3 simple ways to improve your mental health and mood using road signs
After witnessing a very middle-class version of road rage between two ladies in Paddingtonia Heights yesterday, I decided to repost this article. At the end of the year we’re all so exhausted and burntout, it’s no wonder that normally calm women are loosing their shizz at the traffic lights. So here are 3 simple ways to regulate your nervous system and regain your sense of calm: 3 simple ways to improve your mental health and mood using roadsigns.
Listen to the podcast instead
This article is also available as a 5 minute podcast on Spotify
or on youTube
New Year’s Resolutions often involve lofty aims. But it’s often very small tweaks to your life that have the greatest positive impact and are easier to maintain. So here are my 3 favorite simple somatic techniques under a minute to improve your mental health and mood on your way to work.
Use road signs as a reminder
Most of us know that we should do deep belly breathing and movement to help us calm down, but life gets busy and before you know it, the day is over and you haven’t done anything.
So whether you are walking, riding or driving, use road signs to remind yourself to consciously breathe deeper, slow down and relax.
But first… here’s the why:
Feeling unsafe in your body
Symptoms of chronic stress and a dysregulated nervous system state
A lot of us are living in chronic stress with a dysregulated nervous system. You might be aware of some of the physical symptoms of chronic stress: shallow breathing, racing heart, tense muscles, insomnia, headaches, digestive problems, low libido, feeling hypervigilant (on edge and looking out for danger), as well as thinking anxious thoughts. Any of those things can make your body feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
The good news is that
Your nervous system is only trying to protect you.
It’s sensing either a threat externally, or internally (e.g. your body’s physical reaction to a thought/memory). Your nervous system is simply doing what it is programmed to do, to protect you.
You can change this
You can send your nervous system the message to calm down (down-regulate), simply by breathing deeper, changing your posture and consciously relaxing. And by doing so, change your thoughts/story and how safe you feel.
Here are 3 short and sweet somatic techniques to improve your mental health and mood.
Sigh out at the Stop sign
A sigh is something that our body does naturally to self-regulate and calm ourselves down. Most of the time you don’t even notice you’re doing it.
A simple sigh can mean so many things depending on the pitch and volume. A sigh of relief, of frustration, an-almost-growl of anger. It can also be a sigh of bliss (“ohhhh yes” as you sink in the sea on a really hot day).
In Somatic Psychotherapy I often encourage people to audibly sigh out when we do breathing exercises. We call this a ‘physiological sigh’. It is instantly calming and releases built-up tension.
How: Take a long breath in through your nose and then audibly sigh out (preferably for a longer count that your inhale).
Choose your sigh (soft and airy, low and growly, or something different). Feel the vibration in your through as you sigh out.
Be kind to yourself: So many of us find it embarrassing to make an audible sound. We’ve often been told to be quiet or shamed as kids for being noisy. But if you’re on your own in the car, give it go!
See a 60 speed sign? Take 6 deep belly breaths
One of the best ways to calm your nervous system is to breathe deeper into your belly instead of your upper chest, which is what your body will default to if you are in a sympathetic (fight/flight) state.
How: As you notice the speed sign (whether it’s 20, 40 or 60) take 2, 4 or 6 long breaths in through your nose and out of your mouth. See if you can slow down the speed of your breathing and breathe a bit lower/deeper into your belly.
Be kind to yourself: This might feel difficult, or even a bit scary, if you’ve never done it before, or if you’ve been stuck in chronic stress for a long time. Please be gentle with yourself and tell your inner critic to stand down or get out of the car. It might take a while before this becomes easier for you. We all have to start somewhere. The important thing is to try.
At the lights – soften your back muscles
When you are in a state of stress, your muscles are primed and ready for action so that you can flee/fight). You’re often not aware of how much tension you are unconsciously holding in your muscles until someone tells you to relax them.
By consciously softening the tension in your muscles, you are sending another message to your nervous system that you want to calm down and self-regulate.
How: As you sit at the lights, become aware of the contact of the back of your body with the car seat. See if you can soften that contact by gently letting go of the muscles on the back of your body.
Even a tiny bit of melting will send a message to your nervous system, that you want to down-regulate.
Be kind to yourself: don’t judge yourself for holding tension in your body. Remember that this is below the level of your conscious awareness.
Your nervous system is just trying to protect you. So be gentle to yourself and kick that inner critic out of the car.
My tip – start small
Start small. See if you can incorporate just one tiny daily practice to your commute and notice the effect it has on how you feel.
As the Paul Kelly song says “From little things, big things grow”.
Small changes can have a huge, positive impact. So let’s see if one of these road signs can improve your mental health and mood.