- Mental Health
8 Simple Ways to Relax
We all live busy lives and consciously relaxing away the stress of all that work and responsibility sometimes falls low on our list of priorities. Some relaxation exercises sound daunting and difficult -- who has the time or the motivation to meditate 30 minutes a day? Luckily, there are lots of ways to bring some calm into your life that don't take a lot of time and effort.
1. Half-Time Breathing
Slow breathing at 6 breaths per minute has been proven to reduce high blood pressure. The average adult at rest, takes about 12-20 breaths per minute. Cut that in half and you'll feel the benefits immediately. To reach 6 breaths per minute, aim to make each breath cycle last 10 seconds, counting to 5 slowly as you inhale and again as you exhale.
2. The 4-7-8
Dr. Andrew Weil tells us that breathing is one of the best ways to help the body heal itself. He has developed his own method for instant relaxation called "The 4-7-8," or the Relaxing Breath. The exercise is simple and is also an excellent way to calm the nervous system if you're feeling anxious.
To start, place the tip of your tongue behind your upper front teeth, right where your teeth meet the roof of the mouth. Keeping your tongue in place when you exhale can be challenging, but it helps to purse your lips.
- Prepare by exhaling completely with a "whoosh" sound
- Inhale through your nose for 4 counts.
- Hold your breath for 7 counts.
- Exhale through your mouth for 8 counts.
- Repeat the 4-7-8 cycle 3 times, for a total of 4 breaths.
Dr. Weil recommends doing the Relaxing Breath twice a day, and whenever you feel the need for it. In my own experience, I tend to forget to do it regularly, but it's always helpful when I remember it. Don't forget to stay relaxed throughout--especially when holding your breath as we tend to tighten up our chest to keep the air in.
3. Nap Time
If all this concentrated breathing is too much effort, maybe it's time for a nap. The best kind of nap is not the one where you crash into bed because you're a few hours short on night-time slumber. Long naps to make up for your "sleep debt" are almost always a bad idea because they mess with your internal clock and generally leave you feeling groggier than before.
But "power naps" provide so many benefits, they're a quick, easy, and oh-so-satisfying way to relax. A short afternoon snooze has been shown to increase productivity, keep the mind sharp, and the spirit lifted. Here's how to power nap:
- Keep your nap between 15 and 30 minutes, set an alarm if you have to.
- Don't nap within 6 hours of your regular bed-time. That means early- to mid-afternoon is the ideal time for a little pillow-time pick-me-up.
- Find a dark, comfortable place to lie down. Don't try napping in your chair, head slumped over your desk because waking up with a neck kink has never relaxed anyone. If your employer isn't progressive enough to provide a nap room, you can build yourself a George Costanza under-desk sleep-suite, or try one of the other tips listed here.
4. Pushing Your Buttons
One of the most ancient systems of
wellness and healing is the Chinese practice of acupressure. No needles
required, acupressure works by applying light pressure to specific
points on your body. Stimulating these points affects the flow of chi
(energy) in your body. There are a many effective acupressure points to
ease stress and increase alertness. Here are two of the best and
- The Third Eye: Between the eyebrows, where the ridge of your nose meets your forehead. Touch this point with your middle finger, applying gentle pressure for about one minute. It is said to relieve emotional imbalance, headaches, and eyestrain.
- The Eye of the Tiger: The fleshy part (or web) between your thumb and forefinger. Gently squeeze or massage this point between the thumb and forefinger of your other hand. It brings energy down in the body, relieving tension, anxiety, and overactive thinking. (Don't use if you are pregnant, as it may bring other things down as well.)
5. You've Got to be Kidding
It's an old cliche that laughter is the best medicine, but that doesn't mean it's not true. Laughter is the simplest--and possibly the most fun--way to relieve built up tension, anxiety, and frustration.
mechanics of laughter are a lot like a breathing exercise: a deep
inhalation followed by a rhythmic and complete exhalation. Naturally,
the bigger your laughter, the more relaxing it'll be. There's no shame
in taking a little help to get started. That's why God invented Lolcats.
6. Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
Most of the stress we feel is not in our mind, but in our body. The hot zones for holding tension are the neck and shoulders--they're often the source of headaches and a general feeling of stiffness. Luckily, relaxing these areas is easy. Just think about it. Tension can be released just by being aware that it's there. Focus on your neck muscles, your shoulders, and just check in if they feel tight. Take a deep breath, and exhale the tension away.
Another area that
tends to tighten from stress is the jaw, especially if you also clench
or grind your teeth at night. You'll make yourself--and your
dentist--much happier if you practice keeping your jaw relaxed during
7. Walk this Way
Exercise is pretty much a universally accepted way to relieve stress these days. But who has the time to go sweat it out every time tension strikes? Plus, with most of us are working out harder these days just to get the most burn for our time, exercise may even add stress to our lives.
The antidote isn't inactivity, but the right kind of activity that stimulates and refreshes without tiring you out: walking. Well, strolling, really. A relaxing walk can be as short as around the block and as long as you'd like.
Walk without distractions and be aware of your body and
your surroundings. Notice your breath, the way your legs move, your
arms swing. Notice how the air smells, how the wind feels, how the sky
looks. And if you're lucky enough to happen upon some flora and fauna,
take in this next tip as well.
8. Ah, Nature
Ah, nature. Do you ever wonder why those sound machines that help you sleep always feature gently lapping waves or tranquil sounds of the forest? Most of the sounds of everyday life are a strain on the human body and mind. We didn't evolve with the rush of traffic outside our window or the constant dings of you've-got-mail.
I'm not asking you to
hug any trees (but maybe I should, it's a strangely wonderful
experience!), but the simple act of going outside, focusing on the
greenery, the shrubbery, the squirrels, or whatever lives in your area
can be powerfully recharging. Nature's colors rest our eyes, its smells
are some of the most powerful aromatherapy available, and its sounds
are soothing to our ears.
Researchers at the University of Washington report that just looking outside can be a relief for those of us that are office-bound. Even a digital image of a natural scene has a profound effect on stress levels. So here you go. You earned it!