Unless you live under a rock, you are likely well aware of your body's stress response. The pace and intensity of our current global society gives us ample personal experience with time pressure, muscle tension, anxiety, fear, and, in the extreme, the feeling that your head just might "explode." Stress researchers have called this the "fight or flight" response because it comes from your body's ability to get geared up to face, or run from, perceived threats to your survival, health, happiness, success, and well-being.
The fight or flight response is helpful and effective for dealing with immediate dangers such as a natural disaster, car accident, impending deadline, or emergency situation. However, when stressors are persistent and the stress response becomes chronic, we suffer from a host of stress-related effects, including high blood pressure, heart attacks, indigestion, insomnia, irritability, and anger, to name just a few. We also exhaust ourselves and suppress our immune response so we become susceptible to any and all discomforts and diseases.
Fortunately, our bodies have an amazing balancing mechanism-"the relaxation response." Dr. Herbert Benson popularized this term in 1975 with the release of his book by that name. In his book, Dr. Benson details how you can consciously activate your body's parasympathetic nervous system, your body's natural rest and recovery mode.
Since that time, countless self-care techniques have been tested for their ability to activate the relaxation response. Among these are exercise, stretching, self-massage, and mind-body training such as meditation, t'ai chi, and yoga. All these are phenomenal practices which I highly recommend. They also take some degree of time commitment and practice.
In this article, we'll talk about three simple things you can do, anytime, anywhere, to shift out of stress mode and into relaxation. I suggest that you practice these in a quiet, private environment first, so you can focus your attention and learn to do them well. Then, you can take them on the road and into any situation or environment to help you find your relaxed, calm, center in the midst of whatever is going on around you.
3 Easy Ways to Relax
1. Take slow, deep, conscious breaths
It's a good thing that your body takes care of breathing for you, 24/7, whether you are consciously aware of it or not. However, taking a few moments to become aware of your breathing, make it slower and deeper, and feel it inside your body is a great way to activate relaxation.
Imagine there are two vertical balloons that stretch from your lower abdomen up to your collarbones. As you inhale, imagine and feel as if these balloons fill up from bottom to top. When you exhale, imagine and feel as if these balloons empty out from top to bottom.
Slow your breathing down so that you inhale to a four-second count, pause, exhale to a five-second count, pause, and repeat. Count 10 of these slow, deep, conscious breaths and feel how your body relaxes.
2. Feel the space inside your body
Researchers have found that feeling almost any space within your body can have a calming effect. To practice feeling your inner body, focus on any body-part and feel the space inside your skin. You might start with your hands and/or your feet.
For many people, the hands are a good place to begin because they are highly sensitive. Relax your hands and rest them, palms-down, on your thighs. Begin by feeling the space inside one finger on one hand, say your index finger. Then, expand your inner feeling to include the rest of your fingers, one at a time. Expand your sensation to include your whole hand. You can then do the same with the other hand. You can try this with your feet as well.
If you enjoy the practice and it works well for you, you can expand your inner feeling to include your whole body. As you get good at this, it feels great! And no one, except you, knows that you're doing it.
3. Shift your perspective
When you find yourself caught up in stress, insert a mental pause, and step back from what you are doing. Observe what you are thinking, feeling, or doing at the moment. Witness your behavior without reacting to it or judging it as "good" or "bad." Simply notice what is happening. Realize that whatever you are doing, you can choose to do something different and more effective.
Take a moment to imagine what you might think, feel, or do differently that would change the situation for the better. Could you see the situation from another person's point of view? Could you listen better? Could you express your true feelings in a way that is not blaming or accusing? Could you take a deep breath, feel inside your body, and come from a more relaxed perspective?
Practice these three simple techniques often and notice how you begin to master the stressful situations in your life.
Are you ready to de-stress, quiet your mind, and relax deeply? Discover how to take your stress management to the next level. For tips and techniques to reduce stress be sure to visit us here:
Kevin Schoeninger graduated from Villanova University in 1986 with a Master's Degree in Philosophy. He is certified as a Reiki Master Teacher, Qigong Meditation Instructor, and Personal Fitness Trainer.