It’s summer, and being stuck on public transit, in your car or in an office can take its toll when you’d much rather be relaxing on a beach, drinking a cold one and watching the bikinis stroll by. To help you reduce stress, we asked four experts from very different disciplines for their top techniques. Here’s what they suggest.
Who knew that being a clown could be so relaxing? Fact is that juggling lowers stress levels instantly, says Nick DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon and medical consultant for the Philadelphia 76ers. The repetitive motion process requires total concentration that lowers the higher cortical levels of the brain and pushes out any stressful thoughts. Start with one ball and juggle from hand to hand. Keep it at eye level. Put one in each hand. Throw one in an arc from right to left and throw the second after the first ball reaches the top of the arc. Once you can juggle without having to think about it, move up to three balls. “You’re not trying to create a circle,” says DiNubile. “The balls should just be hopping from one hand to the other.”
Poor Man’s Yoga
Commuting to work can be a stressful experience for Israelis in Tel Aviv. Municipal buses have been the targets of suicide attacks since the eighties, which is why Miri Harouvi, an Ashtanga yoga instructor for 21 years, decided to ride the morning routes with nervous bus passengers. She taught them these simple relaxation methods that can be done while seated. Start by straightening your back, relaxing your shoulders and un-weighting your feet. Slowly move both arms up while inhaling, hold for a few seconds and then lower your arms and exhale. Repeat a few times. Gently lift your left leg while inhaling and then lower it while exhaling. Repeat with the right leg. “Focus on relaxing by closing your eyes and listening to yourself breathe,” she Harouvi. “It’s very noisy in the city and most people don’t take the time to concentrate. Keep listening to yourself breath until the tension leaves you.”
“There’s nothing more stressful than having to follow rules, regulations and anything else that constrains you mentally and physically, especially anything that’s out of your control,” says Doctor Joseph Barr, a sports psychologist from Chicago who teaches Olympic speed skaters to use a cognitive approach to reduce stress. Learn to moderate your thinking. Don’t revisit stressful incidents over and over in your mind, and learn to accept that you can’t control every situation. This includes the actions of others. “If you’re in bad traffic and dwelling on what others should be doing to ease your own experience, stop and focus on yourself and what you need to be doing. It’s a simple idea that takes a lot of practice,” he says.
Being a sniper requires instant calm, since your heartbeat can make your crosshairs jump, says William Graves, founder and instructor of the GPS Defense Sniper School in Scottsdale, Arizona. One of his exercises involves running with a forty-pound pack and dropping to the ground. Students then have only 60 seconds to relax before they have to hit the center ring of a hostage rescue target 500 yards away. Graves teaches Navy Seals and SWAT team members visualization techniques that involve focusing on riflescope crosshairs to get heart rate and breathing down quickly. Civilians can substitute a business card. Lie on your stomach and lean the card against your thumb. Sight down the length of the card and visually align it with different vertical planes in the distance. “You should be completely relaxed, like a beanbag,” says Graves. “There should be absolutely no muscular tension. You want to concentrate on your breathing and heartbeat. If you’re relaxed enough, you’ll see your pulse transmit from your fingertips to the card.” Just make sure your office door is closed before trying this one.