Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stress Management


Understanding Stress

Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Effects

Modern life is full of hassles, deadlines, frustrations, and demands. For many people, stress is so commonplace that it has become a way of life. Stress isn’t always bad. In small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price.
If you frequently find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.


What is stress?
Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened or upset your balance in some way. When you sense danger – whether it’s real or imagined – the body's defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response.
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. In emergency situations, stress can save your life – giving you extra strength to defend yourself, for example, or spurring you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident.
The stress response also helps you rise to meet challenges. Stress is what keeps you on your toes during a presentation at work, sharpens your concentration when you’re attempting the game-winning free throw, or drives you to study for an exam when you'd rather be watching TV.
But beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships, and your quality of life.

Effects of chronic stress
The body doesn’t distinguish between physical and psychological threats. When you’re stressed over a busy schedule, an argument with a friend, a traffic jam, or a mountain of bills, your body reacts just as strongly as if you were facing a life-or-death situation. If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, your emergency stress response may be “on” most of the time. The more your body’s stress system is activated, the easier it is to trip and the harder it is to shut off.

Long-term exposure to stress can lead to serious health problems. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body. It can raise blood pressure, suppress the immune system, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, and speed up the aging process. Long-term stress can even rewire the brain, leaving you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

How much stress is too much?
Because of the widespread damage stress can cause, it’s important to know your own limit. But just how much stress is “too much” differs from person to person. Some people roll with the punches, while others crumble at the slightest obstacle or frustration. Some people even seem to thrive on the excitement and challenge of a high-stress lifestyle.
Your ability to tolerate stress depends on many factors, including the quality of your relationships, your general outlook on life, your emotional intelligence, and genetics.

Things that influence your stress tolerance level
  • Your support network – A strong network of supportive friends and family members is an enormous buffer against life’s stressors. On the flip side, the more lonely and isolated you are, the greater your vulnerability to stress.
  • Your sense of control – If you have confidence in yourself and your ability to influence events and persevere through challenges, it’s easier to take stress in stride. People who are vulnerable to stress tend to feel like things are out of their control.
  • Your attitude and outlook – Stress-hardy people have an optimistic attitude. They tend to embrace challenges, have a strong sense of humor, accept that change is a part of life, and believe in a higher power or purpose.
  • Your ability to deal with your emotions. You’re extremely vulnerable to stress if you don’t know how to calm and soothe yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, or afraid. The ability to bring your emotions into balance helps you bounce back from adversity. 
  • Your knowledge and preparation – The more you know about a stressful situation, including how long it will last and what to expect, the easier it is to cope. For example, if you go into surgery with a realistic picture of what to expect post-op, a painful recovery will be less traumatic than if you were expecting to bounce back immediately.
Causes of stress
Top Ten Stressful Life Events
1.   Spouse’s death
2.   Divorce
3.   Marriage separation
4.   Jail term
5.   Death of a close relative
6.   Injury or illness
7.   Marriage
8.   Fired from job
9.   Marriage reconciliation
10. Retirement
The situations and pressures that cause stress are known as stressors. We usually think of stressors as being negative, such as an exhausting work schedule or a rocky relationship.

However, anything that puts high demands on you or forces you to adjust can be stressful. This includes positive events such as getting married, buying a house, going to college, or receiving a promotion.
What causes stress depends, at least in part, on your perception of it. Something that's stressful to you may not faze someone else; they may even enjoy it.

For example, your morning commute may make you anxious and tense because you worry that traffic will make you late. Others, however, may find the trip relaxing because they allow more than enough time and enjoy listening to music while they drive.

Common external causes of stress
Not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be self-generated:
  • Major life changes
  • Work
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Financial problems
  • Being too busy
  • Children and family
Common internal causes of stress
Not all stress is caused by external factors. Stress can also be self-generated:
  • Inability to accept uncertainty
  • Pessimism
  • Negative self-talk
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Perfectionism
  • Lack of assertiveness
Signs and symptoms of stress overload
It’s important to learn how to recognize when your stress levels are out of control. The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feels familiar – even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll. 
The signs and symptoms of stress overload can be almost anything. Stress affects the mind, body, and behavior in many ways, and everyone experiences stress differently.
How do you respond to stress?
Psychologist Connie Lillas uses a driving analogy to describe the three most common ways people respond when they’re overwhelmed by stress:
  • Foot on the gas – An angry or agitated stress response. You’re heated, keyed up, overly emotional, and unable to sit still.
  • Foot on the brake – A withdrawn or depressed stress response. You shut down, space out, and show very little energy or emotion.
  • Foot on both – A tense and frozen stress response. You “freeze” under pressure and can’t do anything. You look paralyzed, but under the surface you’re extremely agitated.
The following table lists some of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress. The more signs and symptoms you notice in yourself, the closer you may be to stress overload.

Stress Warning Signs and Symptoms

Cognitive Symptoms
Emotional Symptoms
  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying
  • Moodiness
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Agitation, inability to relax
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Sense of loneliness and isolation
  • Depression or general unhappiness
Physical Symptoms
Behavioral Symptoms
  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Frequent colds
  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax
  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)
Keep in mind that the signs and symptoms of stress can also be caused by other psychological and medical problems. If you’re experiencing any of the warning signs of stress, it’s important to see a doctor for a full evaluation. Your doctor can help you determine whether or not your symptoms are stress-related.

How to Reduce, prevent, and Cope with Stress

It may seem that there’s nothing you can do about your stress level. The bills aren’t going to stop coming, there will never be more hours in the day for all your errands, and your career or family responsibilities will always be demanding. But you have a lot more control than you might think. In fact, the simple realization that you’re in control of your life is the foundation of stress management.


Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on.


Identify the sources of stress in your life
Stress management starts with identifying the sources of stress in your life. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your true sources of stress aren’t always obvious, and it’s all too easy to overlook your own stress-inducing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sure, you may know that you’re constantly worried about work deadlines. But maybe it’s your procrastination, rather than the actual job demands, that leads to deadline stress.

To identify your true sources of stress, look closely at your habits, attitude, and excuses:
  • Do you explain away stress as temporary (“I just have a million things going on right now”) even though you can’t remember the last time you took a breather?
  • Do you define stress as an integral part of your work or home life (“Things are always crazy around here”) or as a part of your personality (“I have a lot of nervous energy, that’s all”).
  • Do you blame your stress on other people or outside events, or view it as entirely normal and unexceptional?
Until you accept responsibility for the role you play in creating or maintaining it, your stress level will remain outside your control.

Start a stress journal
A stress journal can help you identify the regular stressors in your life and the way you deal with them. Each time you feel stressed, keep track of it in your journal. As you keep a daily log, you will begin to see patterns and common themes. Write down:
  • What caused your stress (make a guess if you’re unsure).
  • How you felt, both physically and emotionally.
  • How you acted in response.
  • What you did to make yourself feel better.
Look at how you currently cope with stress
Think about the ways you currently manage and cope with stress in your life. Your stress journal can help you identify them. Are your coping strategies healthy or unhealthy, helpful or unproductive? Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that compound the problem.

Unhealthy ways of coping with stress
These coping strategies may temporarily reduce stress, but they cause more damage in the long run:
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and activities
  • Using pills or drugs to relax      
  • Sleeping too much
  • Procrastinating
  • Filling up every minute of the day to avoid facing problems
  • Taking out your stress on others (lashing out, angry outbursts, physical violence)
Learning healthier ways to manage stress
If your methods of coping with stress aren’t contributing to your greater emotional and physical health, it’s time to find healthier ones. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction. When deciding which option to choose, it’s helpful to think of the four As: avoid, alter, adapt, or accept.
Since everyone has a unique response to stress, there is no “one size fits all” solution to managing it. No single method works for everyone or in every situation, so experiment with different techniques and strategies. Focus on what makes you feel calm and in control.
Dealing with Stressful Situations: The Four A’s
Change the situation:
  • Avoid the stressor.
  • Alter the stressor.    
Change your reaction:
  • Adapt to the stressor.
  • Accept the stressor.
Stress management strategy #1: Avoid unnecessary stress

Not all stress can be avoided, and it’s not healthy to avoid a situation that needs to be addressed. You may be surprised, however, by the number of stressors in your life that you can eliminate.
  • Learn how to say “no” – Know your limits and stick to them. Whether in your personal or professional life, refuse to accept added responsibilities when you’re close to reaching them. Taking on more than you can handle is a surefire recipe for stress.
  • Avoid people who stress you out – If someone consistently causes stress in your life and you can’t turn the relationship around, limit the amount of time you spend with that person or end the relationship entirely. 
  • Take control of your environment – If the evening news makes you anxious, turn the TV off. If traffic’s got you tense, take a longer but less-traveled route. If going to the market is an unpleasant chore, do your grocery shopping online.
  • Avoid hot-button topics – If you get upset over religion or politics, cross them off your conversation list. If you repeatedly argue about the same subject with the same people, stop bringing it up or excuse yourself when it’s the topic of discussion.
  • Pare down your to-do list – Analyze your schedule, responsibilities, and daily tasks. If you’ve got too much on your plate, distinguish between the “shoulds” and the “musts.” Drop tasks that aren’t truly necessary to the bottom of the list or eliminate them entirely.
Stress management strategy #2: Alter the situation

If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try to alter it. Figure out what you can do to change things so the problem doesn’t present itself in the future. Often, this involves changing the way you communicate and operate in your daily life.
  • Express your feelings instead of bottling them up. If something or someone is bothering you, communicate your concerns in an open and respectful way. If you don’t voice your feelings, resentment will build and the situation will likely remain the same.
  • Be willing to compromise. When you ask someone to change their behavior, be willing to do the same. If you both are willing to bend at least a little, you’ll have a good chance of finding a happy middle ground.
  • Be more assertive. Don’t take a backseat in your own life. Deal with problems head on, doing your best to anticipate and prevent them. If you’ve got an exam to study for and your chatty roommate just got home, say up front that you only have five minutes to talk.
  • Manage your time better. Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you’re stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you don’t overextend yourself, you can alter the amount of stress you’re under.
Stress management strategy #3: Adapt to the stressor

If you can’t change the stressor, change yourself. You can adapt to stressful situations and regain your sense of control by changing your expectations and attitude.
  • Reframe problems. Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Rather than fuming about a traffic jam, look at it as an opportunity to pause and regroup, listen to your favorite radio station, or enjoy some alone time.
  • Look at the big picture. Take perspective of the stressful situation. Ask yourself how important it will be in the long run. Will it matter in a month? A year? Is it really worth getting upset over? If the answer is no, focus your time and energy elsewhere.
  • Adjust your standards. Perfectionism is a major source of avoidable stress. Stop setting yourself up for failure by demanding perfection. Set reasonable standards for yourself and others, and learn to be okay with “good enough.”
  • Focus on the positive. When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities and gifts. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective.
Adjusting Your Attitude
How you think can have a profound effect on your emotional and physical well-being. Each time you think a negative thought about yourself, your body reacts as if it were in the throes of a tension-filled situation. If you see good things about yourself, you are more likely to feel good; the reverse is also true. Eliminate words such as "always," "never," "should," and "must." These are telltale marks of self-defeating thoughts.

Stress management strategy #4: Accept the things you can’t change
Some sources of stress are unavoidable. You can’t prevent or change stressors such as the death of a loved one, a serious illness, or a national recession. In such cases, the best way to cope with stress is to accept things as they are. Acceptance may be difficult, but in the long run, it’s easier than railing against a situation you can’t change.
  • Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. Many things in life are beyond our control— particularly the behavior of other people. Rather than stressing out over them, focus on the things you can control such as the way you choose to react to problems.
  • Look for the upside. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” When facing major challenges, try to look at them as opportunities for personal growth. If your own poor choices contributed to a stressful situation, reflect on them and learn from your mistakes.
  • Share your feelings. Talk to a trusted friend or make an appointment with a therapist. Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.
  • Learn to forgive. Accept the fact that we live in an imperfect world and that people make mistakes. Let go of anger and resentments. Free yourself from negative energy by forgiving and moving on.
Stress management strategy #5: Make time for fun and relaxation
Beyond a take-charge approach and a positive attitude, you can reduce stress in your life by nurturing yourself. If you regularly make time for fun and relaxation, you’ll be in a better place to handle life’s stressors when they inevitably come.
Healthy ways to relax and recharge
  • Go for a walk.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Call a good friend.
  • Sweat out tension with a good workout.
  • Write in your journal.
  • Take a long bath.
  • Light scented candles
  • Savor a warm cup of coffee or tea.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Work in your garden.
  • Get a massage.
  • Curl up with a good book.
  • Listen to music.
  • Watch a comedy
Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that you forget to take care of your own needs. Nurturing yourself is a necessity, not a luxury.
  • Set aside relaxation time. Include rest and relaxation in your daily schedule. Don’t allow other obligations to encroach. This is your time to take a break from all responsibilities and recharge your batteries.
  • Connect with others. Spend time with positive people who enhance your life. A strong support system will buffer you from the negative effects of stress.
  • Do something you enjoy every day. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be stargazing, playing the piano, or working on your bike.
  • Keep your sense of humor. This includes the ability to laugh at yourself. The act of laughing helps your body fight stress in a number of ways.
Stress management strategy #6: Adopt a healthy lifestyle
You can increase your resistance to stress by strengthening your physical health. 
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three times per week. Nothing beats aerobic exercise for releasing pent-up stress and tension.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Well-nourished bodies are better prepared to cope with stress, so be mindful of what you eat. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day.
  • Reduce caffeine and sugar. The temporary "highs" caffeine and sugar provide often end in with a crash in mood and energy. By reducing the amount of coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, and sugar snacks in your diet, you’ll feel more relaxed and you’ll sleep better.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs. Self-medicating with alcohol or drugs may provide an easy escape from stress, but the relief is only temporary. Don’t avoid or mask the issue at hand; deal with problems head on and with a clear mind.
  • Get enough sleep. Adequate sleep fuels your mind, as well as your body. Feeling tired will increase your stress because it may cause you to think irrationally.
Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief
Relaxation Exercises and Tips
The body’s natural relaxation response is a powerful antidote to stress. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, and yoga can help you activate this relaxation response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and a boost in your feelings of joy and serenity. What’s more, they also serve a protective quality by teaching you how to stay calm and collected in the face of life’s curveballs.

The relaxation response
You can’t avoid all stress, but you can counteract its negative effects by learning how to evoke the relaxation response, a state of deep rest that is the polar opposite of the stress response.

The stress response floods your body with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight.” But while the stress response is helpful in true emergency situations where you must be alert, it wears your body down when constantly activated.

The relaxation response brings your system back into balance: deepening your breathing, reducing stress hormones, slowing down your heart rate and blood pressure, and relaxing your muscles.
In addition to its calming physical effects, research shows that the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. Best of all – with a little practice – anyone can reap these benefits.

Starting a relaxation practice
A variety of relaxation techniques help you achieve the relaxation response. Those whose stress-busting benefits have been widely studied include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, visualization, yoga, and tai chi.

Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isn’t difficult. But it takes practice to truly harness their stress-relieving power: daily practice, in fact. Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If you’d like to get even more stress relief, aim for 30 minutes to an hour.

Getting the most out of your relaxation practice
Set aside time in your daily schedule. The best way to start and maintain a relaxation practice is by incorporating it into your daily routine. Schedule a set time either once or twice a day for your practice. You may find that it’s easier to stick with your practice if you do it first thing in the morning, before other tasks and responsibilities get in the way.

Don’t practice when you’re sleepy. These techniques can relax you so much that they can make you very sleepy, especially if it’s close to bedtime. You will get the most out of these techniques if you practice when you’re fully awake and alert.

Choose a technique that appeals to you. There is no single relaxation technique that is best. When choosing a relaxation technique, consider your specific needs, preferences, and fitness level. The right relaxation technique is the one that resonates with you and fits your lifestyle.

Do you need alone time or social stimulation?
If you crave solitude, solo relaxation techniques such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation will give you the to quiet your mind and recharge your batteries. If you crave social interaction, a class setting will give you the stimulation and support you’re looking for. Practicing with others may also help you stay motivated.

Deep breathing for stress relief
With its focus on full, cleansing breaths, deep breathing is a simple, yet powerful, relaxation technique. It’s easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Deep breathing is the cornerstone of many other relaxation practices, too, and can be combined with other relaxing elements such as aromatherapy and music. All you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out.

How to practice deep breathing
The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible in your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel. So the next time you feel stressed, take a minute to slow down and breathe deeply:
  • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  • Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
  • Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
  • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.
If you have a hard time breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying on the floor.  Put a small book on your stomach, and try to breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale.

Progressive muscle relaxation for stress relief
Progressive muscle relaxation is another effective and widely used strategy for stress relief. It involves a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body.
With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension—as well as complete relaxation—feels like in different parts of the body. This awareness helps you spot and counteract the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of relief from stress.
Most progressive muscle relaxation practitioners start at the feet and work their way up to the face. For a sequence of muscle groups to follow, see the box to the right:
  • Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
  • Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
  • When you’re relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
  • Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
  • Relax your right foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
  • Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
  • When you’re ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
  • Move slowly up through your body — legs, abdomen, back, neck, face — contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence
  • Right foot
  • Left foot
  • Right calf
  • Left calf
  • Right thigh
  • Left thigh
  • Hips and buttocks
  • Stomach
  • Chest
  • Back
  • Right arm and hand
  • Left arm and hand
  • Neck and shoulders
  • Fact
Mindfulness meditation for stress relief
Meditation that cultivates mindfulness is particularly effective at reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions. Mindfulness is the quality of being fully engaged in the present moment, without analyzing or otherwise “over-thinking” the experience. Rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, mindfulness meditation switches the focus to what’s happening right now.
For stress relief, try the following mindfulness meditation techniques:
  • Body scan – Body scanning cultivates mindfulness by focusing your attention on various parts of your body. Like progressive muscle relaxation, you start with your feet and work your way up. However, instead of tensing and relaxing your muscles, you simply focus on the way each part of your body feels without labeling the sensations as either “good” or “bad”.
  • Walking meditation - You don’t have to be seated or still to meditate. In walking meditation, mindfulness involves being focused on the physicality of each step — the sensation of your feet touching the ground, the rhythm of your breath while moving, and feeling the wind against your face.
  • Mindful eating – If you reach for food when you’re under stress or gulp your meals down in a rush, try eating mindfully. Sit down at the table and focus your full attention on the meal (no TV, newspapers, or eating on the run). Eat slowly, taking the time to fully enjoy and concentrate on each bite.
Mindfulness meditation is not equal to zoning out. It takes effort to maintain your concentration and to bring it back to the present moment when your mind wanders or you start to drift off. But with regular practice, mindfulness meditation actually changes the brain – strengthening the areas associated with joy and relaxation, and weakening those involved in negativity and stress.
Guided imagery for stress relief
Visualization, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that can help relieve stress. When used as a relaxation technique, guided imagery involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety. Choose whatever setting is most calming to you, whether a tropical beach, a favorite childhood spot, or a quiet wooded glen. You can do this visualization exercise on your own, with a therapist’s help, or using an audio recording. 
Close your eyes and let your worries drift away. Imagine your restful place. Picture it as vividly as you can—everything you can see, hear, smell, and feel. Guided imagery works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible. For example, if you are thinking about a dock on a quiet lake:
  • See the sun setting over the water
  • Hear the birds singing
  • Smell the pine trees
  • Feel the cool water on your bare feet
  • Taste the fresh, clean air
Yoga for stress relief
Yoga is an excellent stress relief technique. It involves a series of both moving and stationary poses, combined with deep breathing. The physical and mental benefits of yoga provide a natural counterbalance to stress, and strengthen the relaxation response in your daily life. 

What type of yoga is best for stress?
Although almost all yoga classes end in a relaxation pose, classes that emphasize slow, steady movement and gentle stretching are best for stress relief. Look for labels like gentle, for stress relief, or for beginners. Power yoga, with its intense poses and focus on fitness, is not the best choice. If you’re unsure whether a specific yoga class is appropriate for stress relief, call the studio or ask the teacher.
Since injuries can happen when yoga is practiced incorrectly, it’s best to learn by attending group classes or hiring a private teacher. Once you’ve learned the basics, you can practice alone or with others, tailoring your practice as you see fit.

Tips for starting a yoga practice:
  • Consider your fitness level and any medical issues before joining a yoga class. There are many yoga classes for different needs, such as prenatal yoga, yoga for seniors, and adaptive yoga (modified yoga for disabilities). “Hot” or Bikram yoga, which is practiced in a heated environment, might be too much if you are just starting out.
  • Look for a low-pressure environment where you can learn at your own pace. Don’t extend yourself beyond what feels comfortable, and always back off of a pose at the first sign of pain. A good teacher can show you alternate poses for ones that are too challenging for your health or fitness level.
Tai chi for stress relief
If you’ve ever seen a group of people in the park slowly moving in synch, you’ve probably witnessed tai chi. Tai chi is a self-paced, non-competitive series of slow, flowing body movements.  These movements emphasize concentration, relaxation, and the conscious circulation of vital energy throughout the body. Though tai chi has its roots in martial arts, today it is primarily practiced as a way of calming the mind, conditioning the body, and reducing stress. As in meditation, tai chi practitioners focus on their breathing and keeping their attention in the present moment.
Tai chi is a safe, low-impact option for people of all ages and levels of fitness, including older adults and those recovering from injuries. Once you’ve learned the moves, you can practice it anywhere, at any time, by yourself, or with others.

Making tai chi work for you
  • As with yoga, tai chi is best learned in a class or from a private instructor.
  • Although tai chi is normally very safe and gentle, be sure to discuss any health or mobility concerns with your instructor.
  • Tai chi classes are often offered in community centers, senior centers, or local community colleges.

Massage therapy for stress relief
Getting a massage provides deep relaxation, and as the muscles in your body relax, so does your overstressed mind. And you don’t have to visit the spa to enjoy the benefits of massage. There are many simple self-massage techniques you can use to relax and release stress.

Self-Massage Techniques

Scalp Soother
Place your thumbs behind your ears while spreading your fingers on top of your head. Move your scalp back and forth slightly by making circles with your fingertips for 15-20 seconds.
Easy on the Eyes
Close your eyes and place your ring fingers directly under your eyebrows, near the bridge of your nose. Slowly increase the pressure for 5-10 seconds, then gently release. Repeat 2-3 times.
Sinus Pressure Relief
Place your fingertips at the bridge of your nose. Slowly slide your fingers down your nose and across the top of your cheekbones to the outside of your eyes.
Shoulder Tension Relief
Reach one arm across the front of your body to your opposite shoulder. Using a circular motion, press firmly on the muscle above your shoulder blade. Repeat on the other side.
The most common type of massage is Swedish massage, a soothing technique specifically designed to relax and energize. Another common type of massage is Shiatsu, also known as acupressure. In Shiatsu massage, therapists use their fingers to manipulate the body’s pressure points.
Although self-massage is good for stress relief, getting a massage from a professional massage therapist can be tremendously relaxing and more through then what you can do yourself. When booking a massage, try types like Swedish or Shiatsu, which promote overall relaxation. Deep tissue and sports massages are more aggressive. They often target specific areas and may leave you sore for a couple of days, making them less effective for relaxation and stress relief.

1 comment:

mani said...

EXCELLENT > I have asked my son to read and use . I think this should be read by all specially the present generation which is facing the ill effects of stiff competition and over ambitious attitude.