Stress robs us of so many things, including time, energy, health and creativity.
Even though we create the stress inside of us, it can be difficult to know how to bring more relaxation into our lives.
But there is hope. Here are five quick-and-easy ways to calm down the next time you feel yourself starting to lose it.
1. Control your breathing
Stress causes your heart rate to climb and your breathing to become more rapid. It’s a “fight or flight” response left over from our caveman days.
Rapid, shallow breathing can lead to dizziness, trouble concentrating and thinking, and many other aches, pains and strange sensations all over your body.
To combat these feelings, “mindful” breathing has become a daily part of many people’s lives.
One simple exercise, “4-7-8 breathing,” can calm you down in a matter of moments, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, best-selling author and proponent of whole-body health.
When using this technique, place your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth and hold it there throughout.
Exhale completely, making a whooshing noise. Close your mouth and count to four while inhaling through the nose.
Hold that breath for seven counts. Then, let the breath go out through the mouth for a count of eight. Repeat the cycle three more times.
Weil says the technique is a natural tranquilizer that can help you fall asleep. Work on your breathing first before trying any other technique in this list.
For more information on other breathing techniques Weil recommends, go to his website.
2. Slow it down
Now that your breathing is under control, it is time to get your heart rate slowed down. Simple yoga moves can help with relaxation, according to Mandy Ingber, a celebrity fitness and wellness expert who teaches a yoga hybrid known as Yogalosophy.
Waving arms and stretching hips are two good ways to help relieve stress from sitting all day, Ingber says.
Another easy method, the forward fold, doesn’t even take you out of your chair. Remain in your seat and allow your body to fold forward until you are in a seated forward bend. Allow the crown of the head to aim toward the floor and let your torso rest on your thighs. This will stretch the back of your body.
Forward folds relax the nervous system, and will help to clear your mind, Ingber says. For more advice from Ingber, go to her website.
3. Talk yourself out of it
Many of us are our own worst critics. Turning negative self-talk around to a more positive message will both relieve stress and increase your overall level of happiness, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Periodically during the day, stop and evaluate your thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.
A simple way to do that is to make a rule not to say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to anyone else. Be gentle and encouraging.
For more examples of turning negative thoughts into positive ones, go to the Mayo Clinic website.
4. Feed your calm
Many people eat when they are stressed. Unfortunately, those binges usually include junk food that goes right to their waistlines.
Stress-eating can be a tough habit to break. But the consequences won’t be nearly as bad if you are eating food that is healthful, says Tosca Reno, author of “The Eat-Clean Diet.”
Keeping healthy snacks on hand is the key to avoiding a junk-food binge. Instead of a candy bar, Reno recommends people keep a small amount of plain dark chocolate and some dates in a desk drawer.
The dates are sweet and full of fiber and vitamins. Meanwhile, a modest amount of chocolate provides that satisfying feeling in the mouth and is full of antioxidants, Reno says.
Low-fat plain Greek yogurt with a few drops of real maple syrup can offer another relatively healthy option when you are stressed and need to eat something.
If you prefer salty foods, Reno recommends kale chips, or crackers made with seeds like flaxseed and hummus. Sugar-free nut butter is another option.
5. Go to your happy place
Guided imagery can help you relieve stress. By visualizing a happy outcome or a calming place, you can refocus the mind and body, says Ellen Simon, a social worker specializing in guided imagery.
She uses the technique with clients for everything from simple relaxation to weight loss. Her saying is, “You can change your life when you change your mind.”
Work on creating a positive image before it is needed in a stressful situation. Sit quietly and imagine a relaxing place. Many people choose the beach, but you could visualize the mountains or any other place that makes you feel calm.
Try to keep calm and control your breathing while imagining the relaxing scenario. Later, you can pull up the image when you need some calming.
Images in the brain are very powerful, Simon says. But you have to work on this technique if it is to be effective when you need it. Just like running a marathon, you have to build up to it to get the best results.
For more information on guided imagery go to Simon’s webpage.
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