There’s a lot of psychological build-up that culminates in September. For many, it signifies the end of summer, and for a lot of families it means back to school. The challenge, of course, is getting back into the head space and routine that school brings after a summer break. Here are a few easy-to-implement exercises that will make a noticeable difference in your stress levels and mood if you actually do them with regularity. Every new habit takes time and a determination to give it a chance. If you can commit to using the following stress-reduction techniques for one month, you’ll see changes in yourself, your kids, and your household. Remember, it’s always easier and more effective when the whole family commits to something together. If not, don’t be discouraged. A little change is better than no change at all!
1. Balanced Breathing
This simple little breathing exercise not only calms you down, but it clears your head – great for first thing in the morning, or for later in the afternoon when you’re beginning to slow down and lose focus. It’s also wonderful for calming adults and children, alike, when they’re angry or anxious. Here’s how you do it: Eyes open or closed, whatever feels most comfortable. Breathe through the nose on a count of four, and then exhale through the nose on a count of four. The count and pace of the breath should be equal on the in-breath and the out-breath. The counting gives the mind something to do, as well as evens out the breath. It’s normal to find it a bit of challenge to make both breaths equal, but after a couple of minutes, you’ll feel noticeably calmer and more alert. Try it for 2-5 minutes. Set a timer.
2. Five-Finger Breathing Method
This fun little technique is as effective for adults as it is for kids. You can do it anywhere and people don’t even have to know you’re doing it (ahem — adults). How it works: Follow the pace of the breath as you trace the outline of your hand and fingers with your opposite hand. Starting at the base of the little finger, on the in-breath, trace up to the top of the finger. Pause if your breath pauses. On the exhale, trace down the inside of the little finger. Pausing again and then up the ring finger on the in-breath. The cool thing about this technique is, when you’re anxious or hyped up, your tracing will be quick. As you continue to breathe and trace, the breath with naturally slow and so will the tracing. It’s great visual proof that you’re calm!
3. Progressive Relaxation Before Bed
Another great exercise for children and adults, progressive relaxation involves tightening muscles throughout the body and then releasing them so that you can put the body into a resting state. When we become stressed or anxious, our stress response kicks in and our muscles tense. Due to biofeedback, we remain in this stressful state of hyper-arousal until our muscles ease and our brain decides it’s safe to rest. Progressive muscle relaxation is simple: Moving through the body systematically, clench or tighten various muscles for a count of 5-7 seconds, and then stop abruptly allowing the muscles to completely relax. Relax for 15 seconds in between. Here’s a basic order to follow: feet/toe scrunch (together), calves, thighs/buttocks (together), abdomen, arms/hands clenched (together), shoulders up to ears, mouth open wide, eyes squeezed shut. This is a great exercise right before bed!