Is stress making you frustrated and irritable? Stress relievers can help restore calm and serenity to your chaotic life. You don’t have to invest a lot of time or thought into stress relievers. If your stress is getting out of control and you need quick relief, try one of these tips.
All relaxation techniques combine breathing more deeply with relaxing the muscles.
Don’t worry if you find it difficult to relax at first. It’s a skill that needs to be learned and it will come with practice.
Yoga and tai chi are both good forms of exercise that may help to improve breathing and relaxation
Tips for recognizing when you’re stressed
Hush the voice that’s telling you, ‘Oh, I’m fine.” Notice how you’re breathing has changed. Are your muscles tense? Awareness of your physical response to stress will help regulate the tension when it occurs.
When you’re tired, your eyes feel heavy and you might rest your head on your hand. When you’re happy, you laugh easily. And when you are stressed, your body lets you know that too. Try to get in the habit of paying attention to your body’s clues.
Observe your muscles and insides. Are your muscles tight/sore? Is your stomach tight or sore? Are your hands clenched?
Observe your breath. Is your breath shallow? Place one hand on your belly, the other on your chest. Watch your hands rise and fall with each breath. Notice when you breathe fully or when you “forget” to breathe.
How do you act when stressed?
When it comes to managing and reducing stress quickly in the middle of a heated situation, it’s important to be familiar with your specific stress response.
Overexcited stress response – If you tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet you down.
Under excited stress response – If you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating and that energize your nervous system.
Frozen stress response (both overexcited and under excited) – If you tend to freeze—speeding up in some ways while slowing down in others—your challenge is to identify stress relief activities that provide both safety and stimulation to help you “reboot” your system.
How do you react to stress?
Do you tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up?
You may respond best to relaxation techniques that quiet you down, such as meditation, deep breathing, or guided imagery
Do you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out?
You may respond best to relaxation techniques that are stimulating and that energize your nervous system, such as rhythmic exercise
Do you tend to freeze-speeding up internally, while slowing down externally?
Your challenge is to identify relaxation techniques that provide both safety and stimulation to help you “reboot” your system. Techniques such as mindfulness walking or power yoga might work well for you
Do you need alone time or social stimulation?
If you crave solitude, solo relaxation techniques such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation will give you the space to quiet your mind and recharge your batteries. If you crave social interaction, a class setting will give you the stimulation and support you’re looking for. Practicing with others may also help you stay motivated.
Tips To Relax
Bringing your nervous system back into balance
Stress is necessary for life. You need stress for creativity, learning, and your very survival. Stress is only harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts the healthy state of equilibrium that your nervous system needs to remain in balance. Unfortunately, overwhelming stress has become an increasingly common characteristic of contemporary life. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques can bring it back into a balanced state by producing the relaxation response, a state of deep calmness that is the polar opposite of the stress response.
When stress overwhelms your nervous system your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight.” While the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly, it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life. The relaxation response puts the brakes on this heightened state of readiness and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.
Good relaxation always starts with focusing on your breathing. The way to do it is to breathe in and out slowly and in a regular rhythm as this will help you to calm down.
Fill up the whole of your lungs with air, without forcing. Imagine you’re filling up a bottle, so that your lungs fill from the bottom.
Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Breathe in slowly and regularly counting from one to five (don’t worry if you can’t reach five at first).
Then let the breath escape slowly, counting from one to five.
Keep doing this until you feel calm. Breathe without pausing or holding your breath.
Deep muscle relaxation
If you have pain in certain muscles, or if there are muscles that you find it difficult to focus on, spend more time on relaxing other parts.
You may want to play some soothing music to help relaxation. As with all relaxation techniques, deep muscle relaxation will require a bit of practice before you start feeling its benefits.
For each exercise, hold the stretch for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat it a couple of times. It’s useful to keep to the same order as you work through the muscle groups:
Face: push the eyebrows together, as though frowning, then release.
Neck: gently tilt the head forwards, pushing chin down towards chest, then slowly lift again.
Shoulders: pull them up towards the ears (shrug), then relax them down towards the feet.
Chest: breathe slowly and deeply into the diaphragm (below your bottom rib) so that you’re using the whole of the lungs. Then breathe slowly out, allowing the belly to deflate as all the air is exhaled.
Arms: stretch the arms away from the body, reach, then relax.
Legs: push the toes away from the body, then pull them towards body, then relax.
Wrists and hands: stretch the wrist by pulling the hand up towards you, and stretch out the fingers and thumbs, then relax.
Spend some time lying quietly after your relaxation with your eyes closed. When you feel ready, stretch and get up slowly.
Use the proper hand washing technique.
When you’re under pressure, you’re more susceptible to cold viruses and other germs because your immune system is suppressed. Hand washing is your best defense. Lather up with soap and warm water for 10-20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday.
Give your thumbs a rest.
Thanks to e-mail, cell phones, and BlackBerrys, it seems like your job never ends. The increasingly blurry boundaries between work and home life leave us with less downtime than ever before (and in some cases, no downtime!). Advances in technology are a leading source of chronic stress, putting many of us in a constant state of alert. Not to mention the effect it has on family ties.
A recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found a link between the use of cell phones and pagers at home and increased stress, which spills over into family life.
To make technology work for you, screen calls with caller ID or, better yet, limit your cell phone and e-mail use to working hours only. Can’t kick the BlackBerry habit? Set a regular time you’ll check it in the evening (say, after dinner), so you’re not constantly disrupting home life to keep tabs on work.
Worry about one thing at a time.
Women worry more than men do. A study of 166 married couples who kept stress diaries for six weeks found that women feel stress more frequently than men because women tend to worry in a more global way.
Whereas a man might fret about something actual and specific—such as the fact that he’s just been passed over for a promotion—a woman will tend to worry abstractly about her job, her weight, plus the well-being of every member of her extended family. Keep your anxiety focused on real, immediate issues, and tune out imagined ones or those over which you have zero control, and you’ll automatically reduce stress overload.
Focus on your senses a few minutes a day.
For a few minutes a day, practice being mindful—focusing only on what’s going on in the present —whether it’s during your workout or taking a break from your work. Try taking a short walk and instead of thinking about what’s worrying you, pay attention to your senses—what you see, feel, hear, smell. This can make a huge difference in your emotional and physical well-being when done daily.
Talk about—or write out—what’s worrying you.
Writing or talking about the things that prey on you—in a diary, with friends, in a support group or even a home computer file—helps you feel less alone and helpless.
One study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at people who had either rheumatoid arthritis or asthma— conditions known to be stress-sensitive. One group chronicled in a perfunctory manner the things they did each day. The other group was asked to write daily about what it was like, including fears and pain, to have their disease. What researchers found: People who wrote at length about their feelings had far fewer episodes of their illness.
Speak a stress-free language.
People who handle stress well tend to employ what stress experts call an “optimistic explanatory style.” They don’t beat themselves up when things don’t work out in their favor.
So instead of using statements that catastrophize an incident, like “I’m a complete failure,” they might say to themselves, “I need to work on my backhand.” Or they’ll transfer blame to an external source. Rather than saying, “I really blew that presentation,” it’s, “That was a tough group to engage.”
Replace the word “expect” with “hope.” Expectations can only be used for those things over which you have the greatest personal control. You can expect to quench your thirst with a drink of water. You cannot expect to get the job you just interviewed for. You can hope to get it.
Don’t be so serious.
There’s nothing like anxiety to annihilate your sense of humor. It would follow, then, that it’s impossible to feel stressed when you’re hunched over in a fit of giggles. Studies have shown, in fact, that laughter not only relieves tension, but actually improves immune function. Swap jokes with your friends. Rent a funny movie. Stop taking things so seriously!
Identify at least one good thing that happened today.
It’s a scenario played out every evening all over the country: Come home from work and start venting to your spouse or roommate about your day. Instead of creating a negative atmosphere the minute you walk in the door, try starting off the evening with your family or friends by exchanging good news. Something good every day, you just need to recognize it.
Take the stress in and release it.
Literally embrace whatever it is you’re going through and then let it go. Try doing a tai chi exercise known as “embracing the tiger,” where you take your arms, spread them wide, put your hands together and then draw them—and everything around you—toward your navel, the center of your being. Doing this allows you to take the good with the bad. Then reverse your hands and push them out, releasing your tension. When you can control stress, it can no longer control you.
Listen to Music
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a stressful situation, try taking a break and listening to relaxing classical music. Playing calm music has a positive effect on the brain and body, can lower blood pressure, and reduce cortisol, a hormone linked to stress.
- If possible, schedule a set time to practice each day. Set aside one or two periods each day. You may find that it’s easier to stick with your practice if you do it first thing in the morning, before other tasks and responsibilities get in the way.
- Practice relaxation techniques while you’re doing other things. Meditate while commuting to work on a bus or train, or waiting for a dentist appointment. Try deep breathing while you’re doing housework or mowing the lawn. Mindfulness walking can be done while exercising your dog, walking to your car, or climbing the stairs at work instead of using the elevator. Once you’ve learned techniques such as tai chi, you can practice them in your office or in the park at lunchtime.
- If you exercise, improve the relaxation benefits by adopting mindfulness.Instead of zoning out or staring at a TV as you exercise, try focusing your attention on your body. If you’re resistance training, for example, focus on coordinating your breathing with your movements and pay attention to how your body feels as you raise and lower the weights.
- Avoid practicing when you’re sleepy. These techniques can relax you so much that they can make you very sleepy, especially if it’s close to bedtime. You will get the most benefit if you practice when you’re fully awake and alert. Do not practice after eating a heavy meal or while using drugs, tobacco, or alcohol.
- Expect ups and downs. Don’t be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.
There are plenty of excellent stress guides out there. Some will offer spiritual tips, while others will give you practical advice. Still others offer nutrition and fitness ideas to mitigate stress. Stress comes in many forms – relationships, work, health, hormones, momentary dilemmas, and more – and there are just as many ways to tackle it. Here’s a list of helpful stress soothers that are so simple, they’re often forgotten. They’re not ground-breaking by any means, but they work! So, while these won’t resolve major conflicts or heal a tired body, they will give you a quick mental lift. And sometimes, that’s all you really need.
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