Stress: Here’s what you can do to relax
Stress is the human mind’s response to physical, mental or emotional demands. When an actual or perceived challenge is sensed, the nervous system releases various hormones including adrenaline and cortisol to prepare the body to deal with the demand. These hormones increase the heart rate, raise blood pressure, make muscles clench, and heighten sensory perception. These help the body to focus on the problem at hand to find solutions or countermeasures. One important point to note is that the hormone release happens even if the challenge is not real, but only imagined. Some stress is good for the person and can act as the motivator to excel at what he is doing. For example, in creative people like artistes and musicians, some level of stress helps improve their performance from average to outstanding, likewise in competitive sports and even in business executives.
Continual stress is however harmful both for the mind and the body. Many people feel stress from even everyday events like traffic congestion, inability to get through on a phone call or even a delayed cup of coffee. This stress results in various physiological problems. Some can be transient like irritability or anger, but others can be more sustained like inability to sleep, nausea and indigestion, muscular aches and pain. The human reaction to such stress could take various forms like hitting out at other people or breaking things or in alcohol or tobacco abuse, binge eating etc., which lead to actual harm to the human body. In extreme cases, clinical depression has been caused by continual stress. Chronic stress also causes impact beyond the environment where it occurred. For example, workplace related stress is carried home into the family and stresses from the home front impact work performance.
The major concern with stress is that the continual release of hormones can become addictive so that the person actively seeks stressful situations. For example, even when the traffic is flowing, a stress seeking driver will change lanes and jump traffic lights. In meetings or discussions, the stress-addict would take an antagonistic stand to provoke an argument.
The first step in managing stress is to recognize the symptoms. The first important indicator is the human body itself. The first quick indicator is the breathing pattern. Any departure from normal is indicative of stress. Similarly, the clenching of hands or jaw muscles, rigidity of shoulders or arms indicates stress. Once the person recognizes the signals, it is possible to find the means to relax. For example, if the breath is rapid and shallow, you can pause and slow the breathing to a more normal cadence. If the hands or shoulders are clenched, you could consciously relax them and so on. The very process of checking for stress helps dissipate some of it.
Once stress symptoms are identified, it is possible to develop habits to avoid stress situations. To begin the process, it is good to write down each day, the events that led to the symptoms of stress. For example, if it is traffic, whether one can start early, take a different route or even if the time can be used productively to listen to music or play an audio-book. If it is work pressure, whether some tasks could be deferred. It is also important to realize that all events cannot be controlled, and many have to be accepted as they happen.
The following relaxation methods are known to work in overcoming stress.
Relaxation Tips to Beat Stress
Below are some of the great tips to relax and beat day to day stress.
Deep breathing – Relaxation Tips to Beat Stress
Deep breathing is fundamental to various relaxation exercises. The breathing has to be from the abdomen. When the breath is drawn in, the stomach should rise. Exhalation should be through the mouth and prolonged to expel all air. Both inhaling and exhaling should be slow and controlled. Typically, the person is asked to count slowly to six both for inhaling and exhaling. This focus on deep breathing not just increases the oxygen intake to the body but also focuses the mind on the act of breathing and avoids other thoughts, including the event that caused the stress.
Progressive muscle relaxation
This is another good way to reduce stress. Adopt a comfortable posture and take deep breaths to relax the body. Start with, say, the right foot. For about ten seconds, tense and relax the foot focusing all your attention only on that foot and its sensations. Thereafter, work on the ankle, then the calf and the knee and so on each part of the body. This muscle relaxation exercise done at least once a day, is a good stress-busting technique.
Meditating on the body
This can follow the muscle relaxation process described above. In this exercise, no muscles are tensed or relaxed but only the mind is focused on each limb in turn for a minute or two. Starting, say, with the same right foot, the mind focuses on the sensations in the foot without any attempt to modify or change what is felt. This process is followed in turn for each body segment. This practice is also established as a good stress avoidance exercise.
Focusing the mind on the present
The human mind is constantly switching from reliving past events and worrying about imagined future events. This is one reason for stress. In this exercise, sometimes called mindfulness, an effort is made to keep the mind focused on the present instant. To help in this, an artifact like a candle or the thumb or a religious picture or icon can be used. The mind is focused on the object and all other thoughts are consciously avoided. This practice can also be done, for example, when walking or jogging. The attention is focused on the footfalls and the breath to the exclusion of other thoughts.
Yoga and Tai-chi
Both Yoga and Tai-chi depend on controlled movements of the body in consonance with breathing. Practice of these ancient exercise forms are also known to be effective stress management methods.
In conclusion, it is important to recognize that continual stress can harm the human body and mind. To avoid stress, the first step is to identify the causes and to think of ways to avoid being affected. Mind and body relaxation techniques help overcome susceptibility to stress.
Above is a guest post by Alia Haley who is a blogger by profession and currently she is writing for Fisher Price Toys for Toddlers.