemicals that cause the body to prepare to run, fight, or freeze. These causes the large muscle groups to tense, the heart, blood pressure, and respiration rates to increase, and the eyes to become sharper in focus and blood flow be directed away from the prefrontal area (the part responsible for rational thinking) of the brain to support the action areas. Also, the brain’s ‘simulator’ goes to work creating possible scenarios for what may happen next, etc. This easily becomes a vicious cycle, because the brain also monitors the body condition; and if the body maintains or accelerates its state (if the threat doesn’t diminish pretty quickly), the brain will add another “squish” of ohdammit juice, increasing the body’s readiness for action.
The purpose of these exercises is to interrupt the cycle. All exercises are better done while sitting or even lying down, rather than while standing. This tends to lower the pulse, BP, and respiration rates somewhat. Also, while some of the exercises can be done in the company of others, all will be more fruitful if you can find a quiet place to do them alone, allowing you to keep your eyes closed for a few minutes and thereby disconnecting your visual wariness from the situation. Note, too, that the body dissipates happyjoy juice relatively quickly, while ohdammit juice takes much longer. For this reason it is important to allow at least a few minutes, whichever exercise(s) you choose.
“Quick Cooler” exercises are intended for fast, short-term relief.
- Relax. Easier said, than done. Focus on areas of your body that feel tense:
- Jaw, mouth and tongue,
- Hand or fists,
- Eyes (you can practice this by learning to focus about 4” from your nose)
- By bringing your attention to each area, you will find where your resistance is.
- Bathe the hands in warm water
- Gently, with an index finger, touch the lips (actually, let the lips feel the finger). While researchers aren’t sure why this works, it might be linked to a primal sucking impulse.
Breathing exercises should be done using ‘belly breathing.’ This is the natural, relaxed way of using your diaphragm. Also, if possible, do them with your eyes closed, increasing your ability to focus on the exercise.
- 6 by 6 times 10
- Using a count rate roughly equal to 72 beats per minute (you can use your pulse if you are sensitive to it and aware of it), breathe in for a 6 count, then breath out for a
- 6 count. Continue this through 10 repetitions.
This exercise helps to slow and stabilize the pulse rate, as well as oxygenating the blood. The counting helps to distract the focus away from the situation, as does the focus on ‘belly breathing.’ This helps the prefrontal cortex to recover its rationality and control.
- Is a variation on the 6 X 6 X 10, and has the same benefits. In this exercise, breathe in for a 4 count, then hold your breath for a 4 count; breathe out for a 4 count and
- Hold your empty-lung breath for a 4 count. Again doing 10 repetitions allows
- Your body time to recover from the “squish” of ohdammit juice.
- A variation of the popular body scan, this exercise provides more long-term relief and
- Extended benefits if done while lying on your back. As before, ‘belly breathing’ is
- Important. You can use your pulse as a kind of metronome for this exercise, or just
- Move on when you feel ready. By condensing the exercise, it can be done in only a
- Minute or so; or by extending it, it could take 45 minutes or so.
- Begin by bringing your attention to your breath as your belly rises and falls. When you
- Are ready, shift your focus to your right shoulder, silently counting “8.” Gradually move
- Your focus down to your upper arm (bicep and tricep), your elbow, your lower arm and
- Wrist, your hand and fingers. If you wish, bring your attention back up through each
- When you are ready, bring your attention to your left shoulder, silently counting “7.”
- Repeat the same process as you did with your right arm.
- Now shift your focus to your right hip, and think “6.” As slowly 9r rapidly as you are comfortable doing, move your focus down through each area of your leg and foot. When you are ready, move your focus to your left hip, saying to yourself “5,” and do as you did with your right.
- Next bring your attention to your abdomen, lower back, buttocks and genitals, with a silent “4.” You can think of this (or any) area either as a whole, or you can take the time to attend to each part.
- Now move to your chest and upper back, saying “3.” You might find it helpful to pay attention to the feeling of your lungs expanding and collapsing, or to your heart pulsing.
- Mentally saying “2,” focus on your neck, throat, jaw, lips, nose, and tongue. Notice what other areas seem to relax even more as these do.
- Now, “1,” bringing your focus to your eyes, ears, forehead, and scalp. Imagine that, like a whale or dolphin, you have a blow hole at the crown of your head. Visualize your out-breath going through that hole, carrying all your tension with it.
- If you are ready, open your eyes and gradually resume your activities. If you wish, do another cycle. This exercise is very helpful in preparing for sleep, but can be used whenever you have even just a few minutes when you can be alone, whether sitting or lying down.
The Check-In can be used as a check-up or in preparation, as before a meeting or beginning a task which requires concentration. It can take only 3 to 5 minutes.
Simply sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath, being aware of each in-breath and each out-breath. Notice whatever you feel in your body, without trying to ‘fix’ it, without judging – just noticing. Then bring your attention back to your breath. When you are ready, open your eyes and notice once more what you feel before resuming your task.