Category: How To’s

Stress Relief—Five Simple Steps to Help You Slow Down, Unwind, and Enjoy Life Again

Author: Erin Treder

Calm down. Just relax. Take a deep breath.
How often have you heard these words or said them to others? But when we’re under pressure or feeling stressed, it’s not so easy to relax.

Stress can affect employees in the workplace, students trying to get good grades, caregivers who look after aging or disabled family members, and practically anyone else. If they’re not treated, long periods of stress can result in health problems.

For example, a recent Gallup survey showed that caregivers who have full-time jobs while also taking care of other people have a greater risk of health concerns such as high blood pressure and recurring neck, back, or other physical pain compared to those who do not have caregiving responsibilities. According to the survey, caregivers represented 16 percent of the full-time work force.

Another example is from a 10-year study that was presented by the American Heart Association in 2010. The study involved 17,000 women participants, many of whom were nurses. It determined that women with job stress were 40 percent more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than women who did not have stressful jobs.

Though stress can sneak up on you, with a little practice and commitment to learning new skills, you can reduce the symptoms even before they start. There’s no one relaxation technique that’s perfect for everyone, but here are some you might want to try, either alone or in combination.

Try to pay attention to how your body responds when you’re not relaxed. Do your muscles get tense? Is your breathing shallow? Is your stomach tied in knots? Are your palms sweaty? Is your heart beating faster or harder? Are your thoughts racing from one thing to another? Is it hard to concentrate? Knowing how you react to stressful moments can help you identify relaxation techniques that are most likely to work for you.

Choose some relaxation techniques that will help you deal with the reactions you’ve identified. Make sure to choose something that feels comfortable to you. What’s right for someone else might not be right for you.

Practice the techniques even when you’re not upset or stressed. As with any new skill, you’ll get better as you practice. You’ll find yourself feeling calmer all the time—and you’ll be able to call on the techniques to help you when you do begin to feel stressed.

Breathe deeply. This is probably one of the simplest yet most powerful relaxation techniques. There are many different breathing exercises designed to reduce anxiety. A good one to try is breathing in slowly through the nose for a count of five, then exhaling from the mouth for a count of five. It’s important to breathe deeply from your diaphragm. You’ll know you’re breathing from your diaphragm if you can see your abdomen expand and contract.

Practice taking these slow, deep breaths for a few moments when you’re not stressed; then use the same technique when you are.

Turn it off. Too much noise—or too many distractions—can heighten anxiety. Turn off the television, the computer, and the telephone. Enjoy the quiet, listen to some soft music, or tune in to the sounds of nature.

Close your eyes. Visualize a favorite peaceful place. It could be a mountaintop, a beach, or a spot deep in the woods. Go there in your imagination, re-creating the sights, smells, and sounds of this special place. You’ll come back feeling refreshed.

Relax your muscles. Often when our muscles are tense, we don’t even realize it. Progressive relaxation techniques help you recognize your own tense spots by systematically tightening and relaxing muscles in various parts of your body. Tapes and CDs are available that guide you through a series of progressive relaxation steps.

Getting a massage can help, too. A common reaction to stress is the tightening of shoulder and neck muscles. Massage works out the tension in muscles and improves circulation to keep you loose and relaxed.

Channel excess energy. You can relieve many symptoms of stress and anxiety by releasing both physical and emotional energy. There are many ways to get rid of excess energy. Do things that give you pleasure—go for a bike ride or a hike, watch an old movie, attend a concert or a sporting event. At least once a week, engage in a purely enjoyable activity. Any form of exercise is especially effective at clearing the mind and reducing physical tension.

Talking with someone you trust can also have a profound and calming effect. Studies show that venting with a friend actually helps lower blood pressure and relieve anxiety.

Finally, another fun way to burn off stress: Laugh! Laughter initiates the release of endorphins, the body’s natural relaxants. Plus, keeping a sense of humor and not taking things too seriously can help prevent a lot of stress before it even starts.

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About the Author

Erin Treder writes articles for CPI, an international training organization that is committed to best practices and safe behavior management methods that focus on prevention. CPI specializes in de-escalation techniques.

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