Reduce Your Stress Through Relaxation
Stress not only affects our bodies, but it also affects the way we think and feel. Too much stress can be harmful, and negatively impact our mental health, as well as relationships with others. Long-term stress can intensify our difficulties.
The good news is we have the ability to learn how to manage our stress responses. Relaxation is one way to do that. Relaxation is the art of reducing physical and emotional tension. There are different ways to relax; you may have to try different things to find what works best for you.
The relaxation response is the physical state of your body that is the opposite of the "fight or flight" stress response.
Relaxation Affects YOUR Body
-Slows and deepens your breathing
-Slows your heart rate
-Reduces blood pressure
-Increases blood flow
-Restores hormone balance
Relaxation Affects YOUR Mind
-Creates a calmer state
-Increases awareness of feelings
-Refreshes your mind
It's important to note that the earlier you become aware of body tension, the easier it is to begin managing it. Pay attention to the parts of your body that seem to be your stress targets. When you are aware of muscle tension, you can begin to do something about it.
Deep Muscle Relaxation
One of the most common reactions to stress is muscle tension. Deep muscle relaxation helps you to relax your entire body from head to toe, by first tensing-then relaxing-various muscle groups. The whole process takes about 15 minutes, and can be done almost anywhere. First, sit and close your eyes. Then, tense your facial muscles; hold for 5 seconds and relax. Now move on to the neck and shoulders-tense, hold, relax. Keep doing this for all of the major muscle groups-arms, back, abdominals, hips, legs, and feet. By the time you're done, you'll feel revived and refreshed.
Another reaction to stress is shallow, rapid breathing. Deep, slow breathing can actually interrupt your stress response and help you to relax. First, clear the air from your lungs by exhaling slowly (through your mouth) until your lungs feel empty. Then inhale (through your nose) until you begin to feel your abdomen rise. Hold for 5 seconds; then exhale and begin the cycle again. Repeat this exercise several times, whenever you feel tense. Deep, abdominal breathing takes only seconds, so when you find yourself tense and irritable, stop and take a breather.
Power of Suggestion
Another technique for relieving stress is self-regulating suggestion. This strategy uses mental "cues" or thoughts to bring about body relaxation. With this technique you tell yourself how you want to feel. When you feel stressed, sit down, close your eyes and give yourself calming mental suggestions, such as "My arms are light and airy, I am calm and peaceful," and so on. You can focus on any and all parts of your body that feel tense. By putting your mind to it, you can talk yourself into a more relaxed, calm frame of mind and body.
This technique is a mental attempt to create relaxing "pictures" that help reduce the physical stress you are experiencing. Choose a relaxing scene and attempt to visualize it completely, using all five senses (smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch). It is important to choose a scene that works best for you, such as a sunny beach.
Music can be very comforting! Choose music that is soothing and pleasing to the ear.
Exercise is a stress reducer. It releases muscle tension and stimulates release of a substance called endorphin, which creates a feeling of well-being. Exercise can take various forms, including walking, wheelchair sports, dancing, range of motion activities, etc. It may take some creativity and determination to develop a program to accommodate physical limitations, but it is likely to be worth the effort. Many activities can be adapted, including golf. It is advisable to discuss your exercise plan with your physician prior to implementation.
This is the practice of attempting to focus your attention on one thing at a time. When your mind drifts to other thoughts, bring yourself back to the original object of your attention.
The following are some Web sites to provide you with more information about stress reduction and relaxation:
Caregiver and stroke survivor exercise. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.thefamilycaregiver.com/ontario/articles_resources/article_view.php?article_id=539
Davis, M., et al. (2008). The relaxation & stress reduction workbook (6th ed.). Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Lehrer, P.M., Woolfolk, R.L., & Sime, W.E. (2007). Principles and practice of stress management (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Stress management (2009). Retrieved from http://medicinenet.com/stress_management_techniques/article.htm
Stress management: How to reduce, prevent, and cope with stress (2008). Retrieved from http://helpguide.org
Stress relief tips. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.caregivingclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Caregiver-Tip-Stress-Relief-2011.pdf
Terzella, M. (2011). Give yourself a timely break. Retrieved from http://www.strengthforcaring.com/manual/comfort-and-relaxation-relaxation-and-meditation/give-yourself-a-timely-break/
Developed in 2003 by Karen Whitmer, MSW, LISW at The University of Toledo for Caring~Web©.
Revised 2010, 2012