We try to achieve our goals, we try to fulfill our obligations. We experience worries and uncertainty.
In the 21st century, many of us are operating on a constant high stress response – the stress just keeps going up and up.
But our minds and bodies are made for a delicate interplay of stress and relaxation. If this balance is disturbed, our mental and physical health is affected.
So how can we restore that natural balance while still meeting the demands of our fast-paced jobs and complex personal relationships?
If your life, like many, produces too much stress, you may want to check out the benefits of relaxation techniques. These benefits all result from a gentle activation and strengthening of the ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system, the counterpart of the ‘sympathetic’ nervous system which is responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ stress response.
Physical benefits of relaxation techniques
Reduction of stress hormone levels in your body
Reduction of blood pressure levels and heart rates
Alleviation of pain perception
Better regulation of digestion
Mental and emotional benefits of relaxation techniques
Reduction of anxiety
Enhancement of memory and focus
Ability to ‘step back’ and see the big picture
Facilitation of anger management
The relaxation techniques below are enjoyable in themselves. If you practice them regularly, you can create certain time slots in your busy life that you can look forward to – ‘me’ time filled with an activity that is actually good for you!
Here are five relaxation techniques to try:
1. Breathing techniques
All relaxation starts with slow, deep breathing. This has an immediate effect on your heart rate and blood pressure and counteracts shallow breathing, part of the high stress response that prepares you for fight or flight.
There are many different breathing techniques, but the simplest is to count to 5 (slowly!) while you breathe in, then again count to 5 while you hold your breath, and then count to 5 again while you breathe out. Do this while you are standing up comfortably (if possible take off high heeled shoes) or lying on a flat but firm surface. Continue for several minutes, and try to move from counting to 5 up to 7 or 8. You can do this in five or ten minutes and the effect is surprisingly effective. As long as you have a few minutes and a little bit of privacy, you can feel the benefits of this relaxation technique immediately and you can repeat it as often as you like. It is a stress management tool that is conveniently with you wherever you go!
Taking some time to stretch and breathe is calming for both the body and the mind. It can help you feel relaxed and refreshed. It's a great way to start and end your day.
Yoga is probably one of the most popular relaxation techniques, and quite rightly so. It offers relaxation and focus both on a physical and a mental level. Although you can do yoga with tapes and YouTube clips, it is probably best to learn at least the basics from a qualified yoga teacher. Many people also find that practicing yoga in a group enhances the benefits of relaxation – the group energy helps to disconnect from worries and recurring thoughts. The health benefits of yoga are well documented.
Of course, yoga was originally created as an aid to meditation, to work through potentially distracting body tensions so that the mind can be free.
Meditation can be practiced as the final phase of a yoga class or as a stand-alone relaxation technique. There are many ways to meditate, but mindfulness meditation has been proven to be very effective for relaxing and calming anxiety. To learn about mindfulness meditation, there are many books and websites that are very helpful. Also, many counselors teach their clients basic meditation techniques that calm the mind and soothe the emotions.
Art in all its forms, including music and creative writing, provides many of the benefits of relaxation. The secret here is immersion in the artistic activity, something that psychologists call ‘the flow.’ This deep focus has a similar effect to that of meditation, taking you away from everyday stresses and into the realm of the unconscious mind, where new ideas are created. Art enables you to re-connect to the core of your being and renew your sense of self.
Simple laughter is one of the greatest relaxation techniques available, with proven reductions of blood pressure and heart rate. You can do it anywhere, any time. You can do it alone or with a friend.
And, of course, it’s fun! It’s a very effective relaxation technique.
Try one or more of these techniques and you will reap the benefits of relaxation -- including a healthier and perhaps even a longer life!
Exercise is an extremely powerful tool for battling stress with an abundance of benefits! It releases endorphins in the brain that are natural pain killers and stress reducers. Exercise can also improve sleep - which in turn, helps reduce stress levels. Exercise not only improves mood, but can positively impact self esteem, and a sense of well being.
Exercise combined with fresh air is especially beneficial for helping to manage anxiety, depression, and improve sleep.
Counseling can offer a safe place - in an environment of confidentiality - to discuss your specific challenges. Counseling is a good place to explore options for solving or coping with obstacles. Together, we can create a customized plan for helping you manage the unique stressors of your life. To schedule your free consultation call Kay Studevant, LMHC today!