There are many ways to help us manage our stress more effectively. We have been taught repeatedly the importance of exercising, getting enough rest, eating healthy and focusing on our breathing.
All of this information is very good but it is easier to do these things when you are in your Window of Tolerance. The 4 elements exercises focuses on specific things we can do “in the moment” to help activate the parasympathetic nervous system so that we are able to return back to our Window of Tolerance.
4 Elements Exercises for Stress Reduction
(Earth – Air – Water – Fire)
Elan Shapiro, 2012
Earth: Grounding Techniques to be Rooted in the Present
- Basic grounding techniques focus on being present in the moment, directing your attention to the here and now. Feel your feet on the ground, feel the chair you are sitting on. Squeeze a stress ball. Look around and notice and name three things.
Air: Breathing for Centering
- Breathing calms the brain. There are lots of breathing exercises, find one you like. One option is called “Square Breathing”, where you breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts and so on. You want to do mindful, diaphragm breathing vs shallow breathing.
Water: Activates the digestive system which will calm you down
- When people are anxious, they tend to get a dry mouth and struggle to recall things they know (performers will forget their lines they have memorized, people with test anxiety will struggle to recall information they have studied) You want to either take a drink of water or focus on making saliva. If you are able to make saliva, you will activate the parasympathetic nervous system which will help you begin to relax and calm down. Your brain will be able to discern that although you are stressed, you are not in danger. This will help your prefrontal cortex come back online which will help you return to your window of tolerance.
Fire: Activate your imagination
- Bring up a time where you felt positive about yourself. If you are struggling with something difficult, remember a time when you got through something hard. This will help you access your internal positive resources.