Stress Reduction: The 4 Elements Exercise

Stress Reduction: The 4 Elements Exercise

We all have the need for stress reduction in our lives, whether it’s a onetime stressor, such as a big exam or meeting a significant other’s parents for the first time, while some stressors stay with you, such as struggles with work, conflict with a loved one, or financial strain. Breathing exercises are an excellent way for stress reduction on a daily basis, and should be practiced to ground yourself and take control of your mind and body. Below is a breathing exercise for stress reduction that focuses on the four elements (earth, air, water, and fire) and how to channel each element to bring you a sense of calm to take on your day.

  Element 1- Earth: Grounding

The act of grounding yourself keeps you focused on the present, the here and now, and will take you out of your head and anxious/negative thoughts. First sit in a chair, placing both of your feet firmly on the ground. Take a deep breath, and then look around and notice 3 new things. What do you see? What do you hear? The idea of this part of the exercise is to remind yourself that you are safe in the present moment. To practice mindfulness, one must be fully aware of their surroundings, and to accept their place on Earth. This keeps our minds focused on the tasks at hand, instead of worrying about our past, or what our future will bring.

 Element 2- Air: Breathing

After you have grounded yourself, close your eyes and take 5 slow, deep breaths. When breathing in, count to 5, hold the breath and count to 7, then breathe out for a count of 8. Take note of how the breath enters your body, how holding it brings a sense of calm, and exhaling it releases any pent-up stress and anxiety. Focusing on your breathing brings you to the present, and lets the element of air keep your lungs full and your mind clear.

Element 3- Water: Control

Close your mouth. How much saliva do you notice? When you are anxious or under stress, the mouth will often dry, due to an emergency response nervous system to shut off the digestive system. By creating more saliva in your mouth, you switch on the digestive system again, which helps bring back control to your thoughts and your body. Take a few moments to create saliva in your mouth, whether by drinking fluids or doing so naturally. By creating saliva, you are using the element of water to continue mindfulness practice, by concentrating on both your body and your mind, reminding you that you are in control of your thoughts and how you let them affect you.

Element 4- Fire: Lighting up the Imagination

For the final exercise, begin by closing your eyes. Create an image in your mind of your “safe place”, a place or a memory that makes you feel relaxed, safe, and happy. While thinking of this image, take note of how you are feeling. Where are these feelings presenting themselves in your body? Is your heart fluttering with happiness? Are your muscles relaxing? As you continue to think of this image, give yourself a hug by wrapping your arms crossed around yourself. Take turns squeezing each arm as you are wrapped in a self-hug, which will keep you grounded in the present moment and giving you the control of making yourself feel safe and secure. By doing this exercise, you are igniting a fire in your imagination to create warmth, and a safe space to escape to when you are feeling anxious.

Keep these 4 elements in the mind the next time an anxious situation arises, and you need stress reduction. There will be plenty of times that anxiety will arise, making circumstances in your life seem insurmountable. By using this exercise, you can remind yourself that there are forces in this world that are at your disposal to help you conquer your fears and succeed in your endeavors. In addition to the 4 elements exercise, please also remember the importance of daily deep breathing and meditation, which helps clear the mind and helps you focus on self-care and the ability to calm yourself more easily when stressors are present.