6 second stress reduction
developed by Charles Stroebel, MD, PhD
with modifications here by Bob Whitehouse, EdD, & A.Blanton Massey, JD,LLM
Practice this 6 second technique many times a day to develop a stress reducing habit. It counters the STRESS ALARM Reflex in which up to 1700 physiological reactions occur in as little as 6 seconds in a big stress. We experience the Fight or Flight part of this reflex when we turn our head toward the perceived stress, tense our jaw, forehead, eyes, belly, arms, and other muscles. We hold our breath or breathe fast and up in our chest. In 1-2 seconds we get the adrenaline hit, heart rate initially slows then speeds if we perceive danger. We perspire, hands and feet chill, and our bowels and bladder shut down. We have lots of energy with which to then run or fight, even though most of our daily stresses are not life threats and preparing to fight or run is thus inappropriate. If we don’t release this energy appropriately, we get exhausted and risk burnout, anger or anxiety. Some people instead go into a Freeze Response and may lose bladder control, or get pale, dizzy, and numb out or pass out as their heart rate drops. This is a shut down response that typically comes when someone feels overwhelmed seeing no way out. Depression follows.
Because the Stress Alarm happens so fast, even if it’s not the full life threat reaction, if you wait for the reaction then try to remember to do the QR, you’ll forget and the stress reaction will escalate. To train yourself to have a 6 second QR reflex to counter the escalation of stress takes several months of daily practice many times a day starting with step 1. After regular daily practice of QR, when you first start to stress, your body will automatically go into steps 2-6 in releasing the stress physiology without your having to think about it. So think of the first few months of practicing this many times a day (up to 150; that equals 150 x 6 sec = 900 sec = 15 minutes total time per day to master this).
Steps of the 6 sec QR:
1. Notice what is bothering you, or, while practicing until the QR becomes automatic, purposely think of a stress and tighten up like you normally do in stress (push tongue up, tighten jaw, forehead, shoulders, belly, and maybe arms) but only for about 2 seconds. (This simulates and starts the stress response.) Then go to step 2 to keep it from progressing.
2. Smile inwardly with at least mouth and eyes. This stops facial muscles from making a fearful or angry expression. The inward smile is more a feeling than something obvious to anyone observing you. The smile starts triggering endorphin release that counters the stress chemistry.) Picture something heartwarming or amusing.
3. Next think something like “Alert Mind, Calm Body” or “Let go & let God;” or simply “Calm down” or “Peace.” (This counters our negative stress thoughts that usually start with a curse, which usually relates to body function and actually stimulates more stress physiology.)
4. Take a nice easy, deep (from the diaphragm) breath in, during or after step 2 & 3.
5. Relax your shoulders and belly as you let your breath out.
6. Return to normal activity.
All of these steps are done Eyes Open, and it only takes 6 seconds total, so practice at stop lights, in waiting rooms, in store check-out lines, before answering phones, when walking through doors, top of the hour… This is such a subtle activity that no one will notice you doing it. Use reminder dots (on computer, dash board, phone, mirror, clicker) or sticky notes, watch chimes, pop up screens, an unusual object like new desk item or mug to catch your attention. Use any or all of these so you can remember to take 6 seconds to practice the QR until it becomes an automatic behavior, a “Quieting Reflex” that keeps stress from escalating.
Parts are ©2006 by Bob Whitehouse, Ed. D. and © 2015 by Virginia Mediation
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