10 Quick Relaxation Techniques
Do find yourself constantly under a lot of pressure? Does your to-do list seem never-ending? Is the stress of juggling different household errands or work projects getting to you? Well, you are not alone. According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, Americans “consistently report experiencing more stress than they believe to be healthy,” and many of them find it challenging to manage the stress levels they are experiencing. Many people find stress to be difficult to deal with because they think managing it requires more time and effort than they have to spare.
You don’t necessarily need to take time off work or spend hours having “me time” to cope with the effects of stress — though it would be nice. There are many relaxation techniques that require less than 15 minutes and can even be performed while at work. Even the busiest of people can find the time to perform one or more of the following stress alleviation techniques at home, the office or anywhere else. It’s proven that if you are happier and less stressed, you’ll perform better and accomplish more.
A study conducted by the University of Sussex was discussed in a recent article published in the UK’s Telegraph. According to the research, “reading is the best way to relax and even six minutes can be enough to reduce the stress levels by more than two thirds.” The scientists also found that reading works better for reducing stress levels than walks, listening to music or enjoying a cup of tea.
Anyone can sneak six minutes of reading into their busy schedule. Of course, it would be great if you could do so in the comfort of your own home, while lounging in your favorite reading pillow with a glass of wine, but how often is that an option? You can always squeeze some reading in during your lunch break, waiting at the doctor’s office or even in line at the grocery store. Just remember: six minutes of reading could be the key to a more productive and stress-free life.
Meditation is a great relaxation tool for many reasons. It’s cheap, it doesn’t require any equipment, and you can pretty much meditate anywhere you’d like. You can meditate at work for a few minutes before or after a stressful meeting or during your commute (if you are taking the subway or bus). Meditation has the ability to slow you down and bring a sense of calmness that can last long after you’re finished.
For beginners, start by focusing on your breaths as you inhale and exhale. Don’t worry if you find your mind wandering towards your long to-do list — just start over and try again. Some find it helpful to concentrate on a mantra like “relax” or “calm.” Like most new hobbies, meditating requires practice, but slowly you will find yourself being able to go for longer and longer periods of time without stressing.
3. Get A Pet
In a recent article on WebMD, Brunilda Nazario MD. calls pets “Natural Mood Enhancers.” No pet owner needs to be convinced of the fact that loving pets are able to bring their owners joy, even after the most stressful day. It is proven that pets can lower cortisol levels (the stress hormone) in your body while increasing serotonin levels (doctors assign depression to lower serotonin levels). Pets also lower your heart rate, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. For many years now, therapy dogs have been known to help people fight depression and phobias. “Petting a cat or dog has a calming effect. And taking care of a pet -- walking with it, grooming it, playing with it -- takes you out of yourself and helps you feel better about the way you spend your time,” adds Dr. Nazario.
If you’re not sure you’d want the responsibility of having a dog or a cat, you can always buy a fish. It’s proven that watching a fish swim for a few minutes can reduce stress levels drastically, and if you want to share the responsibility you can always bring it to work and make it “the office pet.”
4. Start a Journal
If you’re feeling very frustrated and can’t seem to get stressful events out of your mind, a great way to vent is to get those thoughts out of your head and onto paper. If your significant other has been a pain in your neck and you feel frustrated to the point where you can’t concentrate on your work, write it down. Open a new document in Word or start a Google Doc and leave it all there. You don’t have to spend a lot of time writing either, even five to ten minutes can help you feel better. You can also write in small increments of time – five minutes during your lunch break, five minutes at the end of your business day or right after your meeting.
Writing not only calms stress levels but it also clears your thoughts and clarifies your feelings, while simultaneously releasing the emotions involved. Many times when we have a problem, it looks a lot different in black and white. Often with writing, a solution arises that you might not have noticed before.
5. Play Music
When we’re stressed, listening to music isn’t exactly on top of our list of priorities. But as I mentioned earlier, stressed people have a harder time flourishing in daily tasks and are less likely to be productive.
Music can change your stressful day in two ways. Much like mediation, slow and soothing music can help to calm and control your stress levels. It is scientifically proven that slow music can decrease the level of stress hormones in your body and lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Music can also change your negative perspective into a positive one. Playing upbeat tunes can energize you and bring about a more optimistic outlook. So, while you are trying to catch up on that project deadline, plug your headphones into the computer or iPhone and tune in to your favorite Pandora station.
6. Stretch Out
Stretching is a very effective stress relief tool. You can stretch at work, at home, while riding the elevator and even when you are stuck in traffic. Stretching lengthens the muscles to alleviate tension. You don’t need to do anything too complicated, unless you are pursuing a career as a ballerina. A quick, one- or two-minute neck or back stretch is enough to reduce your stress levels. In a recent issue of Reader’s Digest, they came up with a few easy stretching exercises. If you incorporate deep breathing techniques while stretching, you’ll feel stress-free and refreshed in no time.
7. Cook for Fun
Cooking is a very relaxing and enjoyable activity for many people. Try to view cooking as a fun activity instead of a chore. You can play some cheerful music and involve your significant other or kids to help you. Don’t rush or stress that something might go wrong with your dish. Just let go and try to enjoy the process.
Food Network came up with a list of the top ten foods for stress relief, high in nutritional value and good for the soul. Topping their list is salmon, Swiss chard and avocado. If you had an extra rough day, try combining a few of them for an extra good mood kick.
8. Take an Aromatherapy Bath
This technique requires some preparation and at least 15 minutes of your time, but it’s totally worth it. Make sure not to bring your phone with you into the bathroom and tell your loved ones not to interrupt you.
An aromatherapy bath is great for stress relief because it stimulates multiple senses simultaneously. The hot water relaxes your tense muscles, while scents provoke emotional and physical reactions in your body. It can help decrease your heart and breathing rate, causing you to feel calmer and more relaxed. Adding aromatherapy salts into the water offers another benefit: fresh, newly uncovered smooth skin. So, instead of the quick five-minute shower you have to take every day anyway, spare an extra ten minutes and indulge yourself with a nice aromatherapy bath… and why not add a few candles for some ambiance?
9. Tea Time
Hot tea has long been known for its calming abilities. A new study led by researcher Andrew Steptoe at the University College London discovered that “drinking black tea may speed up the recovery from the daily stresses in life. Although it does not appear to reduce the actual levels of stress we experience, tea does seem to have a greater effect in bringing stress hormone levels back to normal." Herbal teas have many benefits as well. Chamomile has been used to help with insomnia, peppermint tea helps with upset stomach, and lavender tea has been used to help with headaches and anxiety. In recent years, the market has been flooded with different stress relief teas, which usually combine a few herbs for even better calming effects. So, make sure you have a variety of tea choices at home and at work.
This one is my personal favorites! Dancing is well known for its ability to release oxytocin (also known as the happy hormone), which elevates your mood and makes you more relaxed. You don’t have to spend money on dance classes or even spend hours dancing. Play your favorite song at home and just get lost in the movement and music. For a few years, therapists from all over the world began using dance therapy as a natural approach to stress management and as a tool to decrease anxiety and depression, so why don’t you?
Another great benefit of dancing is that it helps with muscle coordination and reduces tension in the body — not to mention that it is an amazing way to keep in shape and express your emotions. As the lovely Martha Graham once said, “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.” So, let go and start dancing — there is nothing to lose but your stress.