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The Instant Stress-Reducing Maneuver

25 July 2017

Allison read Coping Better... Anytime, Anywhere: The Handbook of Rational Self-Counseling by Maxie C. Maultsby, Jr. M.D. and remembered why his breathing exercise is still one of her favorites. It’s so easy!

Tags: allison read, balance, breathing, health care, healthcare, mental health, mindfulness

I’ve tried a lot of relaxation and mindfulness exercises over the years, but Dr. Maxie Maultsby’s Instant Stress Reducing Maneuver (ISRM) is still one of my two favorites. (You can learn about the other one here.)

The ISRM is also the first one I teach to all my clients who are trying to learn to communicate more effectively, resolve conflict, facilitate effective meetings, be better bosses, and make good balance choices. Why? Because all those things usually induce some kind of anxiety and telling yourself to “just relax” usually doesn’t work. As Maultsby instructs in Chapter Three, “Slow breathing breaks up intense fight/flight reactions within two to five minutes.” Best of all, the ISRM is very easy.

Here’s how Maultsby explained the exercise, “First, David sat comfortably at his desk, closed his eyes, and put a warm, soft Mona Lisa-like smile on his face. That means he had just enough of a pleasant facial expression to cause his facial muscles to feel nicely relaxed. Then, he began packing his breathing with these silent thoughts: ‘A, I’m breathing in.’ And as he slowly breathed out he thought: ‘B, I’m breathing out.’ Then, he always paused at the end of the breathing out and thought: ‘C, I’m relaxing.’ During that slow breathing experience, David kept a warm, soft smile on his face as he paced his slow, three-part breathing cycle… and he breathed mainly with his diaphragm so his stomach wall gently bulged out as he breathed in and gently flattened as he breathed out, but his chest hardly moved at all.”

Right about now you might be thinking, “That’s it? That’s the plan?” Yup. It really is that simple. Do this exercise for two to five minutes before you prepare for anything that makes you feel anxious and then again for two to five minutes before you have to do the anxiety-producing activity. Some of us cry, yell, roll our eyes, or smirk when meetings are stressful. (It's so hard to hold your face and manage your emotions when conversations get difficult.) I’ve had clients report that the exercise has also helped with bridge anxiety, fear of heights, and even going or getting back to sleep. Maultsby also recommends doing the ISRM before each meal to help with mindful eating which is a good idea any day but especially if you're trying to lose weight.

If you do this exercise for two to five minutes three or more times a day, then you can start to instantly cue a relaxation response in your body by taking yourself through the three-part breathing cycle just once or twice. This is an especially nice trick to have up your sleeve when you’re confronted with unexpected anxiety and frustrations.


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