You’re waiting for your appointment at the dentist’s office to start, an exhausting meeting to begin or the traffic jam to be over. You are stressed, anxious, irritated or annoyed and just want to get it over with. Wouldn’t it be better to ease your discomfort right this minute, instead of sitting it out and staying stressed until the situation is over?
The problem with stress
Stress itself isn’t necessarily bad for us – the problems begin when we don’t know how to relax and let go of stressful situations or thoughts. Many health problems are caused or worsened by stress, including heart diseases; digestive, sleep and weight problems; autoimmune diseases, depression and skin conditions like eczema. The symptoms of stress can be cognitive, emotional, physical or behavioral: From memory problems and a sense of isolation to constipation, frequent colds, dizziness or nervous habits and substance abuse.
Learn how to relax in an instant
Harvard Medical School suggests five quick relaxation techniques for a 1, 2, 3, 5 or 10 minute time frame to help you let go of stress. These so-called mini-relaxations help calm your breathing, lower your blood pressure, slow your heartbeat and put you into a state of rest and relaxation. Let’s try to incorporate them into our daily lives and see what changes! Here they are:
When you’ve got 1 minute
Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in. Pause for a count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation.
Or alternatively, while sitting comfortably, take a few slow deep breaths and quietly repeat to yourself “I am” as you breathe in and “at peace” as you breathe out. Repeat slowly two or three times. Then feel your entire body relax into the support of your chair.
When you’ve got 2 minutes
Count down slowly from 10 to 0. With each number, take one complete breath, inhaling and exhaling. For example, breathe in deeply, saying “10” to yourself. Breathe out slowly. On your next breath, say “nine”, and so on. If you feel lightheaded, count down more slowly to space your breaths further apart. When you reach zero, you should feel more relaxed. If not, go through the exercise again.
When you’ve got 3 minutes
While sitting, take a break from whatever you’re doing and check your body for tension. Relax your facial muscles and allow your jaw to open slightly. Let your shoulders drop. Let your arms fall to your sides. Allow your hands to loosen so there are spaces between your fingers. Uncross your legs or ankles. Feel your thighs sink into your chair, letting your legs fall comfortably apart. Feel your shins and calves become heavier and your feet grow roots into the floor. Now breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly. Each time you breathe out, relax even more.
When you’ve got 5 minutes
Try self-massage. A combination of strokes works well to relieve muscle tension. Try gentle chops with the edge of your hands or tapping with fingers or cupped palms. Put fingertip pressure on muscle knots. Knead across muscles, and try long, light, gliding strokes. You can apply these strokes to any part of the body that falls easily within your reach. For a short session like this, try focusing on your neck and head.
- Start by kneading the muscles at the back of your neck and shoulders. Make a loose fist and drum swiftly up and down the sides and back of your neck. Use your thumbs to work tiny circles around the base of your skull. Slowly massage the rest of your scalp with your fingertips. Then tap your fingers against your scalp, moving from the front to the back and then over the sides.
- Massage your face. Make a series of tiny circles with your thumbs or fingertips. Pay particular attention to your temples, forehead, and jaw muscles. Use your middle fingers to massage the bridge of your nose and work outward over your eyebrows to your temples.
When you’ve got 10 minutes
Try imagining yourself away from stress. Start by sitting comfortably in a quiet room. Breathe deeply for a few minutes. Now picture yourself in a place that conjures up good memories. What do you smell — the heavy scent of roses on a hot day, crisp fall air, the wholesome smell of baking bread? What do you hear? Drink in the colors and shapes that surround you. Focus on sensory pleasures: the swoosh of a gentle wind; soft, cool grass tickling your feet; the salty smell and rhythmic beat of the ocean. Passively observe intrusive thoughts, and then gently disengage from them to return to the world you’ve created.
Our motto for 2015: Sit back and relax!
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