Bolster your stress hardiness!
By Beth Gibbs
Times are tough right now. COVID-19 is having a serious impact on mental health—an impact expected to be with us long after the pandemic is over. In addition to regular daily stressors, masking, social distancing, quarantining, and lockdown protocols have increased the challenges we face. Difficult socioeconomic impacts have of course also arisen from the pandemic. Add to that the stress of working from home and caring for children and other family members and we have a multilayered stress mess.
For serious mental health issues medical, psychological, or psychiatric help is necessary. Those dealing with a less serious but still difficult stress mess can bolster their stress hardiness as a form of self-care. According to Drs. Stephanie McClellan and Beth Hamilton, authors of So Stressed, “Stress hardiness is not the avoidance of stress; it is a positive response to stressful situations and the ability to minimize their negative effects.”
With time, attention, and effort, stress hardiness can be learned. While developing a positive response to stress often involves some sort of shift in mindset, yoga therapy tools provide additional direct support by facilitating purposeful relaxation.
Here are two effective yoga therapy tools for building stress hardiness during and postpandemic.* Both techniques can relax the body and calm the nervous system, resulting in decreased stress and increased capacity to skillfully manage challenges when they do arise. (Although these quiet practices promote relaxation, they can feel agitating for some. You may need to engage in something more active before you transition into stillness. Your yoga therapist can help you to navigate experiences like this.)
Props: Sturdy chair, pillow or folded blanket for the head, timer, and a calming music source (optional)
- Select a carpeted area or use your yoga mat to practice this pose.
- Set your timer for 10–15 minutes, and start the music if you choose to use it.
- Sit down close to the chair, swing your legs up and place your calves on the chair seat so your body forms 90-degree angles with your knees in line with your hips.
- Place a flat pillow or folded blanket under your head, making sure your neck feels supported.
- Close your eyes and breathe normally.
- When the timer goes off, bend your knees halfway toward your chest and roll to the side, using your arms to sit up slowly.
Variation: If getting up and down on the floor is difficult, try this in bed with your legs on a stack of pillows.
Find a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes or, if you choose to keep them open, soften your gaze and look downward. Inhale normally. When you exhale, hold the breath out and silently count “one thousand one, one thousand two.” Continue for 2–3 minutes or longer.
This technique brings awareness to the breath, slows the number of breaths you take per minute, and lengthens the exhalation—all of which translates to improved tone of the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest-and-restore functions that help us to better cope with stressors of all kinds.
Moving forward with clarity and resilience
It may help to remember this Chinese proverb: “You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.”
Stress is an all-too-familiar part of life. If we constantly react to stress from a place of anger, fear, or resistance, the birds of sorrow will happily build nests in our hair. But if we learn to respond to what life brings us with clarity and resilience, those nests will be both small and temporary.
Beth Gibbs, MA, C-IAYT, is an author, speaker, teacher, and trainer. Her books, blog posts, and workshops focus on the benefits of yoga, meditation, and self-awareness.