Friday, June 24, 2011

Stress Reduction

by Guest Blogger Jeannie Campbell, LMFT

I am grateful to the Inkwell ladies for having me back on their blog for self-help Friday!
Any of you in the full-on summer-busy mode yet? It seems that we look forward to summer so much…kids are hooraying to be out of school, vacations are being planned, and family get-togethers are much more common. But with summer also comes the missed schedules and routines. Everything is different; fun, yet completely out of whack.
How can we stay grounded during the stressful time that comprises summer?
I brought with me some of my more common anxiety management techniques that can be done at any time or place. (Don’t be thrown off by “anxiety management.” Anxiety in the psychology world really is just another synonym for stress. We’ve all got it—whether it’s diagnosable or not.)
Hopefully you’ll have a chance to try these out. I do them with clients in therapy all the time, and it truly is amazing what a difference they can make in the moment. So whether the barbeque is burning, the van gets a flat, or the hotel unexpectedly lost your reservation, give these techniques a shot to reclaim some control over your chaotic summer!
Square Breathing

You can do this technique standing or sitting, although I prefer clients to sit. If you were in my office, I'd say close your eyes, but if waitresses are taking orders and lifeguards are milling around, just leave them open. The instructions are simple:

1) Slowly count to 3 as you take a deep breath in through your nose
2) Hold your breath for 3 counts
3) Let the breath out through your mouth for 3 counts
4) Hold for 3 counts
5) Repeat a few times/as needed

You can increase the count to 4 if this suits your lung capacity better. But just taking the time to focus on breathing can relax you almost instantly. I don’t think humans realize how much directed oxygen to the brain can really help. We breathe as an automatic reflex, but when you do it purposefully, suddenly you have that moment “to just breathe” that on many busy days, we often claim we never had a chance to do.

This second technique builds off the first. Mindfulness is bringing yourself into the present moment, relaxing, and becoming aware of your breath, thoughts, feelings, surroundings and sensations. You give your self-critical, controlling mind a rest and accept the moment with peace and non-resistance. (Yes, sounds a little new-agey, but it works and you won't need to go to church afterward to repent.)

Since anxiety lives in the body as chronic tension, just breathing can help undo that tension, which restores balance to the body and mind. It's hard to remember your breath (because it’s so automatic), so setting aside time to do so amidst the hustle and bustle of summer will help you relax.

1) Sit as relaxed and still as possible
2) Don't try to control your thoughts - just observe your breath and other sensations/sounds. Don't engage your thoughts, just let them come and go
3) Focus on breathing or heartbeat or the rise/fall of your belly/chest

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

PMR is when you tense and relax various muscle groups in your body in a progression. You hold the tension for about 10 seconds and then relax, noticing the difference between relaxed and tense. You usually work bottom to top, right to left. I usually play a nice CD when I do this with clients, but I’ve also done it to myself in the dead quiet of night right before sleep.

a) Right foot, calf, thigh, entire leg
b) Left foot, calf, thigh, entire leg
c) Right hand, forearm, bicep, entire arm
d) Left hand, forearm, bicep, entire arm
e) Buttocks
f) Abdomen
g) Chest (fill and hold lungs)
h) Shoulders
i) Neck
j) Face (stretch out forehead and cheeks by exaggeratedly mouthing the vowel sounds—if you’re kids are nearby, you might want to leave this part out. They will laugh at you.)

One or all of these techniques will bring you back to a more relaxed state of mind this summer. Remember, God is master of your stress!
Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and enjoys working mainly with children and couples. She has a Masters of Divinity in Psychology and Counseling and bachelors degrees in both psychology and journalism. Two of Jeannie’s “therapeutic romance” manuscripts have garnered the high praise of being finalists in the Genesis Contest for unpublished writers, sponsored by the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), of which she is an active member. She writes a popular monthly column for Christian Fiction Online Magazine and has been featured in many other e-zines, newspapers, and blogs.

You can visit Jeannie on her brand-new website! Click here.


  1. What good tips. I did the breathing thing in the middle of reading the post. Now I'm ready to race off and engage the craziness that this day is going to entail!

  2. Hi Jeannie. I've been doing a series of posts on prayer and one I have planned for the upcoming weeks is about incorporating deep breathing into prayer. Both the ancient Hebrews and Medieval Christians did this. They would often say a short scripture in rhythm with the breathing. This is something I do often when I feel stressed.

    Great post. Thanks for visiting.

  3. Wow, Jeannie, very great info. I know a certain someone in my life who is almost to the breaking point with stress at work. I think, along with prayer, we'll be practicing these exercises together this weekend.

    Thanks for visiting us today, Jeannie! Ladies, Jeannie has a great post on Susie D's blog about character therapy, which can be so helpful for the writers among us who need help with our characters from time to time.

  4. I've been doing the Square Breathing and Mindfulness techniques since Jeannie sent me the post. :-) PMR is next. "Bottom to top, right to left" is easy to remember.

    As Suzie said, Jeannie is featured on Tea and a Good Book (if you're interested, head over to the right on "our blog list" for a direct link). And her character therapy services are fabulous; I highly recommend them.

    Happy Summer, everyone! Is it hot where you are yet? It's over 100 at my house...

    Thanks for the informative post, Jeannie. Blessings on your new site!

  5. Thank you, Jeannie! I remember doing the PMR stuff in high school P.E. classes, and again in my college stress management class, but no one ever explained the "bottom to top, right to left" system. That will help!
    Breathing is amazing. My husband is convinced one of the reasons people feel so addicted to cigarettes is because the act of taking a smoke break requires them to stop what they are doing and inhale and exhale on purpose for a few minutes, which makes them feel relaxed.

  6. Susie D, if you could send about 30 of those degrees straight up north, we'd be about even. It's about 42 degrees here. And it's almost July! It's crazy.

    Niki, I just saw your comment about your husband's smoking theory. It makes sense to me.

  7. lisa - glad you got some energy from it! i find that the breathing--just getting oxygen to my brain--really does help.

    dina - i didn't know that! fascinating. even back then they were aware how helpful it can be.

    suzie - thanks for mentioning the other post i did on susie's blog. it was fun being interviewed.

    susie - it's about 63 here in cali. just BEAUTIFUL.

    niki - wow. never once thought about smoking in those terms. i'm going to dig up some research on this if i can . thanks!

  8. Breathing here in Buffalo. It's still technically morning here, but I've already had my allotted stress for the day.

    Timely post. Thanks!

  9. Welcome back, Jeannie. You are so wise. I don't say that with flippance because I've been there and know the PMR works. Here's my story...

    Back in the 80's I was stationed at a semi-isolated air base in Northern Alberta. That means no fast food joints, no Walmart or other stores - other than a boutique or two - within a 3.5 hr range. (The base did have a Base Exchange with a huge grocery story and limited clothing. Oh, and a gorgeous 18 hole golf course.)

    Anyway, about 2 yrs into that posting we ended up short staffed in the message centre. Due to my Sergeant's (Sgt) refusal to put one of the Master Corporals on shift, the Corporals(Cpl) and Privates(Pte) ended up working 6 days on and 1 off. I was a Cpl and my 1 day off was spent doing the shopping, laundry, spit-shining our boots, and taking care of our 2 yr old. Nelson and I both had our strengths and made a pact early in our marriage where he'd do the ironing (umpteen uniforms) while I spit-shined our boots. Good thing or I'd have had a week's ironing to do as well. Are y'all getting the picture?

    Nelson tried to help but being a Military Policeman on a base of 5,000 meant he was gone more often than not. After 6 months of this grueling schedule, I was on the brink of a breakdown. And then I found a library book called The Stress Factor. It showed a relaxation technique where you tense up and relax every muscle of your body one by one starting with your head. With nothing to lose, I started a daily regime.

    Two wks later, I realized my co-workers were shying away from me, strange looks on their faces. Another shift rota after that I finally asked what was going on. My Sgt took me aside and said something had changed and everyone was leery of talking to me. Before, the men could get my ire up and make me cry at will. Now, they didn't know if I'd laugh in their face or walk away and ignore them. It was throwing them for a loop and they didn't like it so they left me alone.

    I kept my sanity while working that shift for another 2 months before new members were posted in. Everything was the same as before, but with the relaxation exercises my life was tolerable and I could see the end of the tunnel.

    Thanks for talking about PMR, Jeannie. To discover the technique was a life-changing God-given gift.

    Kudos for bringing Jeannie, Susie.

    Anita Mae.

  10. It's always nice to see Jeannie wherever she shows up in cyberspace. I will vouch for her character therapy as well! My heroine was on her couch once--we both feel better for that.

    What great ideas, today, and the tools to use them. for moderate stress I like to sing, but when super stressed that's hard to do. I like the idea of relaxing the body with focused drinking out of the wrong side of the glass to banish hiccups.

    I've got to get over to your new website Jeannie!
    Congratulations on all your successes this year and thanks again for visiting.

  11. anita - that's an amazing testimony to how much stress reduction can really help. thanks for sharing!

    hi, debra! let me know what you think about the new site....had a lot of fun planning it.

    you made me laugh with drinking out of the wrong side of the glass comment. when i was a girl, i used to try to drink out of it semi-upside down. that was problematic....

  12. Ooh, I like the breathing one. Great tips. Thank you for the tools I need to get through this crazy month! Congratulations on your new site...its gorgeous. :)

  13. Raquel, thanks for coming by the Inkwell. Jeannie has some good tips, doesn't she? I should probably print out the page for future reference.

  14. Suzie Jo, I'd send you 30 degrees or so if I could. Of course, your neck of the woods wouldn't be so green and crisp if I did that.

    Love your story, Anita Mae. I think I need to do some PMR pronto.

    Thanks for your post, Jeannie. Your tips truly blessed me during a difficult week. Congratulations on your new site!

  15. much thanks to the inkwell ladies for hosting me here!


Share This Post

How Our Giveaways Work: The Official Rules

We, the ladies of Inkwell Inspirations, would love to give free stuff to everybody. Since we can't, we will often have a giveaway in conjunction with a specific post. Unless otherwise stated, one winner will be drawn from comments left on that post between the date it was published and the end of the giveaway as determined in the post. Entries must be accompanied by a valid email address. This address is used only to contact the commenter in the event that he/she is the winner, and will not be sold, distributed, or used in any other fashion. The odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. NO PURCHASE, PLEDGE, OR DONATION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR TO WIN. ALL FEDERAL, STATE, LOCAL AND MUNICIPAL LAWS AND REGULATIONS APPLY. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.