Often overlooked by modern city dwellers, relaxation is a crucial component to overall health. With busy schedules, tight deadlines and a fast-paced environment, it’s easy to get caught up in stress. Although most of us don’t like to acknowledge it, stress can plague our lives for a lot of unexpected reasons.
Life changes, like moving or taking a new job, can cause great amounts of stress. Despite what we know – that stress is bad for us physically and mentally – most of us don’t take the time to consciously relax.
Common symptoms of stress include headaches, sore or tense muscles, digestive issues, trouble sleeping, anxiety and much, much more. Because these warning signs are so generic, we often overlook them. A headache during a stressful day can too easily be blamed on the computer screen. An upset stomach could be the result of something you ate. If you experience any or all of these symptoms on a regular basis, you could be chronically or acutely stressed.
Acute stress is a normal part of life, necessary to keep us going toward achieving our goals. Chronic stress is more than we are naturally built to handle, and requires extra attention to correct.
Whether you’re suffering from chronic stress, acute stress or just a busy week, it’s important to restore balance to your emotions through relaxation techniques.
For some, this could be a trip to the spa or a meditation retreat. For those of us with less ambitious relaxation goals, here are a few exercises to restore a calm, peaceful state of mind:
1) Deep breathing. I know, I know; it sounds obvious. Unfortunately, this obvious technique isn’t practiced as often as we think. When we get stressed, we tend to tense up, taking short and quick breaths. Therefore, a good way to correct stress is to allow your body into taking long and deep breaths. Your body has no option but to return to a relaxed state, since you’re giving it all the cues to do so.
When taking a deep breath, breathe in through your nose and try to expand your chest and belly. Filling your diaphragm completely allows for a long exhale. Try not to hold your breath, as that can be counter-productive. Once your belly and ribs are full of air, begin to exhale. Allow your exhale to feel heavy. Keep exhaling until you’ve really pushed all of the air out of your body.
If you’re feeling particularly stressed, try accompanying your exhale with a loud sigh. The sigh will help to engage your diaphragm to push the air out, and it will also aid in forcing excess energy out of your body.
Repeat this process until you feel lighter and less stressed. After this exercise, your breathing will return to a natural and gentle rhythm.
2) Conscious muscle relaxation. If you’ve ever attended a yoga class, you’ve probably practiced this technique.
When we feel stressed, our bodies tense up. Typically, we need to consciously disengage our tense muscles in order to feel relief. This exercise is a great end-of-day relaxer, to help you shake off any excess energy and prepare for a peaceful night of sleep.
In a comfortable position – either sitting or lying down, depending on your preference – start to take deep breaths as described in tip #1. Starting from the tips of your toes and working your way up the body piece-by-piece, imagine your muscles relaxing. Acknowledge any tension you come across, and consciously let it go. If you isolate parts of the body – start with toes, then feet, then calves, etc. – it will be easier to identify tense muscle groups. Take this exercise all the way to your face, where you will acknowledge your jaw, your tongue, your forehead, etc.
After you’ve consciously released the tension from every muscle group, allow yourself to lie or sit in your relaxed state, breathing deeply, for another 5 minutes.
Try one or both of these exercises after your next busy day. If you can’t connect and focus through these exercises, try taking some local yoga or meditation classes.
There, you’ll learn additional techniques for relaxation and you’ll gain a better understanding of your body and its needs.