Pressured? Worried? Stressed? We all know what that feels like. But what can you do about it?
Some stress is actually good. Stress is a natural response to any demand. It can make you more alert, motivated and energetic. If you're in danger, your body's stress response can even help you stay alive.
But too much stress can be unhealthy. It can contribute to heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure, and can affect one's emotional health.
Give yourself a much-needed break from the stress. Here are six ways to soothe that stress:
Breathe. Deep breathing is a great way to relax.
- Start by sitting in a comfortable position.
- Put your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap. Or lie down if that makes you more comfortable.
- Close your eyes. Imagine that you are in a calm, peaceful place.
- Hold that picture in your mind.
- Inhale slowly and deeply. Exhale the same way.
- Continue the slow breathing for at least 10 minutes.
Relax your muscles. By alternately tensing and then relaxing different muscles, you can calm your mind. You can also learn where you hold tension in your body.
- Get comfortable. Loosen your clothes. Take your shoes off.
- Take some slow, deep breaths. Spend a few minutes just relaxing.
- Focus your attention on your right foot. Slowly tense the muscles as tightly as you can. Hold the squeeze for a count of 10.
- Relax your foot. Concentrate on how it feels as the tension drifts out.
- Keep relaxing for a moment. Continue your deep, slow breathing.
- Now direct your attention to the left foot. Do the same thing, tensing the muscles for 10 seconds, then releasing.
- Continue throughout the rest of your body. Focus on one area or muscle group at a time. This will get easier with practice.
Say yes to yoga. Yoga is a mind-body practice that developed out of ancient Indian philosophy. It combines movements, poses and deep breathing. Yoga may help with anxiety and may improve strength, flexibility, balance and stamina.
There are many different types of yoga. Some are more physically demanding than others. If you are just starting out, look for a class for beginners, or look for labels like "gentle" and "for stress relief". If you are unsure what type of yoga is best for you, ask a teacher or call a studio. And let your health care provider know about any yoga classes or other physical activities you are involved in. Ask if you can observe a class before making a commitment.
Try tai chi. Sometimes called "moving meditation," tai chi is a mind-body practice that began as a martial art in China. It involves moving your body slowly and gently while breathing deeply. Tai chi emphasizes concentration, relaxation and the circulation of energy through the body. The goal is to focus on the present moment.
If you have ever seen a group of people practicing slow, coordinated movements in a park, you've probably observed tai chi.
Meditate. How much of your stress is due to worrying about the future? You can find relief by practicing "mindfulness meditation". It's a way of staying focused on the present with a simple, repetitive action. Some people choose their breathing. Others find a word or phrase to repeat. Still others may watch a candle.
To practice mindfulness meditation:
- Find a quiet spot. You need a place away from distractions.
- Get comfortable. Sit on the floor or a chair, keeping your back straight. Don't lie down — you might fall asleep.
- Choose a focus point. You may look at an object or repeat a word. You may choose to concentrate on something inside: a peaceful scene in your mind. Maybe it's a quiet beach, a mountain or a field of flowers.
- Don't get down on yourself. You may get distracted by other thoughts. That happens. Don't worry that you're not doing the meditation "right". Refocus and continue.
Practice all these forms of stress relief in a safe environment. Don't attempt them if you are driving, taking care of children or are involved in an activity that requires extreme mental alertness (such as operating machinery).
Get a massage. Like tai chi and yoga, massage therapy dates back thousands of years. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates called it "the art of rubbing". Many therapists use oil or lotion on the skin. They may stroke, knead or tap your body.
There are many different kinds of massage and different places to get one. You can find massage therapists in private offices, studios, spas and gyms. They may offer treatments that last just a few minutes or an hour or longer. It can help to get a recommendation for a specific massage therapist. Ask about their training, years of experience and type of massage therapy they practice.
Some studies have shown that massage can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate, depression and pain.
Massage should not be done in areas of fractures, blood clots, recent surgery or open wounds. If you are pregnant or have cancer, talk to your health care provider before getting a massage.
Created on 08/01/2000
Updated on 05/10/2013
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Massage therapy: An introduction.
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Yoga for health.
- Helpguide. Relaxation techniques for stress relief.
- National Institutes of Mental Health. Stress.