The kitchen faucet is leaking. One of my kids can’t find her P.E. clothes and the school bus is coming. I need to deposit checks, pick up the finished taxes, drop off the dehumidifier to be fixed, and get my gray roots touched up sometime. Oh, and get a little work done, too.
This is just a sample list of the types of things we all deal with on daily basis. Some stress is good for us. It helps us stay motivated to get things done, and it keeps our minds focused and active. On the other hand, too much stress can be harmful to our physical and mental health.
How can you find the right balance between a little bit of good stress and too much stress? If your hectic lifestyle is getting to you, here are a few relaxation techniques that can bring you back into balance – quickly and easily:
When you think of meditation, you may picture twisting your legs into the lotus position, holding your hands up and repeating, “Ohmmm.” However, any repetitive action can act as meditation and help you relax. For instance, walking, swimming, painting and crocheting can help you focus on the moment and find calmness.
The idea is to quiet your mind and let your thoughts slow down. If you start feeling overwhelmed, you can also find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. You can focus on an external point, such as a photo or an object, or you can focus internally on an imaginary scene or a calming phrase. Concentrate on your point of focus and push out all the thoughts that are causing stress. You may get distracted and start stressing again. Simply push it aside and go back to your point of focus until you feel more relaxed.
When you meditate, you are giving your mind a rest from thinking and that constant stream of chatter running through your head. You can let the negative thoughts go and move on.
Visualize yourself relaxed
This technique is called guided imagery or visualization. You focus on pleasant images to replace your negative thoughts or feelings so that you can relax. I live in landlocked southern Illinois, but I love to go to the beach. I like to picture myself sitting in my beach chair, the waves lapping at my toes, a warm wind ruffling my hair, and the sound of waves crashing rhythmically on the shore. Ah, I feel better already!
Deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, can help you reverse stress by calming your breathing. To practice deep breathing, follow these steps:
- Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose, pushing your abdomen out as far as possible
- Let your shoulders and neck muscles relax
- Begin to exhale slowly and comfortably
- Focus on feeling relaxed and calm
- Repeat bullets 1 through 4 up to 5 times
Relax your muscles
When you are feeling stressed, you may find your body becomes more tense. I find that I tense up my neck, shoulders and jaw which can lead to a tension headache. With practice, you can learn progressive muscle relaxation to relax your muscles when you find yourself tensing up. Find a place where you can sit comfortable or even lie down. You may want to start with a few minutes of deep breathing to help you begin to relax.
Then, focus your attention on your right foot. Slowly tighten up the muscles in your right foot squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold it for a count of 10. Relax your foot and feel the tension flowing away as you let your foot go limp. After a moment, focus on your left foot and follow the same process. You can move slowly up your entire body, contracting and relaxing muscles as you go.
It takes some practice but feels great when you get the hang of it. I also use the technique to quickly release the tension I may be holding in a specific area, such as my neck, jaw, shoulders or back.
If you find yourself stressed out about a situation and focusing on the possible negative outcomes, take a mental step back. Engage your mind in positive thinking. It can be very powerful! Start by envisioning something that triggers positive feelings in you. You can envision your spouse, your child (or children), a favorite vacation spot or your pet.
Thinking about these things that make you happy will help you slow your breathing, relax and put a smile on your face. With these feelings of relaxation and peace, you will be able to consider the stressful situation from a new perspective. You will most likely find it less overwhelming and more manageable.
Share some love
One of the quickest ways to feel more calm and relaxed is to cuddle with a loved one. Hug your spouse or partner for no reason. Snuggle up with a child and let the child take the conversation where ever it will go. Or, spend time with your pet. Playing fetch with your dog or petting your cat can provide instant relaxation. A side benefit of spending time with those you love is that you also recognize and appreciate the good things in your life.
Take a musical trip
Music can calm your heartbeat and soothe your soul. You may like to have classical, jazz or opera playing softly in the background to help reduce your stress. Or, you may like to crank up some pop or rock and roll to get out your frustrations and dance to the beat. Turn up the radio in your car and sing along. You may get some funny looks from other drivers, but you will most likely feel more relaxed. No matter how you like your music, it can take your mind off your worries so that you can decompress and enjoy the moment.
Drink a cup of tea
I drink a giant cup of coffee to help me get going in the morning. However, coffee can raise the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. I switch to drinking water after my morning coffee, but I also like to have a cup of hot tea in the afternoon or evening. Green tea offers many health benefits, including fight cancer and heart disease, lowering cholesterol, burning fat for weight loss, preventing diabetes and stroke, and staving off dementia. Chamomile tea is great for calming the mind and reducing stress. Some research has shown that black tea may help lower levels of cortisol when you drink it on a regular basis.
The next time you feel stressed, try a few of these techniques and see what works for you. If you practice them regularly, you will be able to confront that stressed out feeling immediately. You can take control of stress instead of letting it control you.
Do you have techniques you use to help reduce your stress level? Tell us about them!