When you look at the average person’s checklist towards self improvement, you will often see goals related to career, family, and fitness, but very rarely will you see a line item that specifically targets time or tasks for relaxation. And yet, according to the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Harvard University, 60 – 90% of all medical office visits in the United States are for stress related disorders. Many additional studies indicate that stress has very damaging effects on your general health and immune system. The good news is that to combat this issue, there are more than 3,000 studies that show the beneficial effects of relaxation for stress related symptoms and overall well being.
Many of us are so anxious to achieve our goals of success and financial gain that we have little time left to care for and nurture the engines behind the machine that produces these achievements. The Dalai Lama put’s this ironic struggle for successful living into perspective: “Man spends his life seeking money and then spends it all trying to save the life when it’s ending. He lives as if he will never die and then dies never having lived.”
The irony of our combustible lifestyles is that the more relaxed and open you are in mind and body, the more effective and productive you are. And yet, we continue to push off our relaxation time in favor of utilizing every last waking moment for social, financial, career, or family related tasks. The first step in changing this stress inducing mindset is to recognize that we are not attending to our mind and bodies needs for relaxation and then committing to do something about it. The fun part of solving this problem is finding ways to relax, and then the actual relaxing part is pretty amazing too!
Putting ourselves first with our mind and bodies needs will provide lasting benefits for overall wellness, but bonus features can also include improved relationships, improved self-esteem, better sleep patterns, and enhanced energy. According to the Mayo Clinic, practicing relaxation techniques can reduce stress by:
o Slowing your heart rate
o Lowering blood pressure
o Slowing your breathing rate
o Increasing blood flow to major muscles
o Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
o Improving concentration
o Reducing anger and frustration
o Boosting confidence to handle problems
Here are several techniques to fit anyone’s schedule and lifestyle. Many of these techniques are extremely effective and take very little time. When developing your personal relaxation practices, what you will find is once you get started with something that is a good fit for you; you may want to pursue expanding and perfecting the technique for further benefit.
Easy, Free, and Takes Very Little Time
- Easy Deep Breathing – This is a quick and effective technique I use to create a calming and centering state of mind. It requires being very focused while spending 2 to 5 minutes to perform several cycles of deep breathing. The key to optimal results is to have pinpoint focus on your breathing and relaxation during this short process. Inhale through your nose, expand your belly and fill your chest. Slow down you breathing cycle – but it should still feel natural and not labored in any way. Add the element of “feeling” the relaxation of your body (muscles, mind, face, limbs), during the exhalation process. Exhale out of your mouth making a whispering “ahhhh” sound. Deep rhythmic breathing expands the diaphragm and expands the lungs air pockets, which invokes a relaxing response and messages the lymphatic system. Deep breathing also provides additional benefits such as releasing endorphin’s, which can help with headaches, sleeplessness, reduced aches and pains, increased energy and metabolic levels, increased oxygenation and blood flow, and release of stale air and toxins.
- Visualization – Visualization is simply taking a few moments to produce images in your mind that are totally relaxing and pleasurable and allowing the body to feel the benefit of your visualization. Begin by finding a quiet and peaceful surrounding and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and evenly throughout your visualization. Allow yourself several moments of blissful relaxation picturing yourself at your favorite beach, mountain summit, or babbling brook. Make sure your visualization includes you looking and feeling totally relaxed, content, and peaceful. Allow distracting thoughts to easily drift off instead of stubbornly resisting them, and then gently return to your relaxing visualization. Ahhhhh…….
- Self Massage – Incorporate a few minutes of self message into your day for an immediate boost of relaxation and blood flow. First rub your hands together to warm them and proceed to massage the entire face and forehead. Use the knuckles of your thumbs to gently massage the temples, the sinuses, including up and down the outside of the nose and under the bridge of the eyebrow. Message the ears using your index finger and thumb, and then using your first two fingers, massage and rub behind the ear. Using the thumb, massage along the jaw line and then using the whole hand massage the neck in the front and back, including the base of the skull. Using your fingertip, massage your entire scalp. Begin to massage the shoulders and proceed to kneed your shoulders and gently squeeze your arms starting at the top and continue all the way down to your to your wrists. End by massaging each hand using your thumb to massage the entire hand and finish by massaging each finger. If you have time, do a similar self massage on the lower back, hips, legs and feet. Delicious and revitalizing.
- Drink Hot Tea – Grabbing yourself a soothing cup of tea provides not only a physiological stimulus for relaxation but by choosing specific herbal teas, your body will receive additional health benefits. Chamomile tea is a traditional favorite for calming the mind and reducing stress. Oolong tea is used to sharpen thinking skills and improve mental alertness. Researchers from University College London report that black tea may be a stress-fighter as well. Participants who drank regular black tea displayed lower levels of cortisol, and reported feeling calmer during six weeks of stressful situations than those who drank a placebo with the same amount of caffeine. I enjoy using a gorgeous delicate tea cup to enhance my tea drinking experience to add a bit of sacredness to this practice.
Further committed and extremely beneficial
- Meditation – The benefits of meditation are numerous. I have written several articles on meditation benefits and the easiest ways to begin a meditation practice. For my money, (which in the case of meditation is zero dollars), meditation is by far, the most effective process to relieve and reduce stress and has the added benefit of providing many opportunities for enhanced spirituality, intuition, insight, and creativity. You cannot go wrong incorporating a solid meditation practice into your day and contrary to what many think, you can perform successful meditation in less than 10 minutes a day.
- Yoga/QiGong/Tai Chi – No matter what level of physical agility or strength you are currently at, incorporating some type of gentle, mindful exercise into your day is a “mega” boost to your mental health and total body relaxation. All three of the exercise programs mentioned (Yoga/QiGong/Tai Chi), have so many healthy benefits it would consume several pages for me to list them. The intentions of all three practices are to incorporate mind and body with focused attention to the movement. I can’t say enough about including one of these practices into your current physical fitness routines.
- Prayer/Contemplation – Spending some time in a deeply reflective and comforting method of contemplation, whether it be through prayer, deep contemplation or even meditation is tremendously beneficial to all aspects of the self (mind, body & soul). There are no specific rules for this type of practice except to make time for this critical activity to connect with yourself and to your divine nature. I also find doing any of these activities outdoors enhances the practice even more. Give yourself this time, to develop a sense of self relaxation, compassion and peace.
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or Energy Psychology – EFT is an exciting new stress relieving technique that is being adopted by some psychologists and health professionals. EFT is usually associated with what is called “tapping” and includes a revised type of acupressure while focusing on traditional cognitive and behavioral emotional issues. The premise is to release the energy blockages on specific behaviors or beliefs that cause us stress, suffering, or even physical pain. There are ample resources on the internet, especially on YouTube for learning about and trying EFT. It’s fun, easy, and it could be the technique that best fits your needs.
- Walking & Cardio Exercise – Of course we have heard of the many benefits of walking and cardio exercise to create a fit body and fit mind, and they are all true. Again, the benefits are too numerous to mention here, but finding a reasonable, pleasurable and beneficial practice of walking or some type of cardio exercise is critical to maintaining a well balanced mind, body & soul. If you cannot begin to imagine having to do any type of exercise in your life, begin by utilizing the opportunities on hand to get more exercise, like taking the stairs, parking far away or deep knee bends during dish washing. Incorporate as much activity into your current routines as possible. Just taking this first step very often leads to further activity because it is true that the more activity you put into your day, the more activity you want in your day. You just have to start somewhere.
I have presented the above techniques to offer many types of relaxation and stress reduction practices to fit any lifestyle or personality. There are of course, many more. In case these 9 were not enough, don’t forget to also look into updating your eating habits to include more energy enhancing foods and nutrients. Don’t forget other freebies that are proven stress relievers such as deep belly laughing, hugs, pet therapy (snuggling with your pet), or spending time outdoors. Honor yourself enough to enrich your mind and body by scheduling time to master your stress. The important thing is to start doing one or many of them right away. Just begin! I believe once you begin to experience the benefits from taking the time to address your needs for stress reduction and relaxation, you will feel a renewed interest in getting more involved to further expand your practices and learn new skills in relaxation and stress relief.