Want a simple method to reduce stress and help you think more clearly? Relax the muscle tension in your body. Simple. Let me explain. When we perceive threat- whether the ‘I will be late!’, ‘There’s too much to do.’ type of threat or the ‘There’s a car slamming it’s brakes on in front of me!’ or even ‘There’s a bear!!!’ types of threat- our nervous system prepares us to survive through fight or flight. Our muscles tense, heart rates increase, breathing quickens. We are primed to run or fight for survival. This is sympathetic nervous system arousal, a normal nervous system reaction. There’s a lot of excess energy in our system and usually it’s not expelled through running or fighting. Our brains are focused on survival, and we are not thinking clearly or about the consequences of our actions, and not able to problem solve well. We are reactionary, impulsive, and irrational. Also, we are apt to have more negative views of ourselves and the situation. We can get stuck in this sympathetic nervous system arousal, leading us to not live with integrity as our intentional, deliberate selves.

What can we do to return to a more balanced nervous system and our rational selves so we can think more clearly about our situation and deal with the problems? We can relax the muscle tension in our body to send the signal to our brain that there is not a life threatening problem. Then, we turn down sympathetic arousal and return to parasympathetic nervous system functioning. This is the state of being when we are safe, looking for food, ready to rest, not having our lives threatened.

Here’s how you do it. Do a simple body scan. Start at your head and scan your body for any tension. Check your neck and shoulders. We carry a lot of tension there. Can you picture those muscles letting go? How about your face and jaw? You might be surprised at how much tension is in your cheeks, eyes and mouth. Soften and relax them. Now, scan your chest, arms and belly. What do you notice? What does the tension or sensation feel like? Does it pull or vibrate? Imagine the tense muscles as they widen and soften.

How do you feel as your release the tension? Do you notice any shifts in your focus or agitation level? Is there more calm in your mind? Does your breath even out a bit? Amazingly simple. What requires effort is remembering to do this simple practice. You can do it 1,000 times a day, wherever you are, without anyone knowing. Try it and see if it helps your mind and body to feel more calm and focused.