Unfortunately, we live in a world where being stressed out on a regular basis has become the norm for many people, and no one knows how to relax.
Now, stress can really be seen as any circumstance that disturbs the equilibrium between a living organism and its environment. And in daily life, there are countless stressful situations (i.e.: pressure at your job, tests, and even physical stress from trauma or medical issues).
Whether you feel short of breath, slightly nauseous, or can’t quite sit still – your body finds ways to tell you, “Hey! You’re stressing out.” Learning how to relax your muscles and breathe to reduce the sensation of stress can offer some relief.
That’s the thing most folks don’t realize about feeling anxious or overwhelmed – you can find stress management tools to help you cope. Read on, and you’ll find tips and tools to help you find sweet relief.
How Does Stress Work?
Have you ever heard the phrase, “fight or flight”?
Well, all living creatures have what’s known as fight or flight responses. Fight or flight can be triggered when you’re forced to respond to environmental stressors and your default biophysical reactions kick in to get you out of harm’s way (or what you perceive as harm’s way). Interestingly, your epithelial and endothelial cells – that’s right, even your tiny cells – enact fight or flight when they’re up against environmental stressors.1
But, what happens to your body when you’re in fight or flight?
To adapt to stress, there is a change in the serum level of certain hormones in your body, like cortisol, catecholamines, and the thyroid hormone.2 When cortisol and the other hormones are released, they can cause your heart rate to increase, your breath to shorten, and your blood vessels to tighten.
Of course, back in the day when people were mostly hunters and gatherers, these physiological changes would help our ancestors run from predators or environmental hazards. And maybe back then, people didn’t know how to relax. Maybe they weren’t really supposed to. But today, people aren’t asked to regularly respond to such great threats, and knowing how to relax may be a better modern survival tactic than a ready stress response.
With all of this energy, and nothing to really run from, your body might respond with headaches, muscle aches, and anxiety. That’s why it’s important to learn how to relax.
The thing is, your body also has the ability to unwind or relax when you ask it to – to calm down. If you know how to trigger your relaxation response with the proper stress management techniques, you could help yourself to decrease the severity of:
- Sleep loss
- Labor discomfort
- Achy joints
Of course, you can’t always keep your muscles or your body from getting stressed out, but you can take action in terms of controlling your breathing (and taking a few other actions) to stoke relaxation.
Here are a few ways in which you might be able to physically obtain relief:
1. Manage Your Breathing
It may seem like a trick, but by doing some simple breathing exercises, you can actually make your body believe it’s relaxing. That’s because you’re physically manipulating your breath to do what it does when your body and muscles are relaxed.
Learning how to relax through breath is the easiest way to combat stress. First, just take a few deep breaths. They’ll make a difference almost immediately. Deep breathing stimulates your body’s ability to calm down.
Again, deep and controlled slow breathing can be an effective way to maximize heart rate and blood pressure fluctuation and maintain autonomic function (the control system that regulates body functions like heart rate, digestion, urination, and even arousal). And believe it or not, slow breathing has been associated with increased longevity among the general population.4
2. Take a Hike
Walking is just plain good for you. And you can do it anywhere! Whether you walk in your neighborhood and people watch, or head for the hills and hike a little more vigorously, walking can help you get some stressful things out of your mind. Also, you can carry stress in your muscles, so get those muscles moving!
When it comes to finding out how to relax, taking a walk gives you time to think and forces you to remove yourself physically from the site of a stressful situation. And if you walk in a park, or along the water, you can actually help trigger a more relaxing physical response.
3. Pose the Question: For Better or For Worse?
When weighing stressful life changes or decisions, it’s best to ask, “Am I making my life better, or more simple?” Taking something off your plate can be a really good thing.
Most people have a really hard time asking for help, but if you can get a little help with your carpool days, or make an event you’re hosting a potluck, instead of providing everything yourself, you’ll find the right balance and relieve yourself of self-imposed stress.
So, ask yourself if the situations that are stressing you out make your life better or worse. Once you know the answer, you can figure out how to relax and decide what’s best for you and your family.
4. Picture It
It’s really as easy as closing your eyes. When you were a kid, wouldn’t you close your eyes and let your imagination take you to fun places? As a kid, it’s almost inevitable… if your eyes are closed, your imagination will activate. But as adults, we forget how to use our imagination – and how to relax.
The older we get, the more we lose the ability to transport ourselves by conjuring an imagined image. The decision to imagine has to be conscious. So, try this:
Sit back, or lie down. Close your eyes. Imagine a serene beach, a green forest, or a nice breeze. Allow yourself to indulge in seeing a whole picture of peace – whatever that is. Give yourself bonus points for imagining the delightful sounds and scents of your favorite location. You’ll be giving yourself a small escape – a mini-midday vacay. And it can have a wonderful effect on your peace of mind.
5. Lighten Your Load — Literally
Sometimes, you’ve got so much to do in a day, you can’t help but walk out the door with bags and boxes and loaded pockets. Do a clean sweep!
Figure out what you really do need to make it through your day and get rid of the rest! Suddenly, you’ll find you know where everything you need is – no more fumbling through your pocketbook or briefcase for your keys. Without all that other junk in the way, you’ll have easy access.
6. Turn Off Your Tech
Seriously, walk away from the screen(s). In fact, once you finish reading this article, you can walk away from this screen, too. Today, there’s so much time spent taking in information. You read the news, have your most personal conversations, and work, all from the same little screen. So, leave it behind. Taking regular breaks from your phone and computer can help reset your brain and bring relief. And doing so before bed (at least 45 minutes before) will help you drift to slumber without a heavy mind.
Learning How to Relax
There will always be stress. Humans will always respond physically to stress. But, if you can trick your brain and body into knowing how to relax, you can actually make stress relief happen. It’s a classic “fake it til you make it” strategy.
Breathe deep, let go, and you’ll be ready to move through your stress and enjoy life to its fullest.
For more health wisdom from Eastern philosophies, keep reading here:
How to Be Happier: 5 Benefits of Being Organized
8 Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Dealing with the Daily “Grind”
How to Start a Meditation Habit (10 simple steps)