Written by: Jenny Smith
Everyone has something called a stress response inbuilt into their nervous system to help them deal with perceived threats. When something happens that causes us to feel stressed nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones rouse the body for emergency action.
If there is a stressful situation happening like one of your children is in danger or your house in on fire then all this reaction in your body is extremely helpful to give you the extra energy that you need to deal with it. However if these reactions are being produced in response to stressful thinking, e g worry or habitual association, every time you walk past the shop where you had an argument with your partner then your body will be tiring itself out by preparing for stress that is not in the present moment.
Most stress experts recommend setting aside twenty minutes a day to practice relaxation techniques , overtime the amount of time spent can be increased to receive further benefits if that is possible within your other commitments. When you first consider bringing these changes into your life the idea of regular time each day can feel daunting and unrealistic but as you go on it will become apparent that the benefits easily outweigh any stress that is incurred by having to make these short blocks of time available, and it is possible to be creative with when you do your practice and build it in to other times such as being on the bus or during your lunch break.
Your choice of relaxation should reflect your lifestyle and the thing that will help interrupt stressful patterns. It is common to have a variety of relaxation techniques that work for you over a period of time. Think about how you respond to stress, if you become agitated and angry something like meditation that quietens your mind may be useful, alternatively if you become withdrawn and depressed something energising like rhythmic exercise may feel helpful. It is also important to think thorough whether doing practices alone or being part of a group will bring you the most benefit.
Deep breathing is a simple and powerful relaxation technique, sitting with your back straight and one hand on chest and other on stomach breathe in through your nose so that your stomach hand raises and chest hand remains still. Exhale from your mouth with again your stomach hand moving in a lot and your chest hand remaining still. A very simple version of this is the 7:11 breath where you breath in for 7 and out for 11. If these are too long breaths shorten the number but always make the out breath a few longer.
There are also two techniques that move systematically through the body. The first is progressive muscle relaxation where you start by having your attention on one foot, notice how it feels, then squeeze all the muscles as tightly as possible and then relax. You then move on to the calf, then thigh, then other foot, and over time make your way up through whole body part by part. This will give your brain a clear sense of how it feels to be relaxed compared to how it feels to be held tightly. The second technique is the body scan when either sitting or lying you relax as much as possible and slowly pass your awareness through your body, part by part and notice what sensations are present without judging them in any way. As you breath you can imagine your breathe flowing down to that particular body part.
Visualisation is fantastic for transporting yourself to an internal supportive environment. Sit comfortably and let yourself imagine the scene of your choice that promote feelings of calm. Let yourself imagine as much detail as possible, and let your senses really luxuriate in the process sensing into the sights smells and feel of the place. Allow your imagination to bring to mind anything that brings you peace and breathe the experience deeply in.
Yoga and Thai Chi
Yoga and Thai Chi are two more relaxation techniques that both offer a lot of benefits. Yoga can increase your fitness and stamina as well as helping you to relax and Thai chi both calms the mind as well as connecting you with an inner sense of well-being and connectivness. Both these can be learnt from video’s on you tube as well as by going to groups and practices over time can greatly increase your levels of tranquility. For more info see http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_relief_meditation_yoga_relaxation.htm Happy relaxing!