Relaxation Techniques to Deal with Stress


The critical thing to remember is that the reaction to these stressors is the same—a chemical reaction that can hardly be controlled. What we can control is making a choice to make sure that built-up stress is relieved in healthy and beneficial ways.

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Ever felt so caught up in your stress (1) that you don't realize the physical discomfort you're experiencing? Maybe you experience headaches, back and shoulder pain, and tense muscles throughout the week, and only find relief on the weekend with some downtime, reading or watching Netflix. If this sounds familiar, this article is for you.

We all face stress-causing bumps and potholes in the road of life. Stress levels rise when traffic makes us late for a necessary appointment, and even more when a loved one is dying. No matter what the cause, stress affects the human body in a similar cascade of activity.

The heart rhythm quickens and beats stronger, breathing changes, and muscles tighten, but the health implications of this response can be longer-lived than the fear-causing event.

Stress is a normal reaction to threatening situations. Humans honed this set of responses during our prehistory as a way to recognize and survive life-threatening situations. Today, our stressors are different, ranging from divorce to job loss, but they also include life-threatening elements like abuse, substance use disorder, and disease.

The critical thing to remember is that the reaction to these stressors is the same—a chemical reaction that can hardly be controlled. What we can control is making a choice to make sure that built-up stress is relieved in healthy and beneficial ways.

Without stress relief, the long-term activation of the stress response system can have some destructive consequences. For instance, too much cortisol disrupts the body's homeostasis. It puts the body at an increased risk of many health problems, including mood disorders, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep disruption, weight gain or loss, memory and concentration impairment. On the contrary, the relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response. It is a skill to achieve a state of profound rest by using the at-home tactics we describe below.

The importance of stress management

When faced with numerous responsibilities, tasks, and demands, taking the time to relax intentionally may not be a priority in your life. But you could then miss out on the health benefits connected with keeping stress reactions and stress-related hormones down. Practicing relaxation techniques can have many benefits. Regulating heart rate and lowering blood pressure, controlling the breath, quelling stress hormones, improving sleep, increasing energy, caring for mental health, eliminating frustration, and incredibly, maintaining normal blood sugar levels.

To get the most benefit – pair relaxation techniques along with other healthy coping mechanisms, such as going for a socially distanced walk with friends, having an in-depth talk with a trusted peer or spouse, and getting plenty of physical activity, sleep, and enjoying healthy foods.

Types of relaxation techniques – meditation, journaling, deep breathing

Someone could learn relaxation techniques from a health professional, but they are easy to acquire without assistance.

All it requires is refocusing attention through mindful and intentional action - anything from meditation to sports - and body awareness. It doesn't matter which relaxation technique is chosen. What matters is that the practice of relaxation is consistent. Here are six types of relaxation techniques.

Body scan. A body scan is when you focus on one part of the body or group of muscles at a time. (2) During this process, you mentally release any physical tension you feel there. A body scan is a mix of visualization and muscle relaxation that boosts body awareness and helps locate areas where stress accumulates.

Mindfulness meditation. Sit comfortably, focus on your breathing and the present moment. When your mind drifts, bring it back to the centre without self-criticism. Meditation is enjoying a renaissance of sorts (3) right now. Take advantage of all of the meditation resources out there.

Yoga, tai chi, and qigong. Three ancient arts combine rhythmic breathing with a series of postures or flowing movements to inspire calm, relaxation and focus. (4) Think of these practices as moving meditation that serves to enhance your flexibility and balance.

Autogenic relaxation. In this relaxation technique, you use imagery, repetitive words or a mantra, and body awareness to reduce stress. (5) You may imagine yourself in a peaceful setting and then use that safe space to work on specific things like slowing your heart rate or breathing control.

Progressive muscle relaxation. By tensing up and then relaxing each muscle group in the body, you can gain body connection as you isolate and relax each part of the body, one by one. Start by tensing and then releasing the muscles in your feet and legs and progressively work your way up to your head; or, start from the top and work down. Tense each muscle for about five seconds, relax for 30 seconds and repeat.

Visualization. Forming mental images to take a visual journey to a peaceful, calming place or situation can help take you out of the stressful mindset you currently find yourself. Think of your safe space, from an oceanside location to a mountain or otherwise, and engage all of the senses you can to help create that space in your mind. Throughout this visualization, aim to focus on the present and think positive thoughts.

Breath focus. Take long, slow, deep breaths from the abdomen, and gently disengage your mind from distracting thoughts and sensations. Breath focus can help people with OCD-related stress to focus on their bodies more positively. This technique may not be appropriate for those with breathing difficulties.

Other relaxation techniques may include:

● Massage

● Music and art therapy

● Aromatherapy

● Hydrotherapy

Rather than choosing one technique from the list above, experts recommend sampling several to see each's efficacy. Practice for at least 15-20 minutes a day. The more often you practice these relaxation techniques, the greater the benefits.

Continuing to practice these skills

As you learn and practice relaxation techniques, you will become more aware of your body, which parts of you carry stress, and which methods work. Once you intimately know what your stress response feels like, you can make a conscious effort to relax when stress symptoms creep up. Being aware of and releasing stress can prevent stress from spiraling out of control.

Conscious relaxation techniques are skills. As with any skill, practice makes perfect. Be patient with yourself, and don't let your failure to de-stress compound the stressful factors. Some people get frustrated when they can't quiet their mind during meditation or achieve a pose in yoga, forgetting the entire time that the journey to get to the meditative state, or the yoga pose, is the real gift because the focus is directed to something outside of our problems.

Some people may experience feelings of emotional discomfort during some relaxation techniques. This could be because the stress being treated is too intense for at-home relaxation methods. Some stress symptoms require professional intervention, and that is perfectly normal and shouldn't be ignored. If this is you, consider talking to your doctor or mental health provider.

Relaxation is much more than recreation; it's a process that eases an overworked body and mind. Practicing relaxation techniques can help with everyday stress, and it can help stave off chronic illnesses (6) that stress only serves to exacerbate.

No one can avoid all sources of stress, and who would want to? The important thing is to develop healthy and effective relaxation techniques that help cope with stress pleasantly and refreshingly.