Stress is a psychological and physical response to a threat or upsetting event that kicks the body’s defenses into high gear in a biological way, known as the “fight-or-flight” response. This flight-or-fight response results in tense muscles, a pounding heart, and fast breathing and was originally used by our early ancestors to ready themselves against a physical threat. However, today, the threats we usually respond to are not physical, but they still impact our bodies and our lives as if they were physical.
When we face stress, how we react depends on a variety of things because of our individuality. How we handle stress can also be related to how we view life and how we solve problems, as well as whether or not we have a strong supportive social network. According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory the top ten stressors are
- Death of spouse
- Marital separation from mate
- Detention in jail or other institution
- Death of a close family member
- Major personal injury or illness
- Being fired from a job
- Marital reconcilation with mate
- Retirement from work
One way to overcome stress is to relax. Relaxing and releasing tension can help alleviate numerous physical symptoms—headaches, backaches, stiffness, insomnia, weight gain, weight loss, diarrhea, or constipation—and numerous behavioral symptoms—nervous habits, teeth grinding, overreacting, isolating oneself, or sleeping too little or too much. Yet, sometimes it seems too difficult to just relax even if you want to, so here are seven techniques you can use to release body tension and let go of stress:
- Affirmations. Affirmations help change negative beliefs to positive ones and are useful for dealing with anxiety and stress. Stand in front of the mirror and repeat your affirmation for three to five minutes every day. Affirmation possibilities include: I handle stress well; I am calm and peaceful; I am relaxed; I have power to solve my own problems; I am capable and strong; or I can handle any stressful situation effectively.
- Deep Breathing. Deep breathing is simple to do and is used in yoga and meditation. Find somewhere comfortable without distractions. Then, all you have to do is breath deeply and relax deeper with each breathe. Practice it for five to ten minutes each day.
- Focus. Set aside five minutes to perform this technique. Select an object and focus all your attention on it. As you focus your attention, inhale and exhale deeply and slowly. During the five minutes of focus try to prevent extraneous thoughts from entering your mind, and, if they do, gently return your attention to the object. After the five minutes is up you should feel less stressed and more relaxed.
- Hot Bath. Water is calming on its own, but when it’s a nice hot tub of water and you add a cup of sea salt or bicarbonate of soda, the combination will calm you. Soak for up to thirty minutes and let muscle tension and stress go down the drain.
- Progressive Muscular Relaxation. This relaxation technique works well to relax tense muscles. As you do this technique, breath deeply and slowly and inhale and exhale. The idea is to contract parts of your body for the count of ten, then relax for the count of ten, and then contract the next body part. To begin, contract your legs, toes, and feet, then move to your buttocks, and then to your arms, hands, and fingers. When you reach your shoulders lift them to your ears and then end with your eyes. As stated, count to ten with each contraction, then relax for ten. Contracting and relaxing your muscles in this way helps you relax at a deep level.
- Picture Yourself Relaxed. If you’re not relaxed, the best way to relax is to picture yourself relaxed. Make the picture as realistic as possible because you’ll feel more relaxed. So, imagine where are? What does it look like when you’re relaxed? How do you feel? What sounds do you hear? What sights do you see? What do you smell? Is it hot? Is it sunny? Get a clear picture of yourself relaxed.
- Shrinking Visualization. Sit in a comfortable chair and take a few deep breaths. Imagine a situation that makes you stressed. Get an accurate and clear picture. What does the picture look like? Who is in the picture? How do you feel? How is your body responding to the stressful situation? Once the picture’s realistic, slowly shrink it. See it get smaller and smaller until poof, it’s gone, along with your stress.
If you want some other solutions to alleviate stress, here’a few things that might help:
- The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook. This workbook offers self-assessment tools and calming techniques.
- Letting Go of Stress. This CD has four separate twenty minute relaxation sessions, including a trip to the beach.
- 10 Simple Solutions to Stress: How to Tame Tension And Start Enjoying Your Life. This book gives you ten simple solutions to eliminate stress and tension and is based on positive psychology, mind-body medicine, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
- emWave Personal Stress Reliever. This nifty little machine reduces stress, balances emotions, and increases performance. It also helps you control feelings of anxiety, depression and anger; get a more restful night’s sleep; stop emotional eating and reach your desired weight; and recharge your emotions, mind, and body.