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Lifting Your Spirits Quickly and Easily

When you're feeling a little down or uptight, give yourself a break by trying some of these helpful tips.

Just breathe

Typically, when you're distraught, your breathing quickens and becomes shallow. These changes in breathing are bound to add to your stress and make you more uncomfortable than you already are. You can counter such distress with this quick breathing technique:

1. Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest.

2. Breathe in slowly, concentrating on inflating your abdomen first and then your chest.

3. Exhale slowly, quietly saying the word "relax" as the air goes out.

4. Repeat Steps 1 through 3 for at least ten breaths.

Talk it out

People are social creatures. When you connect with others, you're likely to feel better. If you're feeling down, call a friend and discuss what's bothering you. Or call someone just to chat. Whatever the reason you connect, it's likely to help.

Get soaked

Sitting in a warm bath or standing in a hot shower can comfort the body by loosening all those muscles that tighten up when you're stressed. (Hot tubs work pretty well, too, as do saunas, but not everyone has one of these handy.) As you feel the water rushing over or around you, think of yourself as wrapped up in a warm blanket. You'll feel safe, soothed, and serene.

Feel the big chill

This technique sounds pretty weird, but it works. When your distress feels intense, fill a sink or large bowl with ice water (that's right, ice water), take a deep breath, and immerse your face in the water for 30 seconds or so. It's not as terrible as it sounds. This calming technique is believed to work because it elicits what's known as the body's dive reflex. When you're in ice-cold water, the body slows its metabolism in order to spare vital organs. A slowed metabolism reduces tension, so when your face is in ice water, your metabolism slows, your tension goes down, and you stop fretting about the things that are bothering you and your negative mind chatter ceases. It sounds weird, but try it!

Take a quick thought challenge

To figure out exactly what's bothering you and consider it in relation to the big picture of your life's events, answer the following questions.

1. What's bothering me?

2. How important will this upset be to me in one year?

3. Do I have any evidence that would suggest my thoughts about the event are incorrect?

4. Is there a more reasonable way of looking at what happened?

Exorcise with exercise

The body responds to upset by producing stress hormones. However, you can quickly burn up those hormones by exercising at least 15 to 20 minutes. Try something aerobic such as running, jogging, or brisk walking. If it's a nice day, going outside gives you the added benefit of sunshine and fresh air. Or if it's more convenient, go to the gym and participate in an exercise class.

Mellow with music

Sound influences the mind and body. It can jar, startle, upset, or soothe you. When you feel distressed, try listening to music that you find relaxing, whether classical, jazz, or even heavy metal. Or you may listen to something pleasant and mellow but nonmusical, such as a fountain or the sounds of nature.

Pacify with pets

Studies have shown that pets promote better moods and possibly better health. In fact, one study suggests that petting dogs helps reduce blood pressure. Therefore, if you don't have a pet, consider getting one, or at least borrowing a friend's from time to time. Watching animals play is delightful, and petting them seems to soothe the body.

Distract your distress

When you're upset, usually the only thing on your mind is your discomfort. And focusing on that discomfort only makes things worse. For quick relief of minor stress, consider distraction. Try these activities:

  • Reading a good novel.
  • Going to the movies.
  • Watching television.
  • Surfing the Internet.
  • Playing a game.

Stay in the present

Remember that most of what upsets you has to do with the past or the future. You may feel guilty and depressed about events from the past, and you may feel anxious about events that have not yet occurred and often never will. To snap yourself out of this trap, focus on what's actually happening around you right now. Notice your breathing. Feel your feet on the ground. Notice the firmness of your chair. Pay attention to the temperature. Look around you and observe. Don't judge. Just observe, and breathe.

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