As a follow up to my last post and the responses from it, here is a little more in-depth instructions on actual exercises you can do to lower stress.
We all experience stress; some of us more often than others. Although stress may push us to perform better in our daily tasks, it is hazardous when it lasts for long. Stress is the result of the release of the adrenalin hormone which triggers the sudden release of large amounts of energy to your body muscles and brain. However, when prolonged, stress has serious effects on health. It has, for a long time, been linked to cardio-vascular diseases, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and anger management issues. According to recent researches, patients also take longer to recover from a disease if they are stressed. Prolonged stress lowers the quality of your life by robbing you of happiness and good health.
Countering stress is done by getting rid of the source of stress—I know that is a lot easier said than done. But think about what it means to live only in your comfort zone for the rest of your life: not really fulfilling. Staying the way you are, not confronting your stresses is an escapist solution. When you suffer from chronic stress that actually takes away your happiness but you think you can’t do anything about it, at least you might want to try out relaxation practices that change your body’s responses even if you can’t change the situation. How you act in the stress is always under your control.
These are simple yet critical techniques to master. Some of them can even been done at your office– just after your boss yelled at you and said all those negative things about the quality of your work. It helps to calm, relax and organize your thoughts so as to make sober and rational decisions.
The simplest way to relax is to try breathing exercises. Just breathe in deeply and slowly, preferably with your eyes shut, then hold your breath for a moment. Exhale slowly. Repeat this about five times trying to clear your thoughts by keeping your mind blank. You can try it a number of times in a single day depending on how well it works for you.
At home, you can change into comfy clothes before setting out to relax. Breathing exercises can be done as a form of meditation. Find a quiet spot with sufficient air circulation and free of distractions and relax in a position that suits you. This could be lying on the floor, sitting on the couch with your legs raised or even sitting up. Don’t forget to turn off your phone. Then try this breathing exercise. Some experts suggest that this can be done with eyes wide open but focusing on a single object to clear your mind-like a scenery picture on your wall. You can also get a mantra (just a word, often one syllable) that you repeat over and over to shut out other thoughts. A mantra should be a contextually meaningless word that does not bring about other thoughts; for example AMEN or CALM. It may be said out loud as a chant or simply repeated in your mind. The point is to keep your mind blank of any other thoughts and let it rest. For this exercise, simply breathe normally and observe how you breathe. Observe where it goes and how it makes you feel. It is just noticing, not controlling. If you find it hard to pay attention, simply count each breath in and out until you get to 10 and then start over again. If you find your attention wandering to other thoughts as you observe your breathing and the body’s response to it, just start counting again or repeat your mantra. Set a timer for 10 minutes and just do it.
You can also relax by performing the progressive muscular relaxation where you tense your body muscles briefly and let them relax. Similarly, you will need a quiet place free from distractions. Tense your whole body muscles from the head to the toes, then release them, as you do so, you relax. Repeat two times. Now do this for a single group of muscles at a time, say your left foot, or right arm. Preferably, start from your toes upwards to your head. Maintain each muscle contraction for 5 to 10 seconds, let go quickly and slowly feel the release of the tension for about 10-15 seconds before moving on to the next area. Concentrate on the feeling of relaxation as you do this.
You can also relax by practicing the ancient art of yoga which has been done for over 1000 years in Asia. Besides helping you relax, yoga has multiple health benefits such as cutting weight and making you more flexible. It is a more complicated practice that combines many relaxation exercises. If you’re a beginner, just keep it simple. It would be convenient to record out the instructions so you can follow them without having to keep referring to a book. You might prefer to watch a YouTube video for this purpose. If you have nothing else, all you really need is to find a spot where you can lie on your back. Raise your legs, one at a time, stretching until it pulls but doesn’t hurt. Hold the stretch for a few seconds on each leg. Do five to ten repeats on each leg. Then lie on your stomach as you raise both legs and your head off the floor for a few seconds to a minute, depending on your stamina. Return to the lying position and twist your spine and your head in opposite directions. Do this a number of times. Then raise your legs in turns, stretching them out again. Sit cross-legged with your back straight and twist gently from side to side. Then sit still and breathe deeply and slowly. If you need to in order to clear your mind, repeat a mantra in a form of a chant as you let go of all other thoughts. After a few minutes, lie down and do the progressive muscular relaxation exercise.
Don’t let stress take away your health and happiness. Get into a habit of doing some of these regularly. In the moment of recognizing your stress, just try one of these exercises wherever you are.