Do you ever feel kind of tight and contracted, like the littlest thing can cause you to spring up (or lash out) for no real reason at all? Or that you are overreacting to things that should be no big deal, and even as you're reacting, you know you're being dramatic about it?
Why am I even asking?
We've all done it before. It may happen again. Rarely, however, do we spend a moment considering whatever it was that just went down and whether there could have been a better way to handle it. All we can ever do when we've behaved or reacted in ways that leave us in a state of regret, shame, or needing to apologize to everyone in our vicinity is to try and do better next time.
Stepping back, taking a pause, and acknowledging this is hard, can be laced with shame and embarrassment, and is also vital to helping us continue raising our set point to become more compassionate, empathetic, emotionally available, and evolved humans.
We can meditate our hearts out, do yoga under a full moon by the ocean, and drink all the green smoothies in the world, but it's only when we get pressed, tightened, and wound up that we can truly test whether we are taking those calm-making practices out into the world.
Our goal should be to be more spring-like – a slinky spring, a loosey-goosey one that can move and shake and wiggle, adapt and bend as needed. Most of us, however, end up winding ourselves up even more in times of stress. If we don't find a way to unwind, exercise those muscles, and use the tools we have, we instead wind tighter and tighter until we spring forth in a reactive mode.
When I see this happening to people (because it's so much easier to see in others, right?) all I can think is how uncomfortable they must be feeling. Springing out like a Jack-In-The-Box never makes anyone feel good.
Learning to have kind and productive responses to stressful situations and triggers is hard. One essential key to limiting those stressful responses is by regularly finding ways to unwind. That way, when you start bringing attention to the tightening, you can catch it, undo it, and unwind it before you bust out in anger or overwhelm.
Best Strategies To Effectively Unwind
1. Move Your Body
When the body grooves, the brain moves. Not like inside your head, but it can help interrupt a pattern of stressful reactive thinking and move you into a more helpful state of mind and way of thinking. Get up from your desk, your chair, your bed, wherever you may be, turn on your favourite song of the moment, and just bust it out! Dance, dance, dance for a whole three, four, or five minutes. No? Then at least take a walk around the block. Breathe and calm. You'll change up the blood flow in your body, you'll get your lungs pumping a little and, most importantly, you can be a little bit silly. Silly goes a long, long way to unwinding.
When we sit with our shoulders slouched forward, as most of us do when working on a computer or driving, we are limited to only being able to take quick, shallow breaths. When we do this, we switch our nervous system into fight or flight mode, making us feel more fatigued, stressed, and at the ready to fly off the handle. Make a point to frequently stand up, or at least sit straight, take a deep, deep, deep inhale filling your chest and your belly. As you exhale, drop those shoulders down and back, keeping your chest open. This will feel so good that you might just want to do it again and again and again.
3. Get In Coherence
What's this coherence I speak of? Well, it has to do with your breathing and your heart rate. The heart and brain maintain a continuous two-way dialogue, each influencing the other’s functioning. The signals the heart sends to the brain can influence perception, emotional processing, and higher cognitive functions. Heart rate variability is the measure of the naturally occurring beat-to-beat changes in heart rate. When we feel stressed or anxious, this beat-to-beat measure is more erratic and we experience cognitive impairment. When we have a steady beat-to-beat ratio, different from an irregular heartbeat, it is called being in coherence. We are better able to problem solve, feel joy and love, and think clearly and calmly in that state.
We describe positive emotions such as love or appreciation as coherent states because they generate coherence in the heart-rhythm pattern. Negative feelings such as anger, anxiety, or frustration are examples of emotions that lead to incoherent states and reflect incoherence in the heart’s rhythmic patterns. By taking anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes or more every day to focus on inhaling and exhaling calmly and steadily, you can move into a coherent state. This can have lasting effects throughout your day and positively impact sleep patterns as well.
4. Make A Date To Have The Time Of Your Life
Doing the laundry, washing dishes, commuting to work – these are typically not the time-of-your-life-moments that you will look back on fondly one day. But time-of-your-life-moments can actually happen every day if you decide to make it so. And when we are having the time of our lives, we are also allowing ourselves to unwind from stress and refuel on vibrancy. Try and make a date every day to do something, read something, watch something, be with someone, hug a tree, jump on your bed, blast some music... Something that invites you to have micro-moments that make you feel blessed, cherished, and most awesome.
And those dishes and laundry I mentioned (by the way, I love doing laundry – folding underwear pockets is my meditation of choice!), shift your mindset from the "I need to", "I have to", or "I should" to "I get to", "I want to", and "I can". Acknowledge the blessings in the little things. It rewires your brain over time and this is one of the most little and subtle life-changers I know.
These intentional moments will unwind you, while simultaneously fueling you up and changing how your brain is wired.
5. Eat To Support Emotional Wellbeing
When we're stressed, we are more inclined to indulge in contractive foods like salty snacks, alcohol, sugar, and other junk foods that contribute to our winding up. Try and bring a little awareness to this habit and instead choose warming, grounding, nourishing foods that are home-cooked, slow-cooked, made from scratch with loads of nervous system-supportive fats that will give you the reserves you need to truly feel the unwinding happen.
6. Focus on Quality Sleep
People of all ages feel cranky and tightly wound when they haven't slept, or when sleep has been fitful or spotty. In the short term, sleep deprivation can negatively impact our mood, increase anxiety and make us impatient and quick to anger. In the long term, lack of sleep can impact our immune system and leave us susceptible to chronic inflammation.
A good night's sleep has long been a struggle of mine – and I now have a solid system in place to facilitate sleep. You can read more about that here.
7. Spend Time In Nature
This is one of my top ways to unwind. Escaping the city to walk in the forests, swim, or go mushroom hunting immediately relaxes and rejuvenates me (with lots of extra bonus points if there is sunshine involved). Nature supports the nervous system and helps to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, lessen pain and improve your mood. Even if you can't escape to the woods, walking outside, going to an urban park, looking at flowers and plants, and even a home or indoor garden will help immensely.
8. Turn Your Bathroom Into a DIY Spa
If spas and pampering are your cup of tea, aim to create that level of peace and tranquility in your own bathroom. Taking a bath or shower with high-quality bath products and/or essential oils can be a very easy way to unwind. It doesn't need to be fancy or complicated. I show you how to create the ultimate home spa right over here.
9. Be Kind to Someone Else
I know it can be tricky when you are wound up to have the space and bandwidth to help someone else. Yet being kind and compassionate to someone else takes you outside of your own needs, wants and problems, and can boost your own happiness levels. These are nine ways you can show caring and compassion to others.
Life is undoubtedly stressful. We all feel the shift in seasons, the quickening pace of busy schedules and new routines. The best thing you can do to manage the Jack-In-The-Box syndrome of the wind-up is to catch it before you hit your breaking point, to pay attention today. Taking on these little habits every day will rock your soul and help your happiness flourish.
More Resources to Help You Unwind
- Self-Care in the Chaos: You've Got This
- 10 Ways to Get Better Sleep
- Tips to Fight September Stress
- Stress-Busting Latte and 10 Herbs for Stress Relief
- My Ultimate Home Spa Rituals
- Nap Time Self-Care: Tips for Tired Moms
- How to Handle Energy Vampires
- How Does a Gratitude Practice Work?
- 5 Minute Yoga Flow
- Into the Woods Healing Benefits of Forest Bathing
- How to Care for the Caregivers