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Eye of the Storm: Finding Calm at the Center of Stress

By Martha Michael

Businesswoman looking stressed in a demanding office environment

Like the destructive nature of a hurricane, chaotic circumstances in our lives can take a massive toll on our wellness. When you’ve got Category 5 stressors, there is more than just misery to deal with. There’s collateral damage, such as physical challenges that arise as a result.

Nancy Darling, PhD, a professor of psychology at Oberlin College, says the connection between mind and body is obvious. When you’re in a stressful situation, she says in an article for Psychology Today, “your blood pressure rises and your heart speeds up. You can feel your muscles tense and your stomach churning. Your adrenal gland is pumping out cortisol and adrenaline to speed up your heart and respiration, enhance energy utilization, and trigger your immune system. Relax the body, and the mind relaxes too.”

Using the physical relaxation of various body functions to translate into mental tranquility, Darling shares some tactics to counteract some of the effects of stress.

Breathing Techniques

When altering your breathing pattern to acquire maximum relaxation, use muscles in your stomach, not your chest. Feel your ribs move as you expand your belly and your lungs. Darling suggests taking a long breath followed by slower breathing in order to slow the heart.

Another technique involves puffing air into your cheeks. When you relax your facial muscles, it requires you to breathe from your stomach. After filling your cheeks, let out a quick breath, noticing your tongue rising to the roof of your mouth, which relaxes your jaw.

“This works particularly well if you're in pain or you're so tense you can't concentrate and aren't able to relax and breathe slowly yet,” Darling says.


Washing your hands can have a calming effect before a stressful performance or public speaking engagement, for instance. According to Darling, letting warm water flow over your hands slows your heart.

“Tension reduces circulation to your periphery and focuses it on your core and brain,” she explains. “That's why your hands get cold. Warming your hands relaxes the arteries in your wrist, increases circulation, and slows your heart. Just like slower breathing.”

Jaw and Shoulders

Many times, when nerves become a problem, you take it in your jaw. It may begin with tension and lead to aching at its hinges, causing symptoms of TMJ syndrome.

To relax, Darling suggests a technique involving your jaw and shoulders in which you begin by opening the mouth slightly and curling the tongue toward the roof of your mouth. Drop your shoulders and, as breath escapes slightly, you should experience conscious relaxation, sending a release through the muscles in your upper body.

If self-treatment options just aren’t working, you want to turn to experts, because pain in your upper body and face are too debilitating to trifle with. Symptoms of TMJ syndrome are routinely treated by chiropractic professionals, who look for the root of the problem -- whether it’s stress or another cause.

Health Benefits

If stress has already taken its toll and you find chronic pain in other parts of your body, such as your shoulders or back, it’s a good idea to seek out chiropractic care to address it. Because of the proven connection between the mind and body, the impact of improving your physical state can go a long way toward reducing mental stress. By alleviating tension in the spine, a chiropractor is reducing the pressure on your nerves that may be contributing to symptoms from conditions such as TMJ syndrome or muscle ache. Taking a comprehensive approach to gaining a greater sense of tranquility in your life involves multiple forms of treatment and chiropractic can play an important role.

Like routine visits to your chiropractor, there is a range of both conventional and alternative resources to augment participating in relaxation techniques outlined by the Mayo Clinic. Some of those stress-reducing options are:

  • Biofeedback
  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Massage
  • Aromatherapy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga
  • Music or art therapies

While it may just feel good to add relaxation techniques to your routine, you may not be aware how much it’s contributing to your overall wellness.

Mayo Clinic lists some of the benefits to adding relaxation to your life:

  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Minimizing fatigue
  • Deterring muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Enhancing sleep quality
  • Improving digestion
  • Maintaining normal blood sugar levels
  • Deactivating stress hormones
  • Increasing blood flow to muscles
  • Improving mood and concentration
  • Reducing anger and frustration

“Whether your stress is spiraling out of control or you've already got it tamed, you can benefit from learning relaxation techniques,” the Mayo Clinic article says. “Learning basic relaxation techniques is easy. Relaxation techniques also are often free or low cost, pose little risk, and can be done nearly anywhere.”

The root of your stress doesn’t need a name like Harvey, Irma or Katrina to have a destructive effect on your wellness. When it comes to addressing symptoms caused by stressful circumstances in your life, you don’t want to take a rain check.

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