In our fast-paced modern world, being busy is the "new normal", and it can be very easy for us to feel overwhelmed by all of our daily tasks and commitments. Our demanding lifestyles can sometimes leave us feeling stressed, tense and full of anxiety, which should be a signal to us that we need to find a way to relax. Given all of our day-to-day responsibilities, this may seem like an impossibility, but it's actually not that hard to do. You don't have to take a weekend retreat to decompress; you can use the following simple tips to zap the stress out of your life and rejuvenate your mind and body.
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1. Breathing Exercises
Set aside about 5 minutes to practice some basic breathing exercises. Sit with your back straight, close your eyes, and keep one hand on your stomach. Slowly breathe in through your nose, and envision yourself filling up every inch of your lungs with air. It should feel as though your breath is working its way from your abdomen to the very top of your head. According to psychologist and certified life coach Dr. Judith Tutin, deep breathing slows your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure, both of which will counteract the effects of stress and leave you feeling more relaxed.
Meditation is a centuries-old practice that has been widely hailed for its ability to calm the mind and relax the body. According to Chicago-based psychologist Dr. Robbie Hartman, PhD, research suggests that meditation can actually alter the neural pathways of the brain, offering your mind and body greater resilience to stress. Simply sit with your back straight and eyes closed, and focus all of your attention on slowly and deliberately reciting affirmations such as "I am at peace", or "I expect good things today". You can say these out loud or silently; the important thing is that you focus on what you're saying. Only a few minutes of practice every day can make a significant impact on your stress levels.
Massage therapy has long been regarded as one of the most effective ways to reduce stress, relieve pain and relax the muscles. Scores of research studies have shown that massage can help to relieve a wide variety of ailments, including:
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There are several different types of massage (e.g., Deep tissue, Swedish, Tantric massage , trigger point, etc.), all of which will vary in their techniques and intensity. It is recommended that you ease into massage therapy and not try anything too intense at first. Start off with a basic massage, and after your body gets used to it, you can move to more advanced forms of massage.
4. Heat Therapy
Using heat packs or heat wraps on your neck and back can work wonders for reducing stress. Not only does it increase circulation and blood flow to your muscles, but it stimulates your connective tissue as well. One study released by the U.S. Spine and Sport Association found that using heat wraps on your lower back immediately before and after physical activity greatly reduces the chance of experiencing soreness in your lumbar region.
5. Be In the Moment
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Much of what causes stress is our regrets about yesterday or worries about tomorrow. There's a lot of power in the old saying that we should "Stop and smell the roses". Focus on enjoying the present moment. Take in the scenery, and learn how to be in the moment that you're in. Go for a walk outside and focus on how the breeze feels. Enjoy the sounds of your surroundings. Dr. Judith Tutin refers to this as "practicing awareness." It can help you stay focused on the things that are truly important, and keep you from drifting over into anxiety or stress.
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Whenever you're feeling stressed, the temptation is for you to retreat and isolate yourself from everyone so that you can "power through" your difficulties, but this can actually be counterproductive. Fight off those urges to withdraw by purposefully reaching out to friends and family. Have coffee or lunch with someone you can talk to, and take time to enjoy their company. Several studies highlighted by the Mayo Clinic reveal that meaningful interaction with other human beings can help us shake off stress and remain encouraged through our times of difficulty.
The important thing to remember is that you are a human being, not a machine; it is just as important to make room for down time as it is to plan work-related activities. Any time you're feeling stressed, you can use the tips above to help you relax and recharge. And yes, you do deserve it.