3 Steps to Slow Stress and Regain Focus


As a coach, I know change is never linear. It lifts us up and drops us back down over and over again before we reach a state of steady enough to call home.

I was reminded of this after listening to someone share how much there is to do, how impossible it seems to keep up, and how overwhelming it feels. It’s a perspective I hear frequently, from coaching clients, friends, and family who are dealing with life challenges and uncertainties.

It’s a stressful perspective! And it’s only one side of the story. To be clear, no one is arguing; there is always too much to do and it can be overwhelming. But instead of invalidating this claim, it’s possible to shift your focus in another direction.

One strategy is to shift your awareness away from the past and future and into the present moment by asking yourself, “What is the one thing I need to do right now to meet my highest priority goal?” Sounds a bit too simple right? In fact, shifting from the source of stress to focusing on the positive takes extra effort based on the way our brains are wired.

The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences,” psychologist Rick Hanson is known for saying, “and Teflon for positive ones.” Meaning you’re exponentially more likely to remember every negative thing you hear, see, do, or say and forget all about the good stuff.

Luckily you have ways to reshape this Teflon mode.

When you’re caught up in the whirlwind of overwhelm, it’s easy to get stuck in victim-thinking, which compounds the effect and makes it harder to focus.

Rather than letting this inner dialogue continue, make it a point to check in with your breath throughout the day and take a moment to notice what’s going on for you.

How is your stress level?

How are you breathing?

How is your posture?

Where are you holding tension?

Now for a 3-step restart plan.

If your stress level is high, you’re probably breathing too fast, through your mouth, keeping the movement of the ribs in your upper chest region.

So step 1, take it low and slow by engaging in diaphragmatic breathing.

Onto posture, it’s not purely physical! Studies show constraints on body movement and position influence how emotions are produced and how they are perceived. If your head is down and you’re slouching forward, a physiological response associated with fear or sadness is likely to trigger.

Step 2; Straighten your spine, head, and neck aligned, and let your shoulders relax down your back as you open to a posture of confidence.

Finally, do a quick scan of your body. Where are you holding tension?

Step 3; identify the places you feel tension or muscle pain. Use a body scan practice, even if it’s just a brief one, to recognize the physical expression of pain in your body. When you find it, see if you can soften the tension. Tensing the area on the in-breath and fully releasing it on the exhale can be helpful in letting the tension go.

Done periodically throughout the day, this 3-part check-in keeps stress from building, returning you attention to the present, as you begin building your ability to stay focused on your top priorities, rather than letting the never-ending to-do list keep you stuck in overwhelm.

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