Best Ways To Beat Stress
Published by: LifeWorks,
Learning to relax is one of the best ways to deal with stress and its physical and emotional symptoms. Multiple studies have shown that practices like meditation also help improve sleep, promote focus, sharpen memory and beef up your immune system. There are many natural and effective ways to relieve stress. Some methods require instruction by qualified teachers; others you can do on your own as you go through your busy day. For many people, first attempts at relaxing may be less fulfilling than hoped for. But as you experiment to find what works for you and practice, you’ll find yourself more and more able to relieve tension any time you want to.
1. Deep breathing. Concentrate on your breathing. Inhale with slow, deep breaths through your nose, and slowly exhale through your mouth. Imagine calmness entering your body with every inhalation and tension leaving your body with every exhalation. Counting each breath will help you stay connected to your breathing. Try to extend your exhale to be a few seconds longer than you inhale.
2. Progressive muscle relaxation. Lie down on a bed, sofa, or floor—anywhere you can comfortably stretch out. Breathe in and out slowly and deeply while you concentrate on each of the muscle groups in your body one at a time. Starting at your toes and working your way up your legs, and continuing through your body to your neck and face, contract each muscle area and feel the tension as you breathe in, and then concentrate on letting it go on the exhale. Gradually your entire body will be completely relaxed.
3. Meditation. A thousand years technique, meditation offers practices for attaining inner peace by focusing on images, sounds, or breathing. For instance, you might take a few minutes in a quiet place to close your eyes and quietly focus on a mental image, such as walking on a beach or in a wooded area, or on an object that calms you. Or try the techniques described in the cardiologist Herbert Benson’s classic The Relaxation Response, based on studies at Harvard Medical School.
4. Stretching. Tension builds up in the muscles throughout your body. Just a few minutes a day of slowly and gently stretching your muscles can relieve a lot of that tension. Hold each position for 30 seconds. Don’t stretch too hard—you want to feel the muscles extended, but not pulled.
5. Exercise. It doesn’t have to be very strenuous. Even a quick walk around the block can help to relieve tension. Find a physical activity that works for you and do it at least a couple of times a week. Work up to getting 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on all or most days of the week.
6. Mindfulness. Become more aware of the moment without making judgments that can get in the way of being fully present. You can make an effort to become more mindful on your own by, for example, slowing down and savoring the taste of each bite of a meal instead of rushing through it. You can find good books and DVDs that will guide you through meditation and other relaxation techniques at bookstores and libraries and online. You might try a popular app like Headspace or Calm.
7. Massage. You can get a professional massage, or you can rub the tension out of your neck and shoulders yourself any time you feel tight. Remember to take a moment to stop what you are doing and concentrate on relaxing while you massage your neck and shoulders.
8. Yoga. Yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation combine to provide stress relief and improved physical fitness. Yoga can also increase flexibility; help with high blood pressure and circulatory problems; relieve back and neck pain; and improve conditions like asthma, fatigue, insomnia, arthritis, rheumatism, and anxiety. There are several different traditions of yoga, but they all combine postures, stretching, breathing, and meditation to make your body and mind relax. Some of the poses are difficult—never force your body to do something it’s not ready for. A yoga instructor will be able to help you adapt the postures for your abilities.
9. Taichi. Tai chi movements are taken from Chinese martial arts and are based on the principle that the human body has an energy flow, called chi, which can become blocked. The purpose of the tai chi exercises is to unblock the chi and restore its natural flow. Like yoga, tai chi relies on postures and breathing to increase circulation and promote healing and relaxation in the body. And as with yoga, there are several styles of tai chi. In tai chi, you slowly and smoothly move from one position to the next in a specific order. There are up to 108 separate movements, but beginners can usually find a short form that uses between 20 and 40 movements. Learning the proper movements is best done under the guidance of a trained tai chi instructor.