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The Next Time You’re Feeling Overwhelmed, Try This

By Jezmina von Thiele
October 15, 2021

Getting overwhelmed happens to all of us from time to time. The first step is always to take notice of when you feel your stress levels rising. This might sound obvious, but so often we avoid paying attention to our bodies, and try to ignore our natural reactions. Instead, let yourself pay attention so you know when to stop and do something to remedy it. You might notice when you’re stressed that you breathe less often, or that your breath becomes shallow. Perhaps your chest feels constricted, or your heart races. Your body temperature might change, hot or cold, depending on your stress response. Maybe your jaw clenches, or certain parts of your body tighten. 

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The more you can pay attention to how you feel during the day, the more you can regulate your mood. It’s ok if this doesn’t come naturally! You can learn. Be patient with yourself. You might set a timer every 30 minutes just to check in with yourself if you feel like you need a concrete reminder to “say hi” to your body, and ask how it’s doing. If, during your check-in, you discover your teeth are grinding and you stopped breathing, then take a couple of minutes to try this technique.

During my trauma-sensitive yoga teacher training, we learned a few different grounding techniques for when a student is feeling overwhelmed, and I keep coming back to this one: Give yourself a brief foot massage. Really, all you need to do is breathe deeply and touch your feet. In yoga, bringing the palms of the hand to the soles of the feet is meant to create a circuit of energy that moves through your chakras, or your body’s energy centers. Connecting the feet to the hands is believed to be emotionally stabilizing, particularly when paired with deep breathing. Many studies have been conducted on the efficacy of foot massage and reflexology to reduce pain and anxiety in patients who have undergone different types of surgeries and other medical stress, and there is evidence that foot massage does in fact decrease anxiety and pain

How to do it: If you only have two minutes, just take off your shoes (and your socks, if you wish) and grasp your feet one at a time with gentle but firm pressure. Then, breathe deeply, focusing on a feeling of grounding and connectedness to your body. You can try this seated in a chair or on the floor, bending a knee and crossing the calf over the other thigh, making sure not to put pressure directly on the ankle. If you want to do a little more, try using your thumbs or knuckles to knead the ball of the foot, the arch, the outside edge, and the heel. 

If it feels ok, try slipping your fingers in between your toes, starting with your pinky finger between the pinky toe and its neighbor, and ending with your index finger between your big toe and its little buddy, and your thumb on the outside of the big toe. Maybe use your grasp to circle the ankle in one direction and then the other. This can help release tension in the foot because usually we don’t get to stretch out our toes like this. You can look up self-massage techniques for the foot if you really want to get into it further, but even just rubbing your feet intuitively with some self-love can do a lot to center yourself.

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