A certain amount of stress in our daily lives is normal. Some people even thrive on the slight adrenaline rush they get when they are stressed. But, stress for too long a time can wear us out physically and emotionally. When I talk to patients about their stress levels, we often laugh together when I say, “Are you stressed out?” The answer is, inevitably, “of course” â€” whether it is caused by the hard work of raising toddlers, a high-powered job, or the stress of being lonely or poor in our society. The bottom line is that most people find more than enough stress in their lives.
Feeling stressed can cause or exacerbate ailments like depression, anxiety, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and gastrointestinal problems. The Harvard Medical School report called Stress Management: Techniques for preventing and easing stress, describes stress’s impact on the body in great detail and shares many proven ways to fight stress. Here are some quick stress relievers, first published in Stress Management, that just about everyone can fit into their daily lives.
When I’m stressed, I often notice that I’m holding my breath. Many of these simple exercises revolve around breathing deeply to release tension and stress. Interestingly, many other things like yoga, acupressure, and other non traditional medical therapies focus on breathing as a way of achieving health.
Here are a few methods of mini-relaxations, taking a short time to breath, to focus, and to relax yourself. Try it â€” you’ll feel more rested, less stressed, and find ways to ease your day. I think I’m going to go give some a try myself!
Mini-relaxations can help allay fear and reduce pain while you sit in the dentist’s chair or lie on an examining table. They’re equally helpful in thwarting stress before an important meeting, while stuck in traffic, or when faced with people or situations that annoy you. Here are a few quick relaxation techniques to try.
When you’ve got 1 minute
Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in slowly. Pause for a count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation.
Or alternatively, while sitting comfortably, take a few slow deep breaths and quietly repeat to yourself “I am” as you breathe in and “at peace” as you breathe out. Repeat slowly two or three times. Then feel your entire body relax into the support of the chair.
When you’ve got 2 minutes
Count down slowly from 10 to zero. With each number, take one complete breath, inhaling and exhaling. For example, breathe in deeply saying “10” to yourself. Breathe out slowly. On your next breath, say “nine,” and so on. If you feel lightheaded, count down more slowly to space your breaths further apart. When you reach zero, you should feel more relaxed. If not, go through the exercise again.
When you’ve got 3 minutes
While sitting down, take a break from whatever you’re doing and check your body for tension. Relax your facial muscles and allow your jaw to fall open slightly. Let your shoulders drop. Let your arms fall to your sides. Allow your hands to loosen so that there are spaces between your fingers. Uncross your legs or ankles. Feel your thighs sink into your chair, letting your legs fall comfortably apart. Feel your shins and calves become heavier and your feet grow roots into the floor. Now breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly. Each time you breathe out, try to relax even more.
When you’ve got 5 minutes
Try self-massage. A combination of strokes works well to relieve muscle tension. Try gentle chops with the edge of your hands or tapping with fingers or cupped palms. Put fingertip pressure on muscle knots. Knead across muscles, and try long, light, gliding strokes. You can apply these strokes to any part of the body that falls easily within your reach. For a short session like this, try focusing on your neck and head.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Start by kneading the muscles at the back of your neck and shoulders. Make a loose fist and drum swiftly up and down the sides and back of your neck. Next, use your thumbs to work tiny circles around the base of your skull. Slowly massage the rest of your scalp with your fingertips. Then tap your fingers against your scalp, moving from the front to the back and then over the sides.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Now massage your face. Make a series of tiny circles with your thumbs or fingertips. Pay particular attention to your temples, forehead, and jaw muscles. Use your middle fingers to massage the bridge of your nose and work outward over your eyebrows to your temples.
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Finally, close your eyes. Cup your hands loosely over your face and inhale and exhale easily for a short while.
When you’ve got 10 minutes
Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Try imagery. Start by sitting comfortably in a quiet room. Breathe deeply for a few minutes. Now picture yourself in a place that conjures up good memories. What do you smell â€” the heavy scent of roses on a hot day, crisp fall air, the wholesome smell of baking bread? What do you hear? Drink in the colors and shapes that surround you. Focus on sensory pleasures: the swoosh of a gentle wind; soft, cool grass tickling your feet; the salty smell and rhythmic beat of the ocean. Passively observe intrusive thoughts, and then gently disengage from them to return to the world you’ve created.
Have you tried any of these exercises? What was your experience? Do you have other techniques for reducing stress that work for you?
Stress isn’t all bad. But too much stress for too long creates what is known as “chronic stress” which has been linked to illnesses like heart disease and stroke, in addition to the emotional toll that stress can take. From Harvard Medical School, Stress Management: Techniques for preventing and easing stressis a special report that can help you identify triggers for stress in your own life and understand the how stress affects your body. The report also gives you useful tools, including a portable guide to reduce stress, a meditation wallet card, and a stress-relief planning chart.
For more tips on staying healthy and advice from Harvard doctors, visit The LifeMasters Community on Gather.
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