Very few people avoid stress in their lives. Finding the right relaxation techniques that enable us to cope with and even eliminate the effects of stress is essential for mental health as well as being critical in maintaining good energy levels. The relaxation response is what all of us are after, but there are different ways to produce it.
As diverse as people and stressors, relaxation techniques run the gamut from breathing control to visualization. The choice between deep breathing relaxation and muscle relaxation, for example, may depend on physical fitness or the environment in which stress needs to be reduced. The way in which someone reacts to stress may factor into the choice of relaxation techniques.
Mindful walking might be a good choice for those who speed up internally but slow down physically, while rhythmic exercise might be better for someone looking to boost their energy or relieve depression. Deep breathing might be perfect for dissipating momentary stress while the simple focus on bodily sensation achieved in body scan meditation might produce a more lasting calm. Whether the technique involves muscular manipulation or moment-to-moment mindfulness, it should elicit the relaxation response.
An activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, the relaxation response is accompanied by lowered blood pressure and increased blood-flow to the brain. This in turn results in increased energy and less fatigue and combats irritability and anxiety. Better productivity, greater motivation, and improved decision-making all result from this response.
Among the most popular relaxation techniques is progressive muscle relaxation, a process of tensing and relaxing each muscle group. Usually starting with the feet and moving upwards to the head, this practice starts with tensing muscle groups, squeezing the muscles as tightly as possible, maintaining the tension for ten seconds, then relax those same muscles. This technique can be combined with and indeed involves deep breathing, which produces added relaxation, and requires only space to stretch out and time to focus on each muscle group.
While worry can perform a positive function, acting as an alarm system to warn us of looming psychological danger and propelling us to take care of things we have been putting off, it can also result in mental illness, especially anxiety and depression. It has to be kept under control, reminding us to pay the bills but not interfering with our ability to make decisions and move forward in our lives. There are several easy ways to reduce the amount of time we spend worrying.
The first is to rethink perfection. In much the same way that Japanese culture seeks to impose order on natural beauty and create perfect compositions, we tend to think beauty is synonymous with perfection. The scratch spoils the coffee table, the bruise ruins the apple. Perfection, however, can be seen in grunge art, vintage patterns scratched and faded, carrying with them the passage of time and the human experience. A simple acceptance of defects within the concept of perfection frees us to find beauty in everything around us.
Another important step is to focus on the positive. All too often, we expend mental energy on the negative aspects of our situation, worrying about things we cannot change and are insignificant alongside its positive elements. We rethink angry conversations, remembering every harsh word, rather than moving on to smile and say hello to the next stranger we pass. We imagine bad rather than good outcomes for situations, and in the process, we introduce negativity and produce the anticipated outcome.
Anger needs to be met and overcome. This can often be done with physical exercise and the deep steady breathing that usually attends it. It is also important to express anger, to a good listener or within a support group. Sometimes it just needs to be punched into a boxing bag.
Finally, forgiveness lessens the causes of worry. If you have ever heard the phrase, “pick your battles,” it could not be more relevant than here. Sometimes, little things people do aggravate and bother us but, in the overall scheme of things, they are really not worth it. Focus on the good things in your life and realize that you are much too blessed to be stressed.
Good mental health is more than an absence of a mental or emotional disease. It is a feeling of wholeness and involvement in meaningful relationships, as well as the ability to meet and deal with problems and difficult situations. It requires physical health, resilience, and supportive relationships.
Good sleep in sufficient quantities is undervalued. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep to be capable of maximal performance. Teenage boys especially need to get this sleep at the right time, generally going to bed and sleeping later. Both good nutrition and exercise are essential to good physical health and the mental health that depends upon it. A little sunshine every day is important, and avoidance of cigarettes and alcohol is a no-brainer.
Resilience is also important to good mental health. Bouncing back from problem, difficult circumstances, and overcoming adversity is the resilience that combats sadness and anxiety, readying us to try again, confident of a better outcome. Optimism and hopefulness mark good mental health. Recognizing and giving expression to emotions releases internal tension and stress and prevents a gradual buildup of negativity. This is most easily achieved with a strong support network, individuals who listen without judging and offer advice without pressing.
That support network is the final piece in the puzzle of good mental health. We are social animals and need human interaction to be balanced and whole. We can find outlets by volunteering with others to provide community services, joining groups and clubs that share common interests, and spending time every day with people we like.
Finally, the key to maintaining good mental health once it has been achieved is in taking care of ourselves properly. From learning new things to stopping ourselves from worrying about things beyond our control. Mental self discipline and engagement with our surroundings and society elevates our mood and prevents depression and anxiety. Make sure leisure time is part of your schedule and spend a little time each day considering and feeling thankful for your blessings.
Meditation is the practice of inducing a mode of consciousness or training the mind as a means to an end or to realize a particular benefit. People meditate to reflect, contemplate, gain clarity, realize meaning, and restore their bodies, minds, and souls. Guided meditation is a purposeful effort where an outside source leads the imagination down a mental path to relax, solve a problem, or enlighten.
A facilitator leads a guided meditation session in person or via audio recording. The participant follows the words being spoken, releasing his or her mind and allowing it to travel freely into subconscious thoughts. This practice is typically used to help people reach deep into their minds to discover previously unexplored thoughts and feelings. It helps people recall past memories, release their negative emotions, modify their behavior, and clarify their life purpose and goals.
This slow, intentional process puts conscious thought at rest so subconscious thoughts can emerge. It begins by getting into a comfortable position and becoming aware of the whole body while focusing on breathing. The remainder of the process varies based on the goal and may be short or long, led by a male or female, and could be accompanied by music.
This form of meditation may be used as a one-time restorative session or as part of ongoing treatment. Many people prefer it to other types of meditation because if they become so relaxed that they fall asleep, they will still benefit from the process on a subconscious level. When the conscious mind “sleeps,” the subconscious acknowledges and releases experiences.
With guided meditation, people can more positively reflect and contemplate their experiences. They can even replace negative programming with positive versions such as high self-esteem and improved confidence. A guided form of meditation is a natural way to balance worry and overthinking with deep relaxation.
Anyone who has been under stress knows that the condition affects the brain. Stressed out people often have difficulty thinking clearly and making effective decisions. When stress prevents the brain from receiving adequate rest, the remainder of the body may suffer. Learn more about brain responses to stress and how to prevent stress from taking its toll.
When we feel stressed, our pituitary and adrenal glands reduce dopamine, cortisol, adrenaline, and other chemicals designed to increase the heart rate and help us flee a dangerous situation. If we are not in danger, there is no need to flee, which is both good and bad. The bad part is that the stress response remains in our systems, contributing to additional feelings of stress.
If cortisol is released too frequently within the brain, it can damage brain cells. Research reveals that cortisol breaks down cells in the hippocampus, which is responsible for much of our memory. Prolonged exposure to cortisol may cause age-related memory loss to develop earlier than it should. An excess of cortisol can increase the risk for depression. It can overwhelm serotonin and other hormones that contribute to positive feelings. Long-term stress may result in a permanent reduction of serotonin levels.
When a perceived threat continues to exist due to ongoing stress, cortisol remains within the brain. To restore healthy chemicals to a dominant level, the body must be restored to homeostasis, or equilibrium. We do this by creating a relaxation response, the physical reaction that occurs when we breathe deeply.
Deep breathing involves inhaling deeply while mentally counting to four, then exhaling slowly while mentally counting down from four to zero. Greater relaxation is achieved when breathing through the lower abdomen, not the chest. Deep breathing creates an immediate calming sensation that helps the body banish cortisol and regain equilibrium.
You have probably heard the phrase “stress kills” at some point in your life. While it would be nice to think this is an exaggeration, that is hardly the case. Stress has been linked to numerous medical conditions, making it extremely important for everyone to learn how to relax. If you manage to keep your body and mind relaxed, here are some of the benefits you may enjoy:
- Sleep is something we all need to recharge but when you are stressed out, you do nothing more than toss and turn all night long. If you go to bed relaxed, the body is able to completely shut down and recover all night from the day’s activities while you are sleeping. Go to bed stressed out, you are more likely to awake more tired than when you went to bed.
- When you are relaxed, you are able to concentrate better. Stress about a particular event or task ends up becoming all-consuming. Not being able to concentrate can have serious consequences, especially if your stress trigger is not allowing you to concentrate at work.
- When your mind is relaxed, it has a better absorption rate. Think back to the times when you were the most stressed out and had your husband or wife tell you something. Did you forget what they said 10 minutes later? This is because the stress took over and did not allow you to absorb anything else.
- You can actually become irrational when you are completely stressed out about something. You begin to picture the worst possible scenario and panic can begin to set in.
- Stress leads to anxiety, which can lead to problems in other areas of your life, such as your sex drive. You simply lose interest in all other areas of your life and everyone in it, which could obviously lead to relationship problems.
Daily life can easily throw us a curveball that increases the stress level tenfold. It is at these times when it is extremely important to find a way to relax. You are not only less productive when you are stressed out, but your overall health is in danger as well. Regardless of the situation, you need to find ways to relax and get your thoughts under control so you can approach the problem reasonably and without putting other areas of your life and health in jeopardy.
Regardless of what the day brings and how time crunched you think you are, you need to find time to relax every day. Taking just 20-30 minutes away from your daily routine will pay off in many ways. There are varieties of things you can do to pull back from life to simply relax for a few minutes.
- Exercise - for some people, exercise is the perfect way to relax. Take a portion of your lunch break to do some yoga or stretching. It will release the tension from your body and allow you to come back to your desk more focused.
- Muscle Relaxation – you will literally work your body from top to bottom. First, tense the muscle and hold it for about 10-15 seconds. Then release and you will feel an immediate rush of blood back to this area. Start at your feet, work up through your legs and finish up with your neck and shoulders.
- Deep Breathing – take a moment, close your eyes, and then take in a deep breath. Take the breath slowly through your nose, drawing in for a full five seconds. Hold the breath for five seconds, and then slowly let it back out. This is a great technique to use when you are truly time crunched and just need to get your focus back.
The holidays are supposed to be a time to enjoy ourselves but for far too many of us, this time of the year is the most stressful. We are worried about getting all of our shopping done. We are stressed out about how we can afford all of these presents. We are worried about the in-laws coming over for Christmas dinner. Step back, take a deep breath, and follow these simple tips to reduce your stress over the holidays.
- Create a To Do List – yes, something as simple as this will make every day easier to manage. Most smartphones have some type of application for this, use it. Even if you do not get everything done on the list, at least you will no longer have to worry about what is and what is not done.
- Back to Basics – stop trying to outdo yourself every year and get back to basics. If having a fancy dinner and creating some massive lights display puts you on the brink of a heart attack every year, is it really worth it? The holidays are about enjoying your family, not impressing everyone.
- Create and Stick To Your Budget – the holidays are not supposed to put you into the poor house. Establish a budget before you go shopping and start planning your big holiday party and stick to it. If you have to charge items and end up maxing out your high-interest credit cards, you will end up paying double or triple the actual prices. Scale it down if you have to, but keep your holiday celebrations and gift giving within your means.
- Give to Others – donate some time to the local shelter or cook a warm meal for a homeless person. You will be amazed at how much better you feel knowing you have helped someone less fortunate. You will also begin to realize that no matter how bad you think you have it, there are others that are far worse. You may actually even begin to appreciate the things you do have!
- Take Care of You! – that’s right, the one person you seem to forget about every year. Make sure you get enough sleep and find the time to eat a proper meal. With all of that running around, it is very easy to overdo it and bring yourself to the point of exhaustion. Simply put, it just is not worth it.
How often have you heard someone say, “Stop stressing, you are going to have a stroke!” It may seem like they are being dramatic, but they are actually telling the truth. Stress has been linked to many physical issues and it is important to learn how to deal with it so it does not create health complications over time.
Stress is something that everyone experiences, it is just a matter of learning how to deal with it properly. Individuals that cannot handle stress make themselves susceptible to heart disease, cancer, and a laundry list of other ailments and conditions. In addition, individuals with current health conditions may find they are actually accelerating their deterioration.
In order to avoid physical health complications due to stress, you literally need to learn how to relax and change your outlook concerning specific situations. When faced with a stressful challenge where you would normally see doom and gloom, you need to adopt the attitude that you can do it and that you can handle the pressure of the situation.
When your cork is ready to blow, take a step back and count to ten. Take some deep breaths and give yourself the opportunity to digest what is going on and to come up with a viable solution to the problem. If it was a mistake that caused the situation, realize this is an opportunity to recover and impress instead of worrying about how the project will fail.
You also need to find things that take your mind away from daily stress. Coming home after work and worrying about the next day for 16 hours until you go back is not going to do anyone any good. Find activities that allow you to decompress and forget about work, if even for just a few hours a day. Ride a bike, have lunch with a friend, just do something enjoyable that will put you into a relaxed mood again.
Sometimes it can be a challenge to find a way to relax and unwind after a stressful day. Listening to music is a wonderful way to relieve stress and calm your mind. Of course, the type of music you listen to can play a big role in how relaxed you get!
Researchers believe that our love of music extends all the way back to our time in the womb, when we were soothed by our mother’s rhythmic heartbeat. Whatever the reason, we know that music can be used to both stir and soothe emotions. Scientists say that listening to music can increase deep breathing, lower the blood pressure and reduce our heart rate. Music also boosts our production of serotonin, a chemical that helps promote feelings of well being and happiness. By listening to music, you engage your whole brain, releasing your mind from stressful thoughts.
To use music to promote relaxation, try the following tips:
- Take a “sound bath.” Get comfortable in a chair or lie down on the couch. Turn up the music to immerse yourself in the sound. Use headphones to minimize distractions.
- Choose music with a slow rhythm. Try relaxing to music that has a beat of 72 or less — slower than a natural heartbeat.
- Stimulate your mind. When you need stimulation, play music with an upbeat tempo.
- Get comfortable. If you need comfort, play something familiar. Try relaxing to old standbys from your childhood.
- Nature sounds. Use nature sounds for deep relaxation. Ocean waves, gentle rain and deep forest sounds are often very effective to promote a deep feeling of relaxation.
Next time you are feeling stressed and anxious, try a little music therapy. You can find many resources for music online. Try out different sounds, then create a playlist that helps you unwind and feel at ease.