There’s no doubt – our world and lives are increasingly filled with more stress. Everything’s on demand, there’s information overload, we’ve developed a desire to have things immediately and all the technological advances that were supposed to make life easier and give us more time have done exactly the opposite!
All this is leading to an increase in stress. Now while some stress is good for us – keeps us on our toes, helpful for survival (flight or fight responses) motivates us to perform – chronic stress on the other hand is not so good.
Chronic stress can lead to many physical and mental health problems. These include, but are certainly not limited to, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke, ulcers, depression, and anxiety. It’s critical for our well being that we find ways to reduce or manage our stress.
While there are absolutely circumstances for medication and therapy, there are things we can do ourselves to maintain a low level of stress and to deal with the “normal” stresses most people encounter in their daily lives (I’m not talking about the significant stress events that may arise at different stages eg the death of a loved one or other traumatic experience).
So, acknowledging that people have varying tolerance levels for stress and that from time to time a major stress event may occur asnd people suffer from PTSD – lets look at some relaxation techniques that might help manage day to day stress.
Relaxation Techniques to Manage Stress
1. Learn to Live Life in the Present
• When you are under stress, it is often hard to shut down your thoughts. Unfortunately, these thoughts tend to stray to past events or future ones of worry and anxiety. Mediation and Yoga can assist in being present in the moment.
• Instead, try living in the present. This is what young children do. A good way to live in the moment is by learning to see the world the way children do. They take the time to notice details, and do not feel the pressure to rush through life.
• As an adult, you can apply this same way of thinking by living part of your life through the eyes of a child. Take the time to notice a beautiful sunset when you drive home from work, or to enjoy a favorite song like it’s the first time you’ve heard it. Pay attention to the warm sun on your face, and the scent of flowers in the air.
Don’t multi-task – focus on one activity at a time. How many people can’t even watch a tv show – and just do that. I confess I’ve been busted on my lap top and texting and watching TV at the same time.
2. Find an Activity You Enjoy
• Everyone is different, so it can take some time to determine what that activity is. Basically, you want to find an activity that completely takes your mind off the stresses of the day while you participate in it, and keeps you in a relaxed state after the activity is finished.
• Examples of activities may include crafts such as painting, beading, or scrap-booking, martial arts programs, yoga, curling up in your favorite chair and reading a book, hiking, gardening and so on.
3. Practice Visualization
• This involves thinking about something that calms and relaxes you. For example, close your eyes, and think back to your vacation at the beach. Imagine you are there, what the water looks like, how blue the sky looks, how warm the sun feels, and how relaxed you feel. If you find this hard to do, try downloading a guided visualization mediation.
4. Practice Muscle Relaxation
• It’s important to be able to tell the difference between tight, unrelaxed muscles and ones that are relaxed. This is where muscle relaxation can be beneficial. Start either at your head or at your feet. As an example, begin by tensing the muscles in your face and scalp for ten seconds, and then relax for a minute. Be sure to pay attention to what tension versus relaxation feels like. Next, move onto your neck, and continue downwards until you reach your feet.
5. Take a Few Steps Back
• When you begin to recognize stress symptoms, learn to take a step back for a moment. Go somewhere quiet for a few minutes where you can do some deep breathing, and pull yourself together.
• You may also want to perform some positive self-talk, meaning you remind yourself that you can deal with whatever is causing you stress at the moment. Remind yourself of all the good things in your life, and think about what means most to you. This can bring some immediate relaxing thoughts and perspective on the situation.
• If you have a busy job dealing with people all day, it can be relaxing to find a quiet place to eat your lunch while closing your eyes for a few minutes. This can recharge your batteries, and result in a relaxed mood when dealing with people for the rest of the afternoon. Just make sure that the quiet place is not your office desk where you see work staring back at you.