Thursday, December 6, 2007

Stress Relief

Stress Relief

For more immediate relief of stress or anxiety, you can try a number of Relaxation Techniques that are proven to reduce stress. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation exercises, guided imagery and self-massage techniques will be explained here.

Deep Breathing
Stress can cause your breathing to become shallow. Shallow breathing causes less oxygen to get into your bloodstream which makes you feel tense, short of breath and anxious. Most people take shallow breaths from their upper chests but deep breathing involves the lungs, the abdomen and the diaphragm. Deep breathing encourages oxygen intake and helps you relax. Chest breathing makes your brain create shorter, restless brain waves while abdominal breathing makes your brain create longer, slower brain waves. Longer & slower brain waves are what your brain makes when you are calm and relaxed and that’s why abdominal breathing helps you relax.

Deep breathing techniques can be done almost anywhere – all you need is a few minutes and a quiet place.
Sit comfortably with your back straight and place one hand on your lower stomach and the other on your stomach. Inhale deeply through your nose letting your abdomen expand. When you inhale, the hand on your stomach should rise and the hand on your chest should hardly move at all. Hold your breath for a few seconds then exhale slowly through your mouth. As you exhale, feel your abdomen flattening. Continue taking deep breaths and relax your body further with each breath.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing your muscles for a few seconds and then relaxing them. By tensing your muscles first, they will relax more than if you just relaxed them without the tension.

To start PMR, you begin with your feet and work your way up to your face. Start by getting comfortable and taking several deep breaths. Begin by tensing the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as possible and hold for a count of 10. Now, relax your right foot. Feel the tension leave as your foot becomes limp. Stay with this feeling while breathing deep & slowly. Next, focus on your left foot, following the same sequence of muscle tension and release. Do this progressively through your body focusing on one muscle group at a time.

The ‘standard’ PMR tense/relaxation sequence is: right foot, left foot, right calf, left calf, right thigh, left thigh, hips & buttocks, stomach, chest, back, right arm & hand, left arm & hand, neck & shoulders, face.

Guided Imagery
The concept of guided imagery uses your imagination to bring you to a time and place where you were once very relaxed. The more vividly you can recreate that situation in your mind, the more relaxing the experience will be. Since imagery is how the mind communicates with the body, research has shown that stimulating the brain using imagery positively affects the endocrine and nervous systems which lead to changes in immune system functions. There is a mind-body connection. You can easily see how this works if you think of how certain smells bring you back to a place from your childhood.

How to use guided imagery:
Get into a comfortable position and take several deep breaths. Focus on breathing in calm and breathing out stress. Imagine a place or event that you remember as safe, peaceful and calming. Bring all your senses into play as you recreate that time & place in your mind. Smell the burning leaves, feel the warmth, hear the sounds of water, taste the sweetness of the food. Enjoy the surroundings and stay as long as you like. When you’re ready to come back to your real life, slowly count back from 20 to 1, telling yourself that when you get to 1 you’ll feel peaceful and calm yet alert.

The Relaxation Response
The Relaxation Response was developed by Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School. It’s a physical state of deep rest that produces changes in the physical and emotional responses to stress such as a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing and muscle tension.

Here are the steps (taken from Dr. Benson’s book):

· Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
· Close your eyes.
· Deeply relax all your muscles beginning at your feel and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed.
· Breathe through your nose.
· Become aware of your breathing. As you breathe out, say the word ‘One’ silently to yourself. For example, breathe IN… Out, ‘One’, IN…Out, ‘One’ etc. Breathe easily and naturally.
· Continue for 10-20 minutes. You may open your eyes to check the time but don’t use an alarm. When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed & later with your eyes open. Do not stand up for a few minutes.
· Don’t worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation. Maintain a passive attitude & permit relaxation to occur at its own pace. When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling on them & return to repeating ‘One’. With practice the response should come with little effort. Practice once or twice daily but not within 2 hours after a meal since the digestive processes seem to interfere with the Relaxation Response.

Self-Massage Techniques
For shoulder tension: reach one arm across the front of your body to your opposite shoulder. Using a circular motion, press firmly on the muscle above your shoulder blade. Repeat on the other side.

For eye stress: close your eyes and place your index fingers directly under your eyebrows near the bridge of your nose. Press in gently and then with increasing pressure for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat.

Since this is the holiday season, consider purchasing a gift that will help you or the special someone in your life de-stress. Some possibilities include scented lotions, aromatherapy oils or candles, stress relieving music CD’s, spa products for your bath and soft & smooth , high thread count, quality sheets for a great night’s sleep!

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