A recent survey taken by the American Psychological Association (APA) reveals that roughly two-thirds of Americans report that they are significantly stressed about the future of our nation. From distressing thoughts on terrorism to uncertainty about the job market, stress and anxiety were present among both Democrats and Republicans, resulting in the first time in the 10 years since this survey has been established that a major statistical change in stress levels has been noticed. This is Part One of the survey and Part Two will be released by the APA on Feb 23rd, taking a look at how technology is also causing significant stress and health disturbances.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
“The stress we’re seeing around political issues is deeply concerning, because it’s hard for Americans to get away from it,” said Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice . “We’re surrounded by conversations, news and social media that constantly remind us of the issues that are stressing us the most.”
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Dr. Nordal advises, “If the 24-hour news cycle is causing you stress, limit your media consumption… read enough to stay informed but then plan activities that give you a regular break from the issues and the stress they might cause. And remember to take care of yourself and pay attention to other areas of your life.”
As a yogi who definitely falls into the category of Americans who are stressed out about our future, I find that I am doubling or even tripling up on my self-care routine. This means exercising proper sleep and happiness hygienes, being more aware of the relationships I foster and the conversations I have as well as mindfully unplugging from the constant deluge of stressful media coverage. I read the paper, listen to podcasts, and watch the news daily– but right about the time I feel my heart rate spiking or my jaw clenching, I purposefully turn it off, back away, and ground my thoughts. As I write this, I am preparing to take my friend and our dogs on a hike– something I find myself doing more of these days. Tonight, I am attending a yoga class with a new teacher, and tomorrow, I will wake up an extra 20 minutes earlier to sit in a silent meditation.
Here are my top tips for daily unwinding and stress relief:
- Surround yourself with positive people.
- Watch a funny show or movie, or read an entertaining book.
- Prioritize sleep by winding down an hour before you’d like to be in bed, rather than waiting until bed time and realizing you still have to do dishes, feed the dog, and bathe.
- For at least an hour each day, especially on the weekends, turn your phone off. No distractions.
- Limit social media to just a few hours a day, maybe a window from 2pm-4pm.
- Volunteer. Or even get involved and take action with political groups in your area, so you feel more empowered and less helpless.
- Listen to your favorite song on repeat. Sing it loudly in a hot, steamy shower.
- Get outside. And leave your phone on silent.
Baby steps add up. So here is a sequence to help you cool your jets.
The most important part of this sequence is the breath. Focus on slowing down your breathing, relaxing the muscles, and softening parts of the body that tend to hold tension (jaw, brow, neck, shoulders, and upper back).
- Baddha konasana- sit for at least 10-15 slow, deep breaths with your eyes close, feet together, knees open wide. Slow your breathing down and relax your shoulders. If you’re seeking more sensation, lean forward slightly for a low back and inner thigh stretch.
- Kneeling twist- come to your hands and knees and reach your left arm high, then back behind you. Twist through the chest and hold comfortably for 3-6 slow, deep breaths.
- Thread the needle- sweep your left arm under your right arm and drop your left ear to the ground. Walk your right hand forward and relax with your eyes closed for 3-6 slow, deep breaths. Unwind and repeat steps 2 and 3 on the other side.
- Standing forward bend- stand up, spread your legs to a wide but comfortable level, then bend at the waist. To ease this posture, put a bend in the knees. To deepen it, straighten the legs more and take hold of your big toes, gently pulling up to stretch the low back and hamstrings more. Close your eyes and breath quietly 5-10 times.
- Tree pose- come to stand and bring your left foot either to your calf or inner thigh, avoiding placing your foot directly on the side of the knee. Stand with your hands at your heart and focus on relaxing your shoulders and breathing smoothly in balance, 5-10x. Switch legs and repeat.
- Child’s pose- kneel with your feet together, knees wide, and then relax your chest down to the inside of your thighs. Reach back and take a hold of your heels. Breathe slowly 5-10x. Allow your shoulders, brow, and jaw to relax completely.
- Reclined knees to chest- lie on your back and draw your knees into your chest. Feel free to roll slightly to massage the back on the ground beneath you. Close your eyes and breathe again, slowly and deeply 5x.
- Seated meditation- Come to a comfortable seat, place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Close your eyes and begin to notice the subtly changed, now deeper and smoother breath. Stay here for as long as you would like, and perhaps add a mantra to your breath. As you breathe in, say to yourself “I am calm” and as you breathe out, say to yourself “I am relaxed”.
Come back to this sequence whenever you’d like. It’s always here for you. Also, you may enjoy this other Short Sequence for Self-Care.