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Building up your Coping Muscles

Posted on: November 3rd, 2019

Relaxation, self-care, soothing your mind and body, thought-changing, mindfulness…

No matter what we face in life, we do have to develop reasonable ways to manage our thoughts, feelings, and behavior.  We cannot control other people, only ourselves.  Whether it’s coping with a difficult personality, facing a fear, or working through traumatic memories, how we learn to handle distress can have lasting changes in our brain and impact those around us.

Coping muscles are the muscles in our brain that we cannot see.  It gives us the ability to move past “hurdles,” see a problem differently, walk away from a heightened situation, and make informed choices.  Getting there though takes work.  Physical activity and relaxation need to be practiced.  This requires time, effort, routine, and consistency built into the day.  How long is required to be effective?  That depends…for mindfulness, only 7 minutes/day for lasting results.  

Next time you are finding it difficult to focus, having racing thoughts, or are feeling overwhelmed, try a few of these mindful techniques to slow yourself down.

  • “Clear a Space”- Check in with your mind and body.  Create a safe image in your mind.  Set aside thoughts of the past, present, and future.  Or use a backpack image…leave behind judgement and self-doubt.  Pack courage or inspiration.  Look at the experience with kindness and curiosity.  Focus on clearing a space in your mind.
  • “Safe Place Imagery”- Imagine a real or imagined scene your mind using all of your senses.  Focus on the sensation of each sense and provide as much detail as possible.  (Your brain will not know the difference between you being there or merely thinking about it!)
  • 7/11 breath- breathing in for seven seconds and exhaling for eleven.  Repeat…
  • Take a breath before answering the phone, while you are on hold, replying to a text, or email.
  • Breathing Retraining- For early signs of panic.  Hold the breath for 10 seconds.  Breathe in for 3 seconds and out for 3 seconds 10x (about 1 minute).  Repeat both steps until symptoms are gone.
  • 4-Square breath- Using your finger as if to trace a square, breath in as you move up, hold for 4 as you move across, breath out as you move down, and hold for 4 as you return to start.  Repeat.
  • Figure 8 breath- Using your finger as if to trace a figure 8, inhale for the first half, and exhale for the second half.  Repeat.
  • Focus on your footsteps.  Breathe with your steps…in for 4, out for 4.  Gradually slow your pace.
  • Focus on a particular sound (single instrument, nature sounds, etc) How far away can you hear it?  What is the next closest sound?  Can you hear anything nearby, your own breath?    
  • Yoga poses (try holding a pose that is comfortable to you, like “Mountain Pose” and focus on the stability of the pose, the connection with the floor, the emphasis on posture, and the breath that gives you strength.

The key to any mindful technique is consistency.  Try it first thing in the morning, during lunch, in between work tasks, or at the end of the day before sleeping.  Need support building your coping muscles.  Connect with me at SHCS.