Reduce stress and increase focus in 15 minutes or less – 3 techniques to try

Here are three techniques I use when I start to feel overwhelmed and need to refocus and clear my mind:

  1. Advanced Breathing Techniques. My psychologist has taught me 3 breathing exercises that help me to calm my mind, refocus and energise myself.  This is a bit hard to explain in writing so bare with me…
    The first exercise is 3 sets of 20 breaths (in, in, out). The amount of air you breath in should be equal to the amount of air you breath out. The timing is similar to the beat in we will rock you (so in, in, out, pause). In between each set of free you breath normally and observe how you feel for 30 seconds.

    Advanced Breathing Activity 1
    Advanced Breathing Exercise 1

    The second exercise is 3 sets of 8 deep yoga breaths. After breathing normally for 30 seconds at the end of exercise 1, breath in for a count of 4 feeling the breath start low down in the pelvis and moving up through the body to the shoulders and chin. Hold the breath gently (should be no tension in the body at all) for a count of four then breath out for a count of 8 feeling the breath move out of the body starting at the shoulders and moving down to the pelvis. Pause for 2 then repeat. Between each set of 8 breath normally for 30 seconds as per the previous exercise. The difficulty with this exercise is you need to breath from the throat, so that each breath in and out is audible. The way it was explained to me was imagine you are trying to breath through a tracheotomy. I’m still getting the hang of this, breathing out seems easier than breathing in.

    Advanced Breathing Exercise 2
    Advanced Breathing Exercise 2

    The final exercise is 3 sets of 10 slow breaths and 50 fast breaths. This has been the hardest one for me to get the hang of. The slow breaths are really shallow (should not be able to even notice you’re breathing) breaths in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 4 (no pauses in between). After you have done 10 of these you smoothly transfer to 50 fast sharp breaths (as fast as you can breath while keeping the pace constant). These breaths are also shallow. Like the other two exercises breath normally and observe for 30 seconds between sets.

    Advanced Breathing Exercise 3
    Advanced Breathing Exercise 3

    After doing all three exercise relax for 2 or more minutes and just notice how you’re feeling.
    The whole cycle takes about 15 minutes but I’ve found even just doing exercise 1 or 2 for less than a minute when I’m feeling really overwhelmed takes the edge off things a bit. I’m aiming to do the whole cycle 3 times a day as part of my daily rest time, but I’m still building up to that.

  2. Restorative Yoga. Doing a simple yoga routine that includes forward bends, downward dogs, cobras and side bends helps me clear my mind. It usually takes me 5 minutes to go through 2 rotations to stretch both sides of my body evenly. I do this every morning and I’m trying to do it in the evening too. It’s not only good for energy and focus but stretches sore muscles gently as well. If I don’t have 5 minutes I find lying in the corpse pose or child’s pose and breathing deeply for a minute or two helps.
  3. Get out into nature. I find just sitting in my garden or out somewhere where you can see and hear nature to be really relaxing. If the weather’s good you get the added benefit of getting a dose of Vitamin D from the sun. I try to do this every day as well.
Relaxing in nature Photo (c) Megan S, November 2013
Relaxing in nature
Photo (c) Megan S, November 2013

Please note I’m not a medical practitioner or an expert in this field in any way. Everything I describe here is just what I’ve found to help me from my own experiences.