After decades of research, it is clear that the negative effects associated with stress are real.  Although you may not always be able to avoid stressful situations, there are a number of things that you can do to reduce the effect that stress has on your body.  The first is relaxation. Learning to relax doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are some simple techniques to help get you started on your way to tranquility.

Relaxed breathing

Meditation or Yoga is great for stress!

Have you ever noticed how you breathe when you’re stressed? Stress typically causes rapid, shallow breathing. This kind of breathing sustains other aspects of
the stress response, such as rapid heart rate and perspiration. If you can get control of your breathing, the spiraling effects of acute stress will automatically become less intense. Relaxed breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, can help you.

Practice this basic technique twice a day, every day, and whenever you feel tense. Follow these steps:

  • With your mouth closed and your shoulders relaxed, inhale as slowly and deeply as you can to the count of six. As you do that, push your stomach out. Allow the air to fill y
    our diaphragm.
  • Keep the air in your lungs as you slowly count to four.
  • Release the air through your mouth as you slowly count to six.
  • Complete the inhale-hold-exhale cycle three to five times.

Progressive muscle relaxation

The goal of progressive muscle relaxation is to reduce the tension in your muscles. First, find a quiet place where you’ll be free from interruption. Loosen tight clothing and remove your glasses or contacts if you’d like.

Tense each muscle group for at least five seconds and then relax for at least 30 seconds. Repeat before moving to the next muscle group.

  • Upper part of your face. Lift your eyebrows toward the ceiling, feeling the tension in your forehead and scalp. Relax. Repeat.
  • Central part of your face. Squint your eyes tightly and wrinkle your nose and mouth, feeling the tension in the center of your face. Relax. Repeat.
  • Lower part of your face. Clench your teeth and pull back the corners of your mouth toward your ears. Show your teeth like a snarling dog. Relax. Repeat.
  • Gently touch your chin to your chest. Feel the pull in the back of your neck as it spreads into your head. Relax. Repeat.
  • Pull your shoulders up toward your ears, feeling the tension in your shoulders, head, neck and upper back. Relax. Repeat.
  • Upper arms. Pull your arms back and press your elbows in toward the sides of your body. Try not to tense your lower arms. Feel the tension in your arms, shoulders and into your back. Relax. Repeat.
  • Hands and lower arms. Make a tight fist and pull up your wrists. Feel the tension in your hands, knuckles and lower arms. Relax. Repeat.
  • Chest, shoulders and upper back. Pull your shoulders back as if you’re trying to make your shoulder blades touch. Relax. Repeat.
  • Pull your stomach in toward your spine, tightening your abdominal muscles. Relax. Repeat.
  • Upper legs. Squeeze your knees together and lift your legs up off the chair or from wherever you’re relaxing. Feel the tension in your thighs. Relax. Repeat.
  • Lower legs. Raise your feet toward the ceiling while flexing them toward your body. Feel the tension in your calves. Relax. Repeat.
  • Turn your feet inward and curl your toes up and out. Relax. Repeat.

Perform progressive muscle relaxation at least once or twice each day to get the maximum benefit. Each session should last about 10 minutes.

Listen to soothing sounds

If you have about 10 minutes and a quiet room, you can take a mental vacation almost anytime. Consider the following avenues to help you unwind, rest your mind or take a visual journey to a peaceful place.

  • Spoken word. Calm (a Free app)  uses spoken suggestions to guide your meditation, educate you on stress reduction or take you on an imaginary visual journey to a peaceful place.
  • Soothing music or nature sounds. Music has the power to affect your thoughts and feelings. Soft, soothing music can help you relax and lower your stress level.

No one method works for everyone, so try a few apps or songs to find which works best for you.

Exercise

Exercise is a good way to deal with stress because it is a healthy way to relieve your pent-up energy and tension. It also helps you get in better shape, which makes you feel better overall.  By getting physically active, you can decrease your levels of anxiety and stress and elevate your moods.  Numerous studies have shown that people who begin exercise programs, either at home or at work, demonstrate a marked improvement in their ability to concentrate, are able to sleep better, suffer from fewer illnesses, suffer from less pain and report a much higher quality of life than those who do not exercise.  This is even true of people who had not begun an exercise program until they were in their 40s, 50s, 60s or even 70s.  So if you want to feel better and improve your quality of life, get active!