We all go through stressful times in our lives. Some are more serious than others – from the stress of running late to dealing with a major illness. No matter what’s causing the stress, your body’s response is to flood with hormones. Your heart pounds, your breathing increases, and your muscles tense up.
This is called the “stress response” and it’s a normal reaction to threatening situations, going back to prehistoric times to help us survive threats like an animal attack or a flood. Today, we wouldn’t typically face these kinds of physical dangers, but challenging situations in daily life can activate the stress response. We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, but we can develop healthier ways of responding to them.
One way to help you manage the stress response is to utilize relaxation techniques. For many of us, relaxation means flopping on the couch and zoning out in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. But this does little to actually reduce the stress response. Rather, you need to activate your body’s natural relaxation response, a state of deep rest that minimizes stress, slows your breathing and heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and brings your body and mind back into balance. You can do this by practicing the following simple relaxation techniques:
- Find a Pressure Point.Using your thumb, apply pressure to the spot where your wrist and palm form a crease right in line with the base of the pinkie. Hold or gently massage for two minutes.
- Take an Eight-Count Breath. Breathe in as you (silently) count to eight, hold your breath for a heartbeat or two, then slowly exhale as you count to eight. Repeat. This super simple exercise is incredibly powerful and can help you improve your memory and manage stress.
- Brew a Cup of Tea.There’s nothing better than getting cozy with a calm cup of tea. Green tea has an amino acid called theanine, which sends your brain into a state of relaxed alertness that allows you to get a deeper sleep and respond to stress more calmly. Experts also tout the calming properties of passionflower, valerian root, and Siberian ginseng.
- Visualize Your Happy Place – Try visualizing a peaceful scene away from your current tensions. It could be a golden sandy beach with the peaceful waves lapping at your toes or a calming bath with scented oils. The idea is to take your mind off the current worries and transport yourself and your mood to somewhere relaxing and calm. The more detail you imagine the calmer you’ll get.
- Go Outside – If you are feeling frazzled at work or at home, one quick way to relax is to head outdoors. You get a fresh perspective on the problem and breathe in fresh air. Twenty minutes outside doing just about anything can be really helpful.