Image Credit: Diesel & Juice

The following blog post is an article I originally wrote on behalf of ReachOut for the 12 August 2012 Edition of the Sunday Business Post

These days, it is easy for life to feel like one long, hectic chain of events. No matter how busy you are, it’s essential for your mental health and well-being that you make time to relax.

When we stress, it is easy to forget to take time out for ourselves. We become preoccupied with crossing items off a list,  and before we know it, the day is over with no real downtime.

Some may think relaxation is zoning out in front of the television, or having a drink to unwind; however, these do not do much to reduce the harmful effects stress has on our bodies.  There are many other things we can do to relax that are simple and easy, while others may requires more training or discipline.

Healthy ways of relaxing can be simple:

  • Going for a walk
  • Listening to your favourite music
  • Sitting quietly in the park
  • Playing your favourite sport, or doing your favourite exercise activity
  • Taking a long bath
  • Visit a friend
  • Practising yoga or meditation

Learning to breathe

When we become anxious, our breathing becomes quick and shallow, reducing the amount of oxygen to our organs and instigates a stress response.

Focusing on taking long, full breaths reduces the heart rate, allowing oxygen to flow back to your organs, and relaxing your body.

To practise deep breathing, place one hand on your stomach, and one on your chest. As you breathe in, let your stomach swell forward, and fall back gently as you breathe out. The hand on your chest should stay almost completely still, while the hand on your stomach falls in and out with your breathing.

When you feel comfortable with this technique, slow your breathing by taking a short pause after exhaling and before breathing in again.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are techniques used to maintain awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and staying “in the moment.” We often experience relaxation as a benefit of practising mindfulness and meditation.  When we think about past events, or worry about the future, we tend to experience more stress. By staying in the present moment, we can relax and focus only on the here and now.

To try this at home, find a quiet place and sit in a comfortable position. Focus on your breath. If you find troubling thoughts keep entering your mind, without judgement turn your attention back to the breath. By practising this for even five minutes a day, you will find that you will wander less into negative thought processes, and experience more relaxation throughout the day.

Exercise

Certain types of rhythmic exercise, such as walking, yoga, or Tai Chi can aide in relaxation. When we exercise, we use up stored energy that otherwise tends to go towards to worrying and ruminating. By using the energy for something else, our brains have less energy to use on unhealthy thinking patterns.

In addition, by focusing our attention during walks, yoga, and  tai chi, we learn again to practise staying in the present moment. This relaxation technique is especially helpful in people who tend to withdrawal or “space out” when stressed.

Try the above techniques, and find the ones that work best for you. Over time, you should find that you are less stressed throughout the day, and that your ability to cope with stress should improve tremendously.

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

Finding the best way to deal with stress
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