5 Good Ways to Relax
Looking for good ways to relax? I certainly am! And I’m not alone.
Research finds that 40 million American adults struggle with stress and anxiety. That’s nearly 1 in 6 of us. Even kids are feeling the strain. Anxiety disorders affect 25% of U.S. adolescents, ages 13 to 18. Like teens, roughly one in four seniors suffers with the problem.
No joke, it seems stress has become a national epidemic.
Is stress normal?
Yes, of course. Sometimes it’s even a good thing. If you lived in a constant state of metabolic nirvana, you probably wouldn’t get much done. Stress is a motivator. It gets you off our duff and compels you to try.
But when you stay in a state of stress and tension too long (or too often), your nervous system begins to go berserk – flooding your bloodstream with stress hormones that convince the body it’s in danger. Your heart starts racing, your muscles tense, your blood pressure rises, and your mind has trouble staying focused.
Over time, your body definitely suffers. Experts say that the effects of stress range from low energy to forgetfulness and confusion, frequent headaches, insomnia, substance abuse, erectile dysfunction, stomach upset like diarrhea or constipation, heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, arguably even cancer.
But are the benefits of relaxation actually real?
Absolutely! Stress strains your body. Relaxation lets it function the way it should.
Your cortisol levels decline. What is cortisol? It’s the stress hormone that hyper-activates the system. By lowering cortisol, relaxation gives your body a chance to recover from the abuse.
Your heart rate drops. What’s so good about a slow heart rate? It signals to your brain that it can relax, which correlates to a more positive sense of well-being and better concentration.
You gain mental clarify. Stress creates overactive brainwaves. In short bursts, this can help you think faster. But if the brain stays overactive too long, it has trouble calming down. Regular relaxation quiets brainwaves and provides anxiety and stress relief even after you return to your normal routine.
What are good ways to relax and reduce stress?
There are many good relaxation techniques. The trick is to find one you like, and one that works with your lifestyle.
Flopping on the sofa to binge watch Netflix might seem like relaxation. But it actually does very little to reduce the damaging effects of stress. What you need is to activate your body’s natural relaxation response. In this deep state of short-term rest, your breathing and heart rate slow, your blood pressure drops, and your mind regains balance.
Here are just five easy ways to jumpstart your relaxation response. Remember, variety fights boredom when it comes to any sort of self-care. So consider trying more than one of them.
In the middle of a stress attack, have you ever been told to, “Take a few deep breaths”? Turns out, that was good advice. According to a 2017 study, “coherent breathing” or “resonant breathing” can actually combat the effects of stress and tension.
How to Do It: Simply take five breaths per minute, and keep it up until you feel noticeably better. This means each inhale will last for six seconds, and each exhale will last six seconds. Believe or not, that’s all there is to it!
Two tips… First, make sure to breathe gently because that helps balance the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic system is responsible for your body’s stress response. Your parasympathetic system controls body function when you’re at rest and relaxed. A natural balance between the two leaves your body alert and prepared, but also calm and open.
Second, if you try too hard to slow your breathing, you’ll only add to your stress. You don’t have to get it perfect the first time you try. It’s going to take some practice.
Sometimes called “guided imagery,” this approach asks you to imagine a specific place where you can feel at peace, free to explore how to let go of stress and anxiety. Doesn’t matter whether it’s an actual spot you remember from childhood, or an imagined tropical paradise. The goal is to slowly replace your high-level worries with detailed thoughts about this soothing and relaxing environment.How to Do It: Close your eyes and imagine your restful place. Be sure to picture it as vividly as you can. Visualization works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible. So, if you decide to think about sitting on a summer evening in the porch swing of your grandmother’s house:
- See the pattern on the fabric seat pad of the swing
- Hear the sound of the tree leaves swaying in the evening breeze
- Smell the scent of freshly cut grass
- Feel the wooden porch floor under your feet
- Taste the fresh, clean evening air
Don’t worry if you lose track during the visualization exercise. This is normal. When you realize it’s happening, gently take your mind back to the scene you’re creating, detail by detail.
Essential oil aromatherapy asks you to inhale molecules of essential oils (extracted from flowers, leaves, bark and roots). From your lungs, they make their way into your bloodstream. They also strike hair-like olfactory nerve receptors inside your nose, and are instantly conveyed to your limbic system, the part of your brain that regulates metabolism and controls your stress response.
How to Do It: Start by choosing the right essential oil. For natural stress relief, consider bergamot, cassia, chamomile, lavender, lemon, sandalwood, sweet orange, and/or vanilla. You can use a diffuser that will combine water with a few drops of oil(s), producing steam that’s effortlessly inhaled when you sit or lay nearby. For even faster relief, try an aromatherapy inhaler for anxiety, like RELAX Aromatherapy Pocket Inhaler. These personal inhalers contain a pre-mixed aromatherapy oil blend. Whether you choose to create your own brew, or purchase a prepared relaxation inhaler, use only 100% pure essential oils.
Exercise may not sound soothing, but rhythmic motion – like running, jogging, swimming, dancing, or rowing – can actually initiate the relaxation response.
How to Do It: Just doing rhythmic exercise will help relieve stress, but you’ll get added benefit if you incorporate a mindfulness component into the workout. For example, if you’re jogging, focus on the sensation of your feet touching the ground, the rhythm of your breathing, the feeling of the air on your face. It really boils down to becoming more fully engaged in the moment – paying deliberate attention to how your body feels as it moves.
There are many different forms of meditation, and each offers unique benefits. Mindfulness meditation for anxiety is fairly easy and has been shown to ease stress and worry, and improve attention control.
How to Do It: For this technique, sometimes called “presence meditation,” get into a comfortable position, in a quiet place. With your eyes open or closed, start to focus on your breathing. Pay attention to each inhale and each exhale. (Initially, you may find yourself trying to control your respiration. That’s fine, but the point is to eventually just notice the breath.) When you feel ready, perform a “body scan,” focusing on the sensation of various parts of your body, one after the other. Start at the tip of your toes and slowly move up, to the top of your head. If your mind wanders, gently re-focus on the sensation of your breath. And continue with the scan.
What’s the Takeaway?
Stress is inevitable, even motivating at times. But too much tension and worry, experienced too often, will tax both the body and mind. Fortunately, there are relaxation techniques you can try all by yourself, that will cost nothing (or relatively little). Try one. Or a few. Use those that you like best, as often as you can. A daily routine would be great. But, remember, a little is better than none.
Here’s to your health!