How To Feel Better When You’re Worried, Scared Or Stressed
There’s something about this time of year that always makes it seem like a bit of a slog. It’s not really winter, and it’s not really spring. There are no holidays coming up and my last one feels like it was a year ago. Work is busy. Politics and world events are mostly not very awesome right now. It’s lots of stress, and not a lot of fun.
All these things are definitely having an impact on my current mind-state – how about you? Feeling stressed, worried, anxious or angry is not only hard emotionally. It can also have a big impact on how your body feels. In fact, you can actually become more sensitive to pain when you’re feeling a lot of stress!
The good news is that there are lots of movement tools that can help you feel better, both physically and emotionally. Today I’m sharing the ones I’m using to bust stress these days.
I think it’s just so incredibly important to remember to nurture ourselves when times get hard.
There is a place for anger, frustration and sadness, but having these emotions as a constant presence in our lives is not going to help us or the world.
Self-care is not selfish – it’s the opposite. Caring for your body and tending to your physical, emotional and other needs makes you stronger and more resilient. In fact, I believe that the more we nurture our bodies and our health the more we are able to be a force for good. Here are some of the most nourishing ways I know to use movement to help deal with stress and fear.
When You’re Feeling Angry
When I’m angry, I often feel wired. I have lots of energy that wants to go somewhere and do something. It makes me understand why people punch walls. Meditating does NOT help me at times like this!
Shake Off The Stress & Emotion
Instead of punching a wall, try this Qi Gong exercise and shake it off.
Start by standing up and start shaking from your legs (you can keep your feet flat on the floor). Let your arms hang at your shoulders and bounce passively. Then start adding some activity – shake your arms and hands as you keep vibrating through your feet and legs. When you think you’re almost done, it’s time for the best bit. Imagine that you have some sort of liquid on your arms and shake it off gently but firmly, flinging it off you by flicking your wrists and fingers. I like to do this last part a few times. Make sure you’re breathing easily the whole time!
Try Some Calming Breathing
How you breath can change the way you feel emotionally. When you breathe slowly, using your diaphragm instead of your upper chest, you can stimulate your vagus nerve, part of the parasympathetic nervous system. In other words, you can switch into ‘rest-and-digest’ mode instead of ‘fight-flight-or-freeze’. This has so many benefits for your health and mental state!
My favourite breathing exercise right now is called Tactical Breathing. It’s pretty simple to do. There are a few variations but I think the best is to start laying on your side with your knees at 90 degrees. Pop something between your knees and under your head if you like some support. Then put your top hand over your side and back ribs. Breathe into the area you’re touching with your hand. Breathe in for a count of four. Hold for four. Exhale for four, and hold for four. Repeat for a total of four times (or until you feel yourself relax) then flip over and do the other side. Really try to get your ribs to expand under your fingers as you breathe!
This is great as a follow up to shaking!
Pro-tip – I like having someone else count this out for me, and fortunately, there’s an app for that! Try picking up the free Tactical Breather app and then do some of this great breathing practice every day!
When You Just Can’t Stop Worrying
I am a giant worrier! When I think of something bad, it comes back into my mind again and again and it’s super hard for me to shake it off. It’s so unhelpful to think this way, though. It just increases your unhealthy stress levels without helping you do anything about the problem. I really love these two ways of bringing my mind back to what’s going on right now.
Go For A Walk Outdoors
Nature is your best friend, and so is walking. Your body and brain evolved in the context of the natural world and so they are calibrated for the kinds of inputs they get when you’re outdoors. That means that for us modern humans, it’s actually good for your brain to get out under the sunshine, in the trees and away from the human-built world. And it’s particularly good for stopping those annoying worries that never go away. So if you’re feeling a lot of stress, it’s actually better to take a break and make the time to get out to a park or some nearby nature – you’ll come back feeling way better!
Balance is a good skill to have physically as we age – falls are a major hazard for older humans! But it’s also a good way to take your mind off absolutely everything except for trying to be on the thing you’re balancing on!
There are lots of options you can try here! Make sure you go slow and carefully and work in a space where you aren’t going to step or fall onto anything sharp.
One – Balance on one leg – you can do this anywhere, anytime! Try it with your eyes closed for an extra challenge! Want still more challenge? Stand on a pillow or rolled up towel and THEN close your eyes.
Two – Find a 2x4 and practice walking or crawling without touching the ground. Try walking backwards or with your eyes closed to up the ante.
Three – Get yourself a big stability ball. There’s lots of fun ways to balance on these but a good one to start with is to hinge over it and place your hands on the far side. Then push your knees into it as well and see if you’re able to balance on it on all fours. Be prepared to hop off quickly if need be!
When You Feel Tense and Wound Up
Often, we hold our emotions in our muscles. When we feel stress, our bodies respond. Have you ever noticed your stomach feeling horrible when you’re nervous? How about tension in your neck and shoulders? Or maybe clenching your butt and pelvic floor (kind of like a puppy putting its tail between its legs). We hold all this tension unconsciously, but you can practice letting go of it. Each time you do, you build your skill at releasing your muscles, and in turn, your stress levels can decrease. And it’s far better for your body not to be holding tightness all the time, too. Here is my favourite release for you to enjoy.
Release Your Psoas
I cannot stress enough how important this relaxation exercise is to the health of your entire body. Your psoas muscles are part of your deep core system and when they are tight they can mess up all of your movement patterns. Plus they are super connected to your emotional state, so you definitely want to care for your psoas muscles when you’re feeling anxious! This is one I give to absolutely all of my clients!
Simply raise your shoulders and neck off the ground with a bolster or cushion under your shoulders but not under your lower rib cage. Lie down with your legs out straight. Imagine your lower ribs melting down towards the floor – don’t force them, just allow. Hang out here for 5, 10, 15 minutes and practice melting. Yum! For all the details, check out this post I wrote about the benefits of psoas release.
There’s so much you can do – without needing a lot of extra time – to help reduce stress and feel better. What’s your favourite way to use movement to bust stress and anxiety?
Petra is a movement educator and personal trainer with a passion for helping people find greater ease, joy and health in their bodies. She believes that better movement can help every body – and she’s always happy to chat about it. When she’s not teaching, you’ll probably find her hanging out on a set of monkey bars.