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Relaxation Techniques for Stress Relief

Finding the Relaxation Exercises That Work for You

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For many of us with hectic, stressful lives, relaxation means zoning out in front of the TV at the end of the day or snatching some extra sleep at the weekend. Unfortunately, this does little to help reduce the damaging effects of stress on the mind and body. To effectively combat stress, we need to activate the bodys natural relaxation response. You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques including deep breathing, visualization, meditation, and yoga, or by performing rhythmic exercise, such as running, cycling, or mindful walking. Finding ways to fit these activities into your life can help reduce everyday stress and boost your energy and mood. Theyll also help you to stay calm in the face of lifes unexpected events.

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The relaxation response Finding the right relaxation technique Breathing meditation Progressive muscle relaxation Body scan meditation Mindfulness meditation Visualization meditation Yoga and tai chi Make relaxation techniques fit your life Related links Authors Text Size


The relaxation response: bringing your nervous system back into balance
Stress is necessary for life. You need stress for creativity, learning, and your very survival. Stress is only harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts the healthy state of equilibrium that your nervous system needs to remain in balance. Unfortunately, overwhelming stress has become an increasingly common characteristic of contemporary life. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques can bring it back into a balanced state by producing the relaxation response, a state of deep calmness that is the polar opposite of the stress response. When stress overwhelms your nervous system your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for fight or flight. While the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly, it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life. The relaxation response puts the brakes on this heightened state of readiness and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.

Producing the relaxation response Learn about obstacles to the relaxation response
Watch this 3-minute video: Roadblocks to awareness A variety of different relaxation techniques can help you bring your nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response. The relaxation response is not lying on the couch or sleeping but a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed, calm, and focused. Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isnt difficult, but it does take practice. Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If youd like to get even more stress relief, aim for 30 minutes to an hour. If that sounds like a daunting commitment, remember that many of these techniques can be incorporated into your existing daily schedulepracticed at your desk over lunch or on the bus during your morning commute.

Finding the relaxation technique thats best for you

There is no single relaxation technique that is best for everyone. When choosing a relaxation technique, consider your specific needs, preferences, fitness level, and the way you tend to react to stress. The right relaxation technique is the one that resonates with you, fits your lifestyle, and is able to focus your mind and interrupt your everyday thoughts in order to elicit the relaxation response. In many cases, you may find that alternating or combining different techniques will keep you motivated and provide you with the best results.

How do you react to stress?

How you react to stress may influence the relaxation technique that works best for you: Stress Response Overexcited Relaxation Technique You may respond best to relaxation techniques that quiet you down, such as meditation, deep breathing, or guided imagery Under excited You tend to become You may respond best to relaxation depressed, withdrawn, techniques that are stimulating and that or spaced out under energize your nervous system, such as stress rhythmic exercise Frozen (both overexcited You tend to freeze: Your challenge is to identify relaxation and under excited at the speeding up in some techniques that provide both safety and same time like pressing on ways while slowing stimulation to help you reboot your the brakes and gas down in others system. Techniques such as mindfulness simultaneously) walking or power yoga might work well for you Symptoms You tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up under stress

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 space to quiet your mind and recharge your batteries. If you crave social interaction, a class setting will give you the stimulation and support youre looking for. Practicing with others may also help you stay motivated.

Relaxation technique 1: Breathing meditation for stress relief

With its focus on full, cleansing breaths, deep breathing is a simple, yet powerful, relaxation technique. Its 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.

Practicing deep breathing meditation

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.
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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 find it difficult 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. If you wish to listen to soothing music while practicing deep breathing, see: Track 5: Meditation Music

Relaxation technique 2: Progressive muscle relaxation for stress relief

Progressive muscle relaxation 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 tensionas well as complete relaxationfeels 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 stress relief.

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation

Before practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation, consult with your doctor if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other serious injuries that may be aggravated by tensing muscles. 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 below.
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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 youre 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 youre ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.

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Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go. It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence

The most popular sequence runs as follows: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Right foot* Left foot Right calf Left calf Right thigh 6. Left thigh 7. Hips and buttocks 8. Stomach 9. Chest 10. Back 11. Right arm and hand 12. Left arm and hand 13. Neck and shoulders 14. Face

* If you are left-handed you may want to begin with your left foot instead.

Relaxation technique 3: Body scan meditation for stress relief

A body scan is similar to progressive muscle relaxation except, instead of tensing and relaxing muscles, you simply focus on the sensations in each part of your body.

Practicing body scan meditation


Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, arms relaxed at your sides, eyes open or closed. Focus on your breathing , allowing your stomach to rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Breathe deeply for about two minutes, until you start to feel comfortable and relaxed. Turn your focus to the toes of your right foot. Notice any sensations you feel while continuing to also focus on your breathing. Imagine each deep breath flowing to your toes. Remain focused on this area for one to two minutes. Move your focus to the sole of your right foot. Tune in to any sensations you feel in that part of your body and imagine each breath flowing from the sole of your foot. After one or two minutes, move your focus to your right ankle and repeat. Move to your calf, knee, thigh, hip, and then repeat the sequence for your left leg. From there, move up the torso, through the lower back and abdomen, the upper back and chest, and the shoulders. Pay close attention to any area of the body that causes you pain or discomfort. Move your focus to the fingers on your right hand and then move up to the wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder. Repeat for your left arm. Then move through the neck and throat, and finally all the regions of your face, the back of the head, and the top of the head. Pay close attention to your jaw, chin, lips, tongue, nose, cheeks, eyes, forehead, temples and scalp. When you reach the very top of your head, let your breath reach out beyond your body and imagine yourself hovering above yourself. After completing the body scan, relax for a while in silence and stillness, noting how your body feels. Then open your eyes slowly. Take a moment to stretch, if necessary.

For a guided body scan meditation, see the Resources section below.

Relaxation technique 4: Mindfulness for stress relief

Learn more about how to be aware of your moment-to-moment experience. Read Article by Harvard Health Publications Mindfulness is the ability to remain aware of how youre feeling right now, your moment-tomoment experienceboth internal and external. Thinking about the pastblaming and judging yourselfor worrying about the future can often lead to a degree of stress that is overwhelming. But by staying calm and focused in the present moment, you can bring your nervous system back into balance. Mindfulness can be applied to activities such as walking, exercising, eating, or meditation. Meditations that cultivate mindfulness have long been used to reduce overwhelming stress. Some of these meditations bring you into the present by focusing your attention on a single repetitive action, such as your breathing, a few repeated words, or flickering light from a candle. Other forms of mindfulness meditation encourage you to follow and then release internal thoughts or sensations.

Practicing mindfulness meditation

Key points in mindfulness mediation are:

A quiet environment. Choose a secluded place in your home, office, garden, place of worship, or in the great outdoors where you can relax without distractions or interruptions. A comfortable position. Get comfortable, but avoid lying down as this may lead to you falling asleep. Sit up with your spine straight, either in a chair or on the floor. You can also try a cross-legged or lotus position. A point of focus. This point can be internal a feeling or imaginary scene or something external - a flame or meaningful word or phrase that you repeat it throughout your session. You may meditate with eyes open or closed. Also choose to focus on an object in your surroundings to enhance your concentration, or alternately, you can close your eyes. An observant, noncritical attitude. Dont worry about distracting thoughts that go through your mind or about how well youre doing. If thoughts intrude during your relaxation session, dont fight them. Instead, gently turn your attention back to your point of focus.

Relaxation technique 5: Visualization meditation for stress relief

Visualization, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that requires you to employ not only your visual sense, but also your sense of taste, touch, smell, and sound. When used as a relaxation technique, visualization 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 its a tropical beach, a favorite childhood spot, or a quiet wooded glen. You can do this visualization exercise on your own in silence, while listening to soothing music, or with a therapist (or an audio recording of a therapist) guiding you through the imagery. To help you employ your sense of hearing you can use a sound machine or download sounds that match your chosen settingthe sound of ocean waves if youve chosen a beach, for example.

Practicing visualization
Find a quiet, relaxed place. Beginners sometimes fall asleep during a visualization meditation, so you might try sitting up or standing. Close your eyes and let your worries drift away. Imagine your restful place. Picture it as vividly as you caneverything you can see, hear, smell, and feel. Visualization works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible, using at least three of your senses. When visualizing, choose imagery that appeals to you; dont select images because someone else suggests them, or because you think they should be appealing. Let your own images come up and work for you. If you are thinking about a dock on a quiet lake, for example:
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Walk slowly around the dock and notice the colors and textures around you. Spend some time exploring each of your senses. 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.

Enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation that envelopes you as you slowly explore your restful place. When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present. Don't worry if you sometimes zone out or lose track of where you are during a guided imagery session. This is normal. You may also experience feelings of stiffness or heaviness in your limbs, minor, involuntary muscle-movements, or even cough or yawn. Again, these are normal responses.

If you wish to listen to soothing music while practicing visualization, see: Track 5: Meditation Music

Relaxation technique 6: Yoga and tai chi for stress relief

Yoga involves a series of both moving and stationary poses, combined with deep breathing. As well as reducing anxiety and stress, yoga can also improve flexibility, strength, balance, and stamina. Practiced regularly, it can also strengthen the relaxation response in your daily life. Since injuries can happen when yoga is practiced incorrectly, its best to learn by attending group classes, hiring a private teacher, or at least following video instructions.

What type of yoga is best for stress?

Although almost all yoga classes end in a relaxation pose, classes that emphasize slow, steady movement, deep breathing, and gentle stretching are best for stress relief.

Satyananda is a traditional form of yoga. It features gentle poses, deep relaxation, and meditation, making it suitable for beginners as well as anyone primarily looking for stress reduction. Hatha yoga is also reasonably gentle way to relieve stress and is suitable for beginners. Alternately, look for labels like gentle, for stress relief, or for beginners when selecting a yoga class. Power yoga, with its intense poses and focus on fitness, is better suited to those looking for stimulation as well as relaxation.

If youre unsure whether a specific yoga class is appropriate for stress relief, call the studio or ask the teacher.

Tai chi
If youve ever seen a group of people in the park slowly moving in synch, youve 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. Like yoga, once youve learned the basics of tai chi or qi gong, you can practice alone or with others, tailoring your sessions as you see fit.

How to Practice Yoga and Tai Chi

The popular relaxation techniques of yoga and tai chi benefit from training that helps ensure you are correctly performing the poses and movements. Learn more: Tips on How to Practice Yoga and Tai Chi

Making relaxation techniques a part of your life

The best way to start and maintain a relaxation practice is to incorporate it into your daily routine. Between work, family, school, and other commitments, though, it can be tough for many people to find the time. Fortunately, many of the techniques can be practiced while youre doing other things.

Rhythmic exercise as a mindfulness relaxation technique

Rhythmic exercisesuch as running, walking, rowing, or cyclingis most effective at relieving stress when performed with relaxation in mind. As with meditation, mindfulness requires being fully engaged in the present moment, focusing your mind on how your body feels right now. As you exercise, focus on the physicality of your bodys movement and how your breathing complements that movement. If your mind wanders to other thoughts, gently return to focusing on your breathing and movement. If walking or running, for example, focus on each stepthe sensation of your feet touching the ground, the rhythm of your breath while moving, and the feeling of the wind against your face.

Tips for fitting relaxation techniques into your life


If possible, schedule a set time to practice each day. Set aside one or two periods each day. You may find that its easier to stick with your practice if you do it first thing in the morning, before other tasks and responsibilities get in the way. Practice relaxation techniques while youre doing other things. Meditate while commuting to work on a bus or train, or waiting for a dentist appointment. Try deep breathing while youre doing housework or mowing the lawn. Mindfulness walking can be done while exercising your dog, walking to your car, or climbing the stairs at work instead of using the elevator. Once youve learned techniques such as tai chi, you can practice them in your office or in the park at lunchtime. If you exercise, improve the relaxation benefits by adopting mindfulness. Instead of zoning out or staring at a TV as you exercise, try focusing your attention on your body. If youre resistance training, for example, focus on coordinating your breathing with your movements and pay attention to how your body feels as you raise and lower the weights.

Avoid practicing when youre sleepy. These techniques can relax you so much that they can make you very sleepy, especially if its close to bedtime. You will get the most benefit if you practice when youre fully awake and alert. Do not practice after eating a heavy meal or while using drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. Expect ups and downs. Dont be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.

Quick Stress Relief

Fast and effective ways to rapidly reduce stress
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Ever wish a stress superhero could save you from traffic jams, chaotic meetings, or a toddlers tantrums? Guess what? You can be your own stress-busting superhero. Everybody has the power to reduce the impact of stress as its happening in that moment. With practice, you can learn to spot stressors and stay in control when the pressure builds. Learning quick stress relief won't happen overnight. Like any skill, it takes time, self-exploration and above all, practice. But think of it as an education with a huge payoff.

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Learn to recognize stress Identify your bodys stress response The basics of quick stress relief Bring your senses to the rescue Find quick stress relief tools Make quick stress relief a habit Stress busting tips Authors


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Learn to recognize stress

Learn more about recognizing stress
Watch a 4-min video on Quick Stress Relief Recognizing stress is the first step in lessening its impact. Many of us spend so much time in a stressed state, we have forgotten what it feels like to be fully relaxed and alert. Being stressed out feels normal. What does it feel like to be calm and stress-free? You can see that just right inner balance in the smile of a happy babya face so full of joy it reminds adults of the balanced emotional state that most of us have misplaced. In adulthood, being balanced means maintaining a calm state of energy, alertness, and focus. Calmness is more than just feeling relaxed; being alert is an equally important aspect of finding the balance needed to withstand stress. If you dont feel calm, alert, productive, and focused most of the time in your daily life, then too much stress may be a problem for you.

Tips for recognizing when youre stressed

Hush the voice thats telling you, Oh, Im fine. Notice how youre breathing has changed. Are your muscles tense? Awareness of your physical response to stress will help regulate the tension when it occurs. When you're tired, your eyes feel heavy and you might rest your head on your hand. When you're happy, you laugh easily. And when you are stressed, your body lets you know that too. Try to get in the habit of paying attention to your body's clues.
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Observe your muscles and insides. Are your muscles tight/sore? Is your stomach tight or sore? Are your hands clenched? Observe your breath. Is your breath shallow? Place one hand on your belly, the other on your chest. Watch your hands rise and fall with each breath. Notice when you breathe fully or when you "forget" to breathe.

Identify your body's stress response

Internally, we all respond to stress the same: our blood pressure rises, our heart pumps faster, and our muscles constrict. When stressed, our bodies work hard and drain our immune system. Externally, however, people tend to respond to stress in three different ways: some become angry and agitated, others space out or withdraw, and still others freeze up.

The best way to quickly relieve stress may relate to your specific stress response. Read on to find out where you fit in.

How do you act when stressed?

When it comes to managing and reducing stress quickly in the middle of a heated situation, its important to be familiar with your specific stress response.
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Overexcited stress response If you tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet you down. Under excited stress response If you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating and that energize your nervous system. Frozen stress response (both overexcited and under excited) If you tend to freeze: speeding up in some ways while slowing down in others, your challenge is to identify stress relief activities that provide both safety and stimulation to help you reboot your system.

The basics of quick stress relief

There are countless techniques for preventing stress. Yoga and meditation work wonders for improving our coping skills. But who can take a moment to chant or meditate during a job interview or a disagreement with your spouse? For these situations, you need something more immediate and accessible. Thats when quick stress relief comes to the rescue. The speediest way to stamp out stress is by engaging one or more of your sensesyour sense of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, or movementto rapidly calm and energize yourself. The key to practicing quick stress relief is learning what kind of sensory input helps your particular nervous system find calm and focus quickly. Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so an awareness of your preferences is essential for reducing stress.

Talking to someone who listens: a rapid stress reducer

Want to know a quick social stress reliever? Talk to someone! Its true, talking about your stress with a calm and balanced listener will make you feel better instantly. Although its not always realistic to have a pal close by to lean on, building and maintaining a friendship network is ultimately good for your mental health. Between quick stress relief techniques and good listeners, youll have all your bases covered.

Bring your senses to the rescue

Here comes the fun part. Remember exploring your senses in elementary school? Grownups can take a tip from grade school lessons by revisiting the senses and learning how they can help us

prevent stress overload. Use the following exercises to identify the types of stress-busting sensory experiences that work quickly and effectively for you. As you experiment, be as precise as possible. What is the most perfect image, the specific kind of sound, or type of movement that affects you the most? For example, if youre a music lover, listen to many different artists and types of music until you find the song that instantly lifts and relaxes you. The examples listed below are intended to be a jumping off point. Its up to you to hone in on them and come up with additional things to try.

If youre a visual person, try to manage and relieve stress by surrounding yourself with soothing and uplifting images. You can also try closing your eyes and imagining the soothing images. Here are a few visually-based activities that may work as quick stress relievers:
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Look at a cherished photo or a favorite memento. Bring the outside indoors; buy a plant or some flowers to enliven your space. Enjoy the beauty of naturea garden, the beach, a park, or your own backyard. Surround yourself with colors that lift your spirits. Close your eyes and picture a situation or place that feels peaceful and rejuvenating.

Are you sensitive to sounds and noises? Are you a music lover? If so, stress-relieving exercises that focus on your auditory sense may work particularly well. Experiment with the following sounds, noting how quickly your stress levels drop as you listen.
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Sing or hum a favorite tune. Listen to uplifting music. Tune in to the soundtrack of nature-crashing waves, the wind rustling the trees, birds singing. Buy a small fountain, so you can enjoy the soothing sound of running water in your home or office. Hang wind chimes near an open window.

Smell & Scents

If you tend to zone out or freeze when stressed, surround yourself with smells that are energizing and invigorating. If you tend to become overly agitated under stress, look for scents that are comforting and calming.
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Light a scented candle or burn some incense. Lie down in sheets scented with lavender. Smell the roses-or another type of flower. Enjoy the clean, fresh air in the great outdoors. Spritz on your favorite perfume or cologne.

Experiment with your sense of touch, playing with different tactile sensations. Focus on things you can feel that are relaxing and renewing. Use the following suggestions as a jumping off point:
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Wrap yourself in a warm blanket. Pet a dog or cat. Hold a comforting object (a stuffed animal, a favorite memento). Soak in a hot bath. Give yourself a hand or neck massage. Wear clothing that feels soft against your skin.

Slowly savoring a favorite treat can be very relaxing, but mindless stress eating will only add to your stress and your waistline. The key is to indulge your sense of taste mindfully and in moderation. Eat slowly, focusing on the feel of the food in your mouth and the taste on your tongue:
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Chew a piece of sugarless gum. Indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate. Sip a steaming cup of coffee or tea or a refreshing cold drink. Eat a perfectly ripe piece of fruit. Enjoy a healthy, crunchy snack (celery, carrots, or trail mix).


If you tend to shut down when youre under stress, stress-relieving activities that get you moving may be particularly helpful. Anything that engages the muscles or gets you up and active can work. Here are a few suggestions:
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Run in place or jump up and down. Dance around. Stretch or roll your head in circles. Go for a short walk. Squeeze a rubbery stress ball.

The power of imagination

Sensory rich memories can also quickly reduce stress. After drawing upon your sensory toolbox becomes habit, another approach is to learn to simply imagine vivid sensations when stress strikes. Believe it or not, the sheer memory of your babys face will have the same calming or energizing effects on your brain as seeing her photo. So if you can recall a strong sensation, youll never be without access to your quick stress relief toolbox.

Tips for finding sensory inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere, from sights you see on your way to work to smells and objects around your home. Explore a variety of sensations so that no matter where you are youll always have something you can do to relax yourself. Here a few ideas to get you started.

Memories. Think back to what you did as a child to calm down. If you had a blanket or stuffed toy, you might benefit from tactile stimulation. Try tying a textured scarf around your neck before an appointment or keeping a piece of soft suede in your pocket. Watch others. Observing how others deal with stress can give you valuable insight. Baseball players often pop gum in their mouth before going up to bat. Singers often chat up the crowd before performing. Ask around about what people you know do to stay focused under pressureit could work for you too. Parents. Think back to what your parents did to blow off steam. Did your mother feel more relaxed after a long walk? Did your father do yard work after a hard day? Try some of the things they did to unwind; they might work for you too.

Take a break from technology

Taking a short hiatus from the television, computer, cell phone, and iPod will give you insight on what your senses respond to best. Here are some unplugging tips:
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Try tuning into relaxing music instead of talk radio during your commute. Or try riding in silence for 10 minutes. Stuck in a long line at the grocery store? Instead of talking on your cell phone, take a moment to people watch. Pay attention to what you hear and see.

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Instead of checking e-mail while waiting for a meeting to begin, take a few deep breaths, look out the window, or sip some aromatic tea. While waiting for an appointment, resist the urge to text and give yourself a hand massage instead.

Make quick stress relief a habit

Lets get real. Its not easy to remember to use our senses in the middle of a minior not so minicrisis. At first, it will feel easier to just give into pressure and tense up. The truth is, quick stress relief takes practice, practice, and more practice. But with time, calling upon your senses will become second nature. Heres how to make it habit. Learning to use your senses to quickly manage stress is a little like learning to drive or to play golf. You dont master the skill in one lesson you have to practice until it becomes second nature. Once you have a variety of sensory tools you can depend on and use, youll be able to handle even the toughest of situations.

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Start small. Instead of testing your quick stress relief tools on a source of major stress, start with a predictable low-level source of stress, like cooking dinner at the end of the day or sitting down to balance your checkbook. Identify and target. Think of just one low-level stressor that you know will occur several times a week, such as commuting. Vow to target that particular stressor with quick stress relief every time. After a few weeks, target a second stressor. After a few weeks more, target a third stressor and so on. Test-drive sensory input. Experiment with as much sensory input as possible. If you are practicing quick stress relief on your commute to work, bring a scented handkerchief with you one day, try music another day, and try a movement the next day. Make have fun your motto. If something doesnt work, dont force it. Move on until you find your best fit. Talk about it. Verbalizing your quick stress relief work will help integrate it into your life. Its bound to start a fascinating conversationeveryone relates to the topic of stress.

Quick acting stress-busting tips

The best part of quick stress relief is the awareness that you have control over your surroundings. Even if you share a work area, you can personalize your space to serve as a stress prevention zone or to put quick stress relief within arm's reach. We all have our stress hotspots. Where are yours?

Quick stress relief at home


Entertaining. Prevent pre-party jitters by playing lively music. Light candles. The flicker and scent will stimulate your senses. Wear clothes that make you feel relaxed and confident instead of stiff and uncomfortable.

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Kitchen. Cool the kitchen commotion by breathing in the scent of every ingredient you useeven if youre just opening cans. Delight in the delicate texture of an eggshell. Appreciate the weight of an onion. Children and relationships. Prevent losing your cool during a spousal spat by breathing and squeezing the tips of your thumb and forefinger together. When your toddler tantrums, rub lotion into your hands then breathe in the scent. Sleep. Too stressed to snooze? Try using a white noise machine for background sound or a humidifier with a diffuser for a light scent in the air. Creating a sanctuary. If clutter is upsetting, spend 10 minutes each day to tidy and organize. Paint the walls with a fresh coat of your favorite calming color. Display photos and images that make you feel happy. Throw open the curtains and let in natural light whenever possible.

Quick stress relief at work

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Meetings. During stressful sessions, stay connected to your breath. Massage the tips of your fingers. Wiggle your toes. Sip coffee. On the phone. Inhale something energizing, like lemon, ginger, peppermint or coffee beans. While talking, stand up or pace back and forth to burn off excess energy. Conduct phone business outside when possible. On the computer. Work standing up. Do knee-bends in 10-minute intervals. Wrap a soft scarf around your neck. Suck on a peppermint. Lunch breaks. Take a walk around the block or in the parking lot. Listen to soothing music while eating. Have a quick chat with someone you love. Your workspace. Place family photos on your desk and display images and mementos that remind you of your life outside the office.

Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Melinda Smith, Harvard Health Publications

Caregiving and stress

Caring for others fulfills a basic social contract in ways that can draw generations and individuals closer to one another. Certainly, caring for an elderly parent or ailing spouse is a worthy, often satisfying pursuit. But it isnt easy. If youre a caregiver, you may often wrestle with stress as well as exhaustion, anger, guilt, grief, and other difficult emotions. More often than not, caregivers are women. The task is especially hard on women in the socalled sandwich generation, who are simultaneously caring for children and older parents, quite possibly while working outside the home, too.

Caring for others can affect your own health

While you attend to the needs of others, your own sense of well-being may head south. Studies of men and women responsible for the long-term care of relatives show that they have:
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Higher rates of illness Suppressed immune response Slower healing Increased likelihood of dying.

Additionally, research suggests that ongoing stress endured by older adults caring for spouses with Alzheimers disease had a negative impact on the caregivers own mental functioning.

Help yourself by practicing self-care

In order to give care, you need stress relief, support, and time for yourself and your family. The following tips may help.

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Relax. Practicing relaxation response techniques and self-nurturing techniques will enable you to feel calmer, happier, and better able to help others. If its too hard to find the time, consider getting extra help with some household tasks. Protect your own health. Research suggests that a caregivers immune function is often suppressed by the stress of caring for others. Boost your resistance by eating well, getting enough rest and exercise, and pursuing activities that bring you pleasure. Ask for help. Spell out to other family members what needs to be done and what sort of help would be best. If no one offers help, ask for it. When someone offers, accept it. Share the work. Write out a list of smaller tasks people can do, such as calling regularly, cooking an occasional dinner, and running errands, and dole these out. Or simply ask people to check off what they can do. Take a break. Take advantage of regular respite care from professionals, family, and friends to give yourself much-needed breaks. Join a support group. Talk out frustrations with other people in your situation and get helpful ideas. Some caregiver support groups are available online (such as a nationwide chat group run by AARP), while others are run by local hospitals, senior centers, and community groups.

Consider caring alternatives

If its getting too hard for you to fulfill certain needs, consider the following options:

Paid help. If family members cant help, consider a paid caregiver. Consult a geriatric care manager or a social worker for help on how to find one. Or ask your local council on aging or visiting nurse association should be able to help you find one. Assisted living. If necessary, consider another living arrangement that would help you meet your needs and those of your loved one. One popular alternative (though pricey) is

assisted living, where your loved one has access to prepared meals and can get personal assistance.

Work and stress

Jobs are a huge source of stress. Roughly 75% of Americans cite work as a significant source of stress in their lives, according to a 2007 national poll by the American Psychological Association. Here are some reasons why work is so stressful:
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Time crunch. Americans spend more time working than they did in previous decades. On call 24/7. Cell phones, telecommuting, e-mail, and fax machines have breached the wall between work and leisure time. Layoff worries. Frequent threats of layoffs and the flight of industries to markets where labor is cheaper fuel worker worries. Age factors. The jobs of older workers may be jeopardized by younger aspirants who are well-versed in new technologies or simply less costly to a corporation. Economic forces. A generally shaky economy and the rise in food and gas prices also feed anxiety.

All that job stress can affect you physically. One study, for example, linked job stress and heart disease. Researchers conducting this 2008 study, which involved 10,000 London-based male and female civil servants, found that chronic work stress was associated with coronary artery disease, especially among people under age 50.

Lack of work also takes a toll

Not working can be as stressful as working. Answering the often-asked question What do you do? can be troubling to people who are unemployed or retired. Even those who work as homemakers may feel anxious about it. Too often, the jobs held by people define their places in society. Labels such as stay-at-home mom, retired, and laid off conjure up stereotypes. Then there are the financial pressures of not working or working in a nonpaying job.

Remember, work does have a silver lining

Its important to point out--especially in this economy--that there are many positive aspects to having a job. Among them:
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New opportunities. Technological changes have led to the elimination of some dirty, tedious jobs while yielding new opportunities in challenging new fields. Self esteem. Positive psychological effects of work include greater self esteem and the joy of feeling challenged mentally.

Conduct a personal stress assessment

Regardless of broader economic trends, the impact of work stress often comes down to how your job affects you. Among the questions to ask yourself:
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Does your job engage and energize you or leave you sapped? Does it satisfy you? Do you get the support you need to do your job? How much control do you have over your work?

You can change some of these factors, but may have to learn how to cope with others.

Counter work-related stress

You can counter work-related stressors in many ways. Here are a few suggestions:
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Disarm your fears. Addressing cognitive distortions can help you manage realistic and unrealistic fears. Take care of yourself. Learning to relax and remembering to take care of yourself will lower your stress levels. Read up. Bookstores are filled with career advice ranging from identifying the work you love to acing job interviews. Branch out. Finally be aware, too, that there is a life beyond work where satisfaction and opportunity exist.

Defuse job stress throughout your day

No matter how you rate your job, you can find ways to defuse the stress response whenever work triggers it. One of the best ways to do so is to practice mindfulness techniques on a regular basis. Here are a few tips:

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Body scan. While driving to work, do a body scan - a way to relax by releasing muscle tension. Loosen your death grip on the steering wheel, lower your tensed shoulders, and let your tight tummy relax. Slow down. Stay in the right lane, and travel just at the speed limit. Take a moment. After you park, stay in your car for a minute and orient yourself to your day before going in to work. Relax. Throughout your workday, monitor your tension levels and stress warning signs. Consciously try to relax and let go of your tension. Take a break. Take a five-minute break every few hours, but use this time to take a walk instead of simply pausing. Breathe deeply. Deliberately set aside a few minutes every hour or two to take some deep, diaphragmatic breaths. Eat slowly. Have a mindful lunch in a new location, eating slowly and enjoying your time with yourself.

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Congratulate yourself. At the end of your workday, think back on the day and acknowledge and congratulate yourself on your accomplishments. Dont rush. As you are driving home, be conscious of whether or not you are rushing. How does it feel? Try to slow down and relax. Get comfortable. When you arrive home, change out of your work clothes, take some deep breaths to center yourself and, when possible, allow yourself five minutes of quiet before delving into activities there.

Adapted with permission from Stress Management: Approaches for Preventing and Reducing Stress, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications

Laughter is strong medicine for mind and body

Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health. ~ Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D. Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert. With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing your relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health.

Laughter is good for your health

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Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after. Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the bodys natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain. Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

The Benefits of Laughter Physical Health Benefits:

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Mental Health Benefits:

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Social Benefits:
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Boosts immunity Lowers stress hormones Decreases pain Relaxes your muscles

Adds joy and zest to life Eases anxiety and fear Relieves stress Improves mood

Strengthens relationships Attracts others to us Enhances teamwork Helps defuse conflict

The Benefits of Laughter y Prevents heart disease

Enhances resilience

Promotes group bonding

How To Relieve Stress

What are the best 3 ways of relieving stress?

The following article gives you three ways about how to relieve stress. Stress can have a big impact on your life if it is not dealt with. The side effects of stress can be anything from being unable to sleep to having really tight and sore shoulders. The more time that goes by without stress being dealt with, the more the greater the health risks. Heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure are all serious conditions which are starting to be linked with stress. What most people do not realize is that there is something that can be done to gain stress relief. So what are 3 things you can do now to help your stress levels? What are 3 things that you need in your life if you want to reduce the impact stress is having on your body?

How to Relieve Stress

1. Meditation Meditation is the cornerstone of any stress management program. Not only does meditation help to calm the mind but it also helps to relax the body. If you want to learn how to relieve stress quickly then meditation is a good place to start. The benefits of meditation go much deeper than that and much research has been done over the years into how powerful meditation is. Meditation helps to improve sleep, improve concentration, and for general well-being. I have personally been meditating now for 13 years and spent 3 of those years as a novice Buddhist monk. I have literally seen thousands of people who have benefited from meditation. In my own life I went from being a stressed out London worker to being a relaxed London City worker over a period of a few weeks. How? Yes, through meditation. How do you meditate? A. Meditation CDs

Meditation CDs are a really great way of learning meditation. By putting a guided meditation on your MP3 player, finding a quiet spot and listening to it regularly is a great way of learning to how to meditate. I personally listen to meditations on my MP3 player on a regular basis and find that it really helps to relax and unwind me. I put guided meditations on just before sleep and this is a great way of having a deep and nourishing night's sleep. I would recommend 2 products on the market if you want to learn how to meditate. One is Brainsync whose meditations combine brainwave frequencies to help to induce the mind into a really relaxed state. You can purchase the CDs from their website or download them onto your computer. If you have stress then this is a good way of starting to reclaim your life. B. Holosync Meditation CDs The second product is a set of CDs which helps you to meditate. Produced by Centerpoint Research Institute, which are the leading edge in research into meditation and meditation products. This 3 CD set teaches you how to meditate and then gives you guided meditations to follow along with. What makes these CDs so special is that they help you to enter into an alpha brainwave state which is the same state the brain goes into while sleeping. This helps you to achieve a really relaxed and calm state of mind. I have personally been using Centerpointe and Holosync now since 2009 and have found the CDs to be invaluable. Great for meditation but also for working as well (there are certain tracks to help you to study - and others to help you be more creative). If you are looking for a way for how to relieve stress then I recommend Holosync's Awakening Prologue. Well recommended.

2. Exercise The second tool I would recommend for how to relieve stress quickly is exercise. Exercise is a wonderful way of releasing stress easily. Exercise helps you to ground into the body, meaning that the thoughts which were stressing you out become less important. It also helps you to gain clarity in your thoughts you see what is important and can be let go of. There are several different types of exercise I recommend. Yoga, tai chi, qigong and walking are all exercises that I not only recommend but also practice every week. When I feel pressure in my life these exercises are all ones that I will use. And within 10 or 20 minutes I am feeling clear, relaxed and calm. One of the best ways I have found of exercising is to be motivated by someone else. And what I have found works really well is listening to music or having someone coach you. I have had many coaches in my life but always found it much harder to motivate myself when my coach wasn't breathing down my neck.

But with the advent of MP3s this has helped to motivate me when I am not being coached personally. Having someone else guide you is invaluable - how many successful sports teams don't have coaches? Exactly! One way I have found of being coached long distance is by using MP3 downloads. Brainsync's running meditation, personal fitness trainer and their walking meditation MP3 come well recommended. If you can't find yourself a coach or need some extra motivation this could be the push you need to step off the stress treadmill onto an actual treadmill! Some of the benefits of using MP3s can be to: * Increase energy and motivation * Boost Beta-endorphin production * Burn fat * Look forward to exercise

3. Breathing Techniques Breathing techniques are the third way of how to relieve stress. You can use them while at work, sat in front of a computer or commuting. They are very simple to use and can be learned in a short space of time. Breathing is something that you can start to do now. 1. Place your hand on your stomach. 2. Breathe in and try to feel your stomach moving out. 3. Hold your breathe and keep your attention on your stomach. 4. Breathe out and allow your stomach to deflate and relax. 5. Keep this rhythm going for as long as it takes to de-stress. I love using breathing techniques. I have been using breathing techniques now for about 10 years. The way I see them is that they are like the mortar which holds together the bricks of meditation and exercise. When you have all three together you have a sturdy stress management building. It is not possible to meditate and exercise all the time but it is possible to do breathing techniques in most situations. For more information about this please visit my pages about breathing.

So you now know how to relieve stress in your life. Congratulations! This is the first step - finding out what tools are available. The second step is trying them out. Do they work for you? Only by trying them out and sticking with them for a few weeks will you know if they work for you. If you feel stress now what will be the consequences of not taking action - in 5 years, in 10 years? The health risks are there, but the solutions are too.

What's Your Favorite Stress Reliever?

A Recent Survey Shows The USA's Top Stress Management Tools. But How Useful Are They?

What is your favorite stress reliever? A recent report by the American Psychological Association asked just this question. According to the APA's annual "Stress In America 2009" report stress seems to continue to be on the rise: "The Stress in America survey results show that adults continue to report high levels of stress and many report that their stress has increased over the past year. Additionally, many adults are reporting physical symptoms of stress." So they asked participants in their survey what their favorite stress reliever was. The results were are as follows:

The results showed that 49% of respondents reported turning to using their MP3 players when stressed; and 44% said they exercise. 41% of those questioned said that they turned to books when stressed, while watching television or a movie and social interaction helped ease the stress of 36% of those surveyed. We are now going to look at these different ways the US public is dealing with stress and see how effective they are.

Does Your Favorite Stress Reliever Work?

1. Listening To Music Listening to music is definitely something that I would recommend here at Stress Relief Choices. Music helps to relax the body and mind. It also can stimulate endorphins to really give the body a lift. What I would add is that it is really dependent what music you listen to. Some music like classical is really uplifting and empowering. Listening to some Mozart or Beethoven can lift the spirits and shift your stress in minutes. And although listening to your favorite tune might lift your stress in the short term - have a look at how joyful or uplifting the song is. If the lyrics are really negative and the music depressing you will find yourself feeling worse than when you started out. I know this seems obvious but I am taking my own example in reference to this. As a teen I listened to a lot of rock and grunge and although the music moved me, the lyrics depressed me more than anything.

And just by listening to something really uplifting can really make a difference to stress levels. So yes, this is something I do recommend.

2. Relieving Stress By Exercise The 2nd favorite stress reliever was exercise. Exercise is definitely a must for any stress management program for me. Exercise helps to balance the body, release tension and stress, and it helps to relax the mind. Exercise is also great for gaining clarity in the mind. Sometimes we can become lost in our thoughts and therefore our stress so exercise can help to balance this out. Exercises I recommend are: - Yoga: Yoga is a great exercise for relieving stress - it helps to bring both the breathing and movement together to create a really calming and balancing combination. - Walking: Walking is a must for any stressful situation, especially if you can get out into nature. Walking helps to settle the emotions, release negative thoughts and release tension stored in the body.