Relax and Take a Deep Breath: Techniques to Manage Your Stress

Last month we explored ways that stress can negatively impact our health and suggested some positive steps we can take. This month we take a look at some helpful relaxation techniques that can lessen the impact of stress in our lives.

While it’s important to identify and eliminate unnecessary stress, we also need to recognize that there are things we can’t change. We still need to clean our house, pay our bills, take care of our children, and tend to that thing we call “life”.

It’s not uncommon to feel a sense of helplessness about your ability to handle life’s challenges. Believe it or not, you do have the power to take control! In fact, the very act of recognizing that you are “in control” of your thoughts and reactions is an important first step. When we take charge of our thoughts, we’re less re-active and can choose healthier ways of coping that rely less on external sources and more on our inherent strengths.

There is no shortage of information out there on how to cope with stress. All you need to do is log onto the internet and you’ll find a variety of techniques designed to promote relaxation and cultivate peacefulness. Done regularly, these techniques can serve not only as coping strategies during stressful times, but can also improve our overall feeling of well being. Below are just a few ideas:

Try Meditating: Contrary to what many believe, meditation is not a discipline of eliminating all thought from your mind. In reality, it is a practice that involves focusing all of your attention on one thing and continually coming back to it every time your mind wanders. Some people think of a word and repeat it frequently, while others say a phrase or mantra. All you need is a quite space and about 20 minutes. There are many excellent websites available that teach techniques for meditation such as http://www.learningmeditation.com/.

It’s all in the breath: Breathing is a bodily function that most of us take for granted, but the way we do it can offer valuable insight into how we are feeling. Shallow, fast breathing can indicate a high level of stress while slow, deep breathing suggests calmness and serenity.
Begin to pay attention to how you breathe. Are you a shallow breather or do you take long and deep inhalations? When we get anxious or stressed we have a tendency to breathe more quickly and erratically. When we are relaxed, breathing tends to be deeper and slower.
Try inhaling for 4 seconds and then exhaling for 4 seconds. Continue practicing this technique. Learning to control our breath when we’re calm will train us to do so when we’re in stressful situations. It takes practice, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Progressive Relaxation: This is a great way to remind your body to release built up tension. Lie on your back and focus attention on each body part. Starting from the toes all the way up to your head, flex or squeeze each muscle tightly for 2-3 seconds and then release. Do your muscles suddenly feel relaxed? With time, you will begin to recognize the feelings associated with muscle tension. It takes practice, but keep with it! It may help to use a progressive relaxation audio tape that can walk you through the exercises.

Guided Imagery: Remember, it’s often our thoughts about stress that make it unbearable. Sometimes, imagining a serene or peaceful place can help take your mind off of a stressful situation. Create a place in your mind of complete surrender and security. This will remind you that you are safe in the moment and that stress does not need to overwhelm you. This technique works best when someone leads you through the process so that you can focus on your thoughts. Try downloading a podcast from Depak Chopra at:http://www.chopra.com/librarygclid=CK6M_L_s0JwCFQog2godWBuwKg

Stress does not need to be overwhelming. We’ve learned that it's possible to reduce the impact of stress by relaxing our thoughts, muscles and breathing. In addition, there is a great deal of evidence supporting the health benefits of alternative treatments. Stay tuned for next month’s article where we discuss Massage Therapy, Reiki, Acupressure and more.