Even in the best of times, the physical and emotional effects of stress can be severe. After months of social distancing, working from home and watching news about the international pandemic, protests and politics—not to mention living with the Florida summer heat—many of us are likely suffering substantial pain that we may not even be conscious of. And if we’re not aware of it, our behavior may even be making it worse.
“People don’t even realize what’s going on inside their body because there’s so much outward stuff that’s distracting,” says Sarasota-based mindfulness coach Rebekka Mars. “Mindfulness is about getting out of your head and into your body.”
It takes a lot less time and effort than you may think. Mars, a public speaker as well as a one-on-one personal coach and yoga trainer, emphasizes that no matter what’s bothering you, a healthier life can start with a single breath: Ten seconds of looking away from the computer, taking a breath and thinking about how your body feels in that moment can be enough to create actual physical change.
“I love the brain, the brain is great, but when we’re dealing with stress, the brain is wired to be constantly looking for danger,” she explains. “And it’s seeing everything that’s going on right now—the pandemic, masks, politics, Black Lives Matter protests, all of that—and the brain is saying, ‘This is dangerous! Alert! Alert! Alert!’”
But in a single breath, your heart rate goes down, your blood pressure lowers, your nervous system calms, and the sum total of your stress is that much smaller. Once you’ve done it once, you’re on the way to making a habit of it. Mars also recommends Post-it notes or phone alarms to remind you to take that moment when you can. “It does take some intention,” she says, “but do you want to feel better or do you want to keep feeling how you’re feeling?”
Hot weather, too, can trigger all sorts of negative physical and emotional responses. Breathing helps here, too, by exhaling some body heat and slowing down the bodily functions that raise our temperature. Mars also recommends eating cold foods like ice cream and yogurt, swapping out your hot beverages for iced versions, and above all, giving yourself permission to stay inside and enjoy the AC. “There’s a lot of richness in slowing down,” she says.
Mars, who grew up in the Midwest, also finds great summer comfort in imagining snowy winters and other cold things. “People actually use the phrase, ‘Take a chill pill,’ but what does that mean? It’s not a pill,” she says. “[By taking a moment] you’re actually doing things that are cooling. You’re tamping down the literal heat that’s in your body.”
Ultimately, there’s so much to be gained in recognizing moments of joy, no matter how brief.
“In times like this, so many people have been looking for ways to meditate,” says Mars. “You don’t need to sit still. You don’t need to meditate for 30 minutes. Just a few deep breaths is a meditation. Thinking about a snowy climate is a meditation. Even if it’s only for a split second. I love coffee. So just for that moment, that first sip of coffee is so good. When you say to yourself, ‘This is the part of the day I love the most,’ do more of that. That is meditation.”
How to Chill Out: Summer 2020 Version
- Take a breath and check in with your body. Ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?”
- Use Post-it notes or phone alarms to remind yourself periodically to pause and breathe.
- Give yourself permission to slow down and enjoy your time in the AC.
- Balance hustle with flow. This global pause is a time to flow.
- “If you’re watching something or having a conversation that’s not making you feel good, walk away. It’s not going to get any better the more fuel you put on the fire,” says Mars.
- Eat cold foods. Substitute hot beverages for iced.
- Recognize what makes you feel good. Do more of that.