In simple words, stress is a feeling of emotional and physical tension as our body reacts to a challenge or some danger. In short momentary bursts, it can be beneficial by motivating us to work faster. Stress is of two types- acute and chronic stress or anxiety. To put it in simple words; anxiety is the stress that continues even after the stressor is gone. It is this long-term chronic condition that leads to health problems.
The fast paced modern world lives and our ever growing ambitions are unfortunately preventing most people from relaxing. The ‘fight-or-flight’ response that was designed to protect us has now become a major cause of many diseases and other life problems. In this article we are going to discuss a few proven methods of relaxation that will help your body and mind to adapt (develop resilience) and get more productive.
Table of Contents: 1. Why is Stress Management Necessary? 2. Different Ways to Reduce Stress 3. General Lifestyle Tips for Better Stress Management (Positive Coping Methods)
Why is Stress Management Necessary?
There occurs a huge flooding of hormones, chemicals and various other mediators in our system when we are under stress. They help to bring our body on its heels and face whatever is posing a threat. These chemicals cause a lot of changes that our body is not equipped to deal with on a long-term basis.
Basic relaxation techniques are easy to learn, safe, low cost or free and effective. They can be done anywhere and do not take up too much time either. If practiced regularly, they can successfully reduce anxiety and stress while providing the following benefits:
- Slowing down heart rate
- Lowering the blood pressure
- Reducing blood levels of stress hormones
- Reducing muscle tension
- Reducing anger and frustration
- Improving digestion and blood sugar
- Improving time and the quality of sleep
- Increasing blood flow to major organs
- Lowering fatigue and building our stamina
- Improving concentration and hence productivity
To maximise the benefits of relaxation techniques, they should be implemented with other coping methods that we shall discuss below.
Different Ways to Reduce Stress
Relaxation techniques simply function by making you refocus on something calming and increasing the awareness of your body. They force your mind to concentrate on something other than stress. They are usually taught by health professionals such as doctors, psychotherapists, but you can practice them on your own too.
1. Meditation for Stress Management
- This is an age-old practice that is used by people of all age groups to relax and attain a sense of contentment.
- It may or may not be combined with spiritual practices; as is done in various cultures, and it is a quick-fix stress reliever method.
- Essentially it involves sitting in a relaxed position, upright, clearing the mind of all thoughts and focusing on one particular thing like your breathing, a mantra or a word.
- Most people focus on the word “OM” repeated over and over again in their minds or out loud.
- At least 5 to 20 minutes of such distraction free sessions is necessary for getting the benefits of such meditation techniques for stress management. It is advisable to start small and build your way up with daily practice.
2. Yoga Techniques
- Traditionally an eastern practice, yoga techniques are now being embraced by the whole world. Dating back centuries, yoga is one of the oldest practices of self-development.
- Classical yoga includes a combination of- ethical discipline, physical postures, breathing control and meditation. Yoga techniques bring together the body, mind and spirit to cause the ultimate transformation of our soul.
- Yoga involves various exercises and poses that help to stretch the body while maintaining a slow and controlled breathing. They are specifically designed to work as relaxation techniques, workout exercises or simple aerobics.
3. Music/Art Therapy
- Recent extensive studies have shown that hobbies such as music or art when used as therapy can improve mindfulness and provide relaxation to stress and anxiety patients.
- Instead of music and art, it is better known as creative therapy. The idea is doing something one enjoys putting the mind at ease and releasing endorphins.
- Researchers have stated that such creative therapy for stress management helps build resilience and hope in patients. It gives them something to look forward to in their day. Hence, works as positive motivation.
- It is not necessary to be the best or produce masterpieces. Just enjoy the work as a way of letting the stress out and relaxing.
4. Breathing Exercises for Relaxation
- This is very similar to meditation as a stress management method.
- Deep breathing is a recently re-discovered method of relaxation. Conscious deep breaths send signals to the brain to calm down and take reparative actions.
- It has been shown to reduce heart rate, high blood pressure and relax the body. It works wonders to bring a person under panic attacks back to his/her senses.
- There are several breathing techniques such as- belly breathing, roll breathing, morning breathing, etc. They are easy to practice and can be done anywhere.
- Belly breathing is the one for beginners. It involves sitting or lying in a comfortable position with one hand on the belly and the other on the chest.
- Inhale deeply through the nose while your belly pushes the hand outwards. The hand on the chest should not move.
- Purse your lips before breathing out and feel the hand on your belly go inward while pushing out the air.
- Repeat 3 to 10 times while pacing yourself with each breath.
- Breathing exercise for stress relief might take some time getting used to, but notice how you feel at the end of the session.
- The concept of hydrotherapy (using water as a method of treatment) started during the early 19th century when a Kneipp used water to rid the body of toxins.
- Water has been used for generations in Ayurveda to clear the body of toxins and induce a state of relaxation and peace.
- Hydrotherapy puts water into use at different temperatures, pressures and mixed with different substances for therapeutic application.
- There are various customised techniques of water therapy available, and some can be practiced right inside the house.
- One of the simplest methods of hydrotherapy employed by Ayurveda is tying cold, damp towels around the neck and abdomen. They improve blood circulation to the brain and muscles while reducing stress hormones.
- Another method includes immersing one’s self in a hot tub and receiving a massage. This is said to be the most effective method for stress relaxation.
- Other methods available are- Watsu, Contrast hydrotherapy, Water exercise, etc.
- While incense sticks and oils have been used for a long time now, their importance in stress management is a recent development.
- Aromatherapy candles, essential oils, bath products, diyas, etc have become common household items these days.
- There is not much research available on the impact these practices have on stress management, but the ones that are available are promising.
- Aromatherapy is shown to alter brain waves and behaviour, relax people by decreasing stress hormone levels, and provide relief from fatigue.
- In fact an old wives tale states that lavender aromatherapy promotes faster and more relaxed sleep in infants and tensed adults.
- It is important to remember that they are not the magic cure for it all as sometimes promoted and have different effects on different people. Some people seem to be allergic to a few products used as well.
7. Massage Techniques for Relaxation
- Massage has a lot of benefits as it improves blood circulation, improves posture, relaxes tension points, lowers blood pressure, improves flexibility, ensures uniform blood flow to muscles and organs, strengthens the immune system and many more.
- Apart from the therapeutic benefits, it is immensely effective as a stress relief technique. The soothing pressure of the fingers of a trained masseur helps to relax muscles and decrease blood pressure. Ultimately, relaxing a person to sleep.
- Some therapists also claim that it can work for depression problems as well.
- Some of the commonly employed massage therapies for stress and anxiety management are- acupuncture, aromatherapy massage, head and shoulder massage, hot stone massage, Swedish massage, etc.
General Lifestyle Tips to Aid Stress Management (Positive Coping Methods)
Stress management is usually more effective when we are willing to make small progressive changes in our life as well. The ultimate aim of these is a balanced life with work, relationships and hobbies. It is important to understand who we are as an individual to really understand what our body needs. Here are a few basic life tips that will help you improve your mood and reduce stress in your daily life:
- Try to identify the source of stress in your life. It could be deadlines, bills, a relationship, debt, etc. It is important to be honest with yourselves and identify the major stressor in your life.
- Avoid, adapt, alter and accept. These are the four A’s that you need to remember to avoid unnecessary stress. Do not take up more responsibility than you can handle. Do not keep avoiding work till you reach the deadline, etc.
- Start exercising. This will seem very difficult when you are down. However, exercise releases endorphins into the system. They help in relaxing the body and focusing the mind on something else.
- Start spending time with close ones. Humans crave human connection. Connect with your friends or family. Talk to them and share your troubles. Avoid people who make you uncomfortable.
- Make time for relaxation. Often we keep postponing things we enjoy due to our busy schedules. Looking after oneself is a necessity and it helps one prosper. Actively sort time in your day towards self-care and relaxation.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. What we feel is ultimately connected to what we put inside our body. The importance of a good diet and healthy life practices are often side tracked during stress management. Just by maintaining a healthy diet many people are re-energised. Eat healthy, avoid coffee and sugar, avoid alcohol, cigarettes and drugs and get proper sleep.
- Do not ignore stress. It is impossible to absolutely avoid stress in life. Small things like traffic, irritating client, fight with spouse act as triggers. It is important to maintain calm during these situations by bringing stress management techniques into action like deep breathing, etc.
Stress has become a silent yet malignant part of our lives. Although everyone talks about it, people rarely take actions to prevent it. It is important to remember that not all anxiety conditions can be solved by self-therapy practices; hence, always refer to your health practitioner and discuss the effects before taking up a stress management technique. Break the taboo associated with anxiety disorders and tackle it before it consumes your professional and personal lives.