It seems like every health article you ever read mentions stress reduction as a critical factor to better health. Easier said than done though, right? Unless you have a massage therapist at your beck and call or the ability to completely remove yourself from stress-inducing situations, stress is likely to find you on a weekly or even daily basis. So next time deadlines are looming, the children are screaming, or life just seems too crazy to comprehend, try one of these natural stress management techniques to help keep calm and carry on with your life.
Mindfulness is about living in the present moment. Dwelling on the past and worrying about the future can both create stress. By focusing on the present moment we can clear our head, achieve a sense of clarity, and keep stress at bay. So many of us go through the motions or operate on autopilot. Whatever you want to call it, many of us are not fully engaged on a day-to-day basis. Mindfulness encourages us to stop, take in our surroundings, observe how we feel and use this as a reference point for moving on. There are many different ways to participate in mindfulness, from taking a walk to clearing your head to some of the more engaging activities listed below.
It’s all about mind over matter. You can’t control your situation, and you can’t necessarily control your body’s response to the situation – but you can control your mind. And often times when you quiet your mind, your body will follow suit.
The typical mediation pose is seated, either cross-legged or in a chair, with hands resting on the tops of the legs. You can choose to focus on your breathing or to focus on a repeated mantra – a positive sentence of your choice. Where do you feel your breath – in through the nose, on the back of your throat, swelling in your chest cavity, rising with your abdomen? Let yourself get lost in the art of breathing and the sensations that accompany it. Meditation is a skill, and like any skill will take time to hone. By practicing daily – even just for a few minutes – you can better utilize this technique in times of stress. Meditation guru, Emily Fletcher, offers a guided meditation to melt stress and boost your confidence in minutes – download the Stress Less Guided Meditation here. Stress reduction isn’t the only upside to meditating though. For more on the positive effects of meditating, check out our blog post “The Health Benefits of Meditation.”
Body Scan Meditation
This stress management technique brings your awareness to the present by focusing intently on sensations throughout the body. Start by lying on the floor, arms at your side and legs uncrossed, and focus on your breathing for a few minutes. Then turn your attention to the little toes on one of your feet. Take a deep breath and imagine the air flowing through your body down to your toes. Once you’ve finished with the toes, move then to the soles of your feet and again imagine the breath flowing through your body down to the soles of your feet. Repeat this process, moving progressively up the body: ankles, calves, knees, thighs and hips. Once you’ve completed the exercise on one side of your body, repeat the exercise on the opposite side. Once you’ve completed a body scan of the lower half of your body, move on to the upper half, taking time to breathe deeply and focus on your fingers, wrist, forearm, upper arm, and eventually your shoulders, neck, throat, and regions of your face, from your jaw and lips to your eyes and scalp.
After the scan is complete, lie still for a few moments and focus on how you feel overall. You should feel more relaxed and more in-tune with your body and the present moment.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Similar to the body scan, this natural stress management technique requires you to lie on the floor and work your way up the body by focusing on individual sections – only this time alternate tensing and relaxing different muscle groups. Start with your feet. Tense all of the muscles in the right foot, squeezing them as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10. Then slowly relax the muscles, feeling the tension drain out of them. Stay in a state of relaxation for a moment before moving on to your left foot. Once you’ve finished with your feet, move up the body, focusing on major muscle groups.
At Sunlighten, we can’t think of a better way to slow down and unwind than spending time in an infrared sauna. Surrounded by soothing warmth, you can let the outside world slip away and feel your muscles release tension. Our client Amanda says it best: “For people who’ve never been in a Sunlighten Sauna, it’s like walking in and all of a sudden feeling like you’re taken away from everything that’s going on outside in the outside world. The experience is extremely meditative and extremely just calming, cleansing.”
Physical activity is a great way to combat stress. Exercising releases endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones, which can help to boost your mood. Another bonus? It’s easy during exercise to focus solely on the task at hand – meaning you’ll be thinking about the activity and how your body is engaging with it rather than outside stressors. Don’t feel like you have to spend 30 minutes on the treadmill though. Any sort of physical activity can do the trick: walking, dancing, swimming or cycling. It’s more important to pick an activity that you like and will stick with than to pick one that offers the most physical exertion.
Spending time with family and friends is a great way to reduce stress. Communicating your concerns and frustrations to a trusted love one can help alleviate negative feelings and even release stress-reducing hormones that help us feel calm.
An Attitude of Gratitude.
When stress feels overwhelming, take a moment to put the situation in its place. Think to yourself, “Will this moment matter in a week? A year? 10 years?” A good way to do this is by focusing on the most important parts of your life – and by feeling thankful for those things. When you focus on life’s many blessings, it’s easier to see how the stress doesn’t fit in the long-term picture. Some people choose to keep a gratitude journal – diary entries of moments or even lists of items they’re thankful for – that they can reference in times of struggle.
There’s a thread of truth to the idiom “laughter is the best medicine.” Laughter releases endorphins and relaxes muscles, helping to alleviate the physical symptoms of stress.
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