A Stress Relief/Trauma Life Hack*:
Sit and smile.
Meditation is calming for the body. When we get quiet, sit still, notice our breathing, and clear our thoughts — or often more accurately, notice our thoughts as they come and go — we ease our nervous systems. We activate the calming mechanisms of the parasympathetic nervous system, and our fight, flight, freeze, and fawn reactions slow down and fade for a while.
We can also practice smiling.
I’m certainly not a person who tells others, “You should smile!” (Women hear this all the time, and it’s irritating. We also know that people are feeling grief, anxiety, and stress). But when we sit and smile, breathing in and out, we can shift some of the feelings in our body.
Here’s what Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh shares in his book, Being Peace:
“I would like to offer one short poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling.
“Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.
” ‘Breathing in, I calm my body.’ This line is like drinking a glass of ice water-you feel the cold, the freshness, permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body, calming my mind.
” ‘Breathing out, I smile.’ You know the effect of a smile. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face, and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself. That is why the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas are always smiling. When you smile, you realize the wonder of the smile.
” ‘Dwelling in the present moment.’ While I sit here, I don’t think of somewhere else, of the future or the past. I sit here, and I know where I am. This is very important. We tend be alive in the future, not now. We say, ‘Wait until I finish school and get my Ph.D. degree, and then I will be really alive.’ When we have it, and it’s not easy to get, we say to ourselves, ‘I have to wait until I have a job in order to be really alive.’ And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don’t know when. Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive at all in our entire life. Therefore the technique, if we have to speak of a technique, is to be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, and the only moment to be alive is the present moment.
” ‘I know this is a wonderful moment.’ This is the only moment that is real. To be here and now, and enjoy the present moment is our most wonderful task. ‘Calming, Smiling, Present moment, Wonderful moment.’ I hope you will try it.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, pages 15-16
* I want to thank Shannon Dingle for a series of tweets she did in which she gave some valuable ‘trauma life hacks.’ I’m borrowing her phrase, so I want to give a nod to her work and her Twitter handle: @ShannonDingle