What do you do when you’re feeling stressed?
A. Eat too much
B. Drink too much
C. Sleep too little
D. Worry and obsess
E. Zone out in front of the TV
G. Go shopping
Whether it’s one, two or all of the above, though some might feel good, none will help do much to relieve your stress (at least not in a constructive manner) — at least not permanently.
The number one thing you need to do? Relax. That goes a long way to reducing your stress symptoms. It can slow your heart rate, slow down your breathing, improve your mood and concentration, reduce fatigue, increase flow to your major muscles, reduce the activity of stress hormones and so much more.
Sure, easier said than done, you might be thinking. If I could relax, don’t you think I’d be doing it already?
Learning the basics is easy. Relaxation techniques also carry the benefit of being risk-free, costing little or nothing — and you can take them wherever you go.
For the ultimate benefit, use them along with other coping strategies, like positive thinking, humor, time-management, and surrounding yourself in the company of good friends and family.
Just remember — practice makes perfect. Hone your skills with some of these tried and true methods.
Deep Breathing. Call it what you will — a way to distract yourself or an excuse to lie on the couch — but simple, focused breathing increases the brain’s supply of oxygen, stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and result in a state of calmness and relaxation. We all know how to breathe, of course, but do you really know the best way to breathe? There are many ways, but here’s a quick one that takes just six seconds. It’s called the “quieting response” because that’s what it can do — shut off the stress that is flowing through your body.
1. Relax the tension in your shoulders by “smiling inwardly” using your eyes and mouth.
2. Take a deep breath in while imagining holes in the soles of your feet.
3. Visualize hot air moving through these holes, traveling slowly up your legs, passing through your abdomen and filling your lungs. As you do this, relax each muscle.
4. Exhale, then reverse what you visualized above; picture the hot air coming out of those same holes in your soles.
Visualization (Guided Imagery). There’s nothing better for reducing stress than getting away to your happy place. But travel is not always practical or possible. Take yourself on a visual journey to escape from your negative or stressful feelings, by conjuring up mental images of a calm, relaxing place. Get comfy, close your eyes, and let all your senses chime in — smell, sound, sight and even touch. You may not actually be relaxing on that fabulous sun-soaked Caribbean beach, but by imagining the feeling of the warmth of the sun, the sound of the waves and the smell of a salty beach, you might as well be.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Tight, tense muscles…hardly a scenario for relaxation; more a set-up for things like a migraine or backache. That’s why you need to loosen up your muscles, which have a way of reacting to stress with knots, spasms and painful contractions. This technique (also known as Jacobson relaxation) involves slowly tightening and relaxing various muscle groups. Though there are many ways to do this; one, recommended by the Mayo Clinic, involves beginning at your toes and progressing slowly to your neck and head; tense each muscle for a minimum of five seconds; then repeat.
To give the relaxation response a double whammy, try combining it with guided imagery and breathing exercises.
Meditation. There are so many varieties of this ancient Buddhist tradition. One thing people say is that they “can’t meditate.” Their mind wanders, or they squirm and quickly lose interest. Mindfulness Meditation, (MBSR) is a good one to get started with: it encourages you to observe those runaway thoughts as they drift through your consciousness. The goal? To simply be aware of them — don’t criticize them — and let them go, returning to the present moment.
The idea is not to quiet your mind, or to get yourself into a state of eternal calm, but rather to pay attention to the present moment, no judgment allowed. Here are some tips to get you situated on the road to a calmer self: http://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/