Today, we are more stressed-out than ever before. The stress of careers, deadlines, conflicts, and demands on our time and money, take a huge toll on our health and well-being. Just as a chain tends to break at its weakest link, we seem to exhibit stress and strain in the weakest areas of our bodies. Stress basically comes in three forms of overload. We encounter physical stress, emotional stress, and chemical stress. In fact, we are subject to all three stress factors at the same time. When we overload, it always manifests in symptoms at our weakest link. Stress can provoke ulcers, migraines, low back pain, insomnia, and other illnesses.
It is impossible to remove all of the stress from life, however, safe all-natural and effective stress reduction strategies can help offset the bad effects that stress produces. This strengthens the function of the nervous and immune systems at the same time, so you can make stress your friend, not your enemy. After decades of research, it is clear that the negative effects associated with stress are real. Although you may not always be able to avoid stressful situations, there are a number of things that you can do to reduce the effect that stress has on your body. The first is relaxation. Learning to relax doesn't have to be difficult. Here are some simple techniques to help get you started on your way to tranquility.
- Control Your Breathing
Have you ever noticed how you breathe when you're stressed? Stress typically causes rapid, shallow breathing. This kind of breathing sustains other aspects of the stress response, such as rapid heart rate and perspiration. If you can get control of your breathing, the spiraling effects of acute stress will automatically become less intense. Relaxed breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, can help you relieve stress.
Practice this basic technique twice daily, and whenever you feel tense. Follow these steps:
- Inhale. With your mouth closed and your shoulders relaxed, inhale as slowly and deeply as you can to the count of six. As you do that, push your stomach out. Allow the air to fill your diaphragm.
- Hold. Keep the air in your lungs as you slowly count to four.
- Exhale. Release the air through your mouth as you slowly count to six.
- Repeat. Complete the inhale-hold-exhale cycle three to five times.
- Find Your Mantra
Autogenic means something that comes from within you. During this type of relaxation, you repeat words or suggestions in your mind to help you relax and reduce the tension in your muscles. Find a peaceful place where you'll be free of interruptions. Then follow these steps:
• Choose a focus word, phrase, or image you find relaxing. Examples of words or phrases include "peace," or "I am peaceful." This is called a mantra.
• Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
• Close your eyes.
• Relax your muscles, starting at your head, working down your body to your feet.
• Breathe slowly and naturally, focusing on your word, phrase, or image.
• Continue for 10 to 20 minutes. If your mind wanders, that's okay. Gently return your focus to your breathing and the word, phrase, or image you selected.
• After time is up, sit quietly for a few minutes with your eyes closed. Open your eyes and sit in silence for a few more minutes.
- Muscle Relaxation
The goal of progressive muscle relaxation is to reduce the tension in your muscles. First, find a quiet place where you'll be free from interruption. Loosen tight clothing and remove your glasses or contacts if you'd like. Tense each muscle group for at least five seconds and then relax for at least 30 seconds. Repeat before moving to the next muscle group.
- Your face. Squint your eyes tightly, wrinkle your nose and mouth, Clench your teeth, and pull back the corners of your mouth toward your ears, feeling the tension in the center of your face. Relax. Repeat.
- Neck. Gently touch your chin to your chest. Feel the pull in the back of your neck as it spreads into your head. Relax. Repeat.
- Shoulders. Pull your shoulders up toward your ears, feeling the tension in your shoulders, head, neck and upper back. Relax. Repeat.
- Upper arms. Pull your arms back and press your elbows in toward the sides of your body. Try not to tense your lower arms. Feel the tension in your arms, shoulders and into your back. Relax. Repeat.
- Hands and forearms. Make a tight fist and pull up your wrists. Feel the tension in your hands, knuckles and lower arms. Relax. Repeat.
- Chest, shoulders and upper back. Pull your shoulders back as if you're trying to make your shoulder blades touch. Relax. Repeat.
- Stomach. Pull your stomach in toward your spine, tightening your abdominal muscles. Relax. Repeat.
- Upper legs. Squeeze your knees together and lift your legs up off the chair or from wherever you're relaxing. Feel the tension in your thighs. Relax. Repeat.
- Lower legs. Raise your feet toward the ceiling while flexing them toward your body. Feel the tension in your calves. Relax. Repeat.
- Feet. Turn your feet inward and curl your toes up and out. Relax. Repeat.
Perform progressive muscle relaxation at least once or twice each day to get the maximum benefit. Each session should last about ten minutes.
Another way of relaxing your muscles is through massage. Massage is a system of pressing and kneading different soft tissues in the body (muscles, tendons, and ligaments). Massage offers a variety of health benefits: pain relief, relaxation, improved muscle tone, stimulation of circulatory and lymphatic systems, and more efficient elimination of waste throughout the body. Although a single massage will reduce fatigue, relax you, and provide mild stress relief, the effects of massage are cumulative. A course of massage treatments will allow you to reap the most benefits. Ultimately, massage can rejuvenate you physically, mentally, and spiritually. Massage rates can vary between $50 and $125 per hour, depending on the massage therapist and the location where you receive your massage. For example, you will pay more for someone to travel to your home to provide massage therapy. Fortunately, many chiropractic centers offer massage therapy as part of their services.
- Soothing Sounds
If you have about ten minutes and a quiet room, you can take a mental vacation almost anytime with soothing sounds. Consider music such as relaxation CDs or tapes to help you unwind. To rest your mind and take a visual journey to a peaceful place, consider the following:
- Spoken word. These CDs use spoken suggestions to guide your meditation, educate you on stress reduction or take you on an imaginary visual journey to a peaceful place.
- Soothing music or nature sounds. Music has the power to affect your thoughts and feelings. Soft, soothing music can help you relax and lower your stress level.
Try several CDs to find which works best for you, since no one CD works for everyone. When possible, listen to the soothing music and spoken word samples in the record store to help you decide. Also, consider asking your friends or a trusted professional for relaxing music recommendations.