Why do you Need Stress Reduction Techniques?
Our body is like a rubber band. If you stretch a rubber band, it reverts back to its original shape. However, there is a certain limit to which the rubber band will regain its original form. If you stretch it beyond its limit, it’ll not be able to regain its original form. The present day lifestyle is fraught with stress. Recession, job cuts, pollution, computers/televisions make it extremely difficult to relax and wind down. As a result, the body gradually loses its ability to revert to its original relaxed state and stays stressed. Gradually, our sleep is impaired and the vital way through which the body tries to relax is also cut off.
Therefore the present day lifestyle makes it extremely important than ever to engage ourselves in some sort of relaxation techniques to help the body relax and regain its original state for optimum functioning.
Don’t Get Addicted to Techniques
While stress management techniques help a lot in relieving stress, one must see to it that you do not get addicted to those techniques. Techniques are important only after you are already stressed. Once you are stressed, the damage is already done! Your aim should be to prevent the stress from taking you over rather than trying to remove the stress once it has taken over you. I hope you are getting what I’m trying to say.
Techniques like exercise help you get immediate relief from stress, but they don’t equip you as such with necessary wisdom to prevent stress from taking you over. On the other hand techniques like meditation and yoga work in a relatively slower pace. But gradually they’ll help in bringing you to a heightened state of awareness where you can see things with great clarity and not get overwhelmed by the problem. Stress occurs when you get overwhelmed by the situation. If the problem appears small, stress does not occur. And problems appear small only when you see the problem as it is, without magnifying it.
Here are some stress reduction techniques that’ll help you a lot in relieving stress. However, not all of them will work for everyone. Each one of us is unique and hence different techniques will work in a different way for each individual. Some will find rigorous exercise better whereas some will find slow ones like Tai Chi invigorating. Some like passive techniques like yoga whereas other find active techniques like exercise. Hence listen to what your body says and find the one that suits you most. And like I said earlier, don’t addicted to a particular technique.
Slow Deep Breathing – Powerful Way to Release Stress
If you closely observe, one thing that will become very apparent at times of stress is that your breathing becomes very shallow and fast. In cases of chronic stress the breathing pattern becomes so much altered that your body forgets how to breathe naturally and freely!
The way we breath has a direct relation to how we feel. As it’s difficult to change how we feel directly, we can indirectly feel better by consciously changing the way we breath. One technique that works extremely well to improve our overall well-being and release is slow deep breathing.
Most of us are either belly, chest or upper chest breathers. Unless we are in absolute health, we hardly use all the three regions. Slow deep breathing involves all the three regions thereby making the lungs work in it’s full range. However, if you have been stressed for a long time and have fault posture, it becomes imperative to correct your posture first using basic Yogasanas or stretches and bends. Your body needs to drop it’s rigidity and become flexible.
The technique is very simple and you can do this at any place, standing or sitting, but preferably sitting.
Sit on the ground in any meditation pose (Half Lotus). You can also sit on a chair if you feel uncomfortable on the ground.
Now place your right hand on your abdomen and feel it rising with each inhalation and falling with each exhalation. If you seem to do it the reverse way, correct it. It should rise during inhalation and fall during exhalation. Now feel your chest and upper chest in the same way. The rising and falling may not be very apparent in some regions. If you have been breathing predominantly through your chest, then you may not feel the rise and fall of your abdomen. Don’t worry. If you cannot feel the rising and falling, feel the tension (during inhalation) and relaxation (during exhalation) in the region.
Once you can feel the breath in all three regions, it’s time to move on to the core practice.
Start with an exhale. Now slowly start the inhalation. Fill and expand your belly first, then your chest and then the upper chest. You may want to lift your shoulders a bit in the end of inhalation to give your lungs that extra movement in the upper chest region. You can also move your hands up if you find it difficult to open up your upper chest.
Pause for a while.
Now slowly exhale. Relaxing in the reverse order. First relax your upper chest, then your chest and finally your abdomen. Finally, pull in your abdomen to squeeze out all the air from your abdomen and pause for a while.
Repeat the above cycle as many times you can do it without straining yourself. The key here is to learn to breath through all the regions in a smooth fashion without any jerks and strain. It may not come as expected during first couple of times. But with practice and patience, you’ll soon master it.
Once you are finished just lie down and relax!
Laughter Therapy – Laugh Your Stress Away
Reducing stress may be as easy as laughing it away. Laughter gives you physical and emotional relief. Laughter is also a good workout. Laughter exercises the diaphragm, abs and shoulders and you feel relaxed after a good laugh. Laughter is also good for your heart. Studies have also shown that laughter provides benefits like strengthening the immune system, reducing food cravings and tolerating pain.
Laughter reduces the level of hormones and brain chemicals like cortisol, adrenaline, dopamine and growth hormones. In addition, it helps in increasing the release of endorphins. Endorphins occur naturally in the body and have analgesic properties. There is also strong evidence that endorphins are associated with ‘pleasure centers’ in the brain that help you ‘feel good’.
And the results are not limited to the time you stay laughing. The feel good factor of laughter stays for several hours after you have finished laughing. And when you feel good, you are not bothered by small things and you stay less stressed. The longer you feel good, the longer you stay relaxed and centered. Hence it makes sense to engage in a small laugh the moment you sense the feel good factor of earlier laughter session is wearing off.
Don’t Wait for an Opportunity. Just Fake It!
While genuine laughter arising from listening to a good joke or a comedy show is welcome anytime, you don’t have to wait for a situation to stimulate laughter in you. In fact it may cause more stress in you when you don’t find a reason to laugh about!
Just fake a laugh! Yes you read that right. Faking a laugh can be equally beneficial. Here’s how to do it:
- Start by faking a smile. Close your eyes and think about a funny moment in your life. It’ll immediately bring a smile on your face.
- Next, try to remember how you laughed. Try imitating it. It isn’t as difficult as you think.
Once you are adept at performing the above exercise you’ll find that you no longer need to visualize funny incidents. The very attempt to laugh will make you start laughing. Seriously. Just try it!
Join Laughter Groups
Laughter groups can help a lot to those who are genetically depressed and gloomy people. Sorry for the pun. I mean, there are some people who find it really difficult to laugh heartily. They always need that extra push to open up. Laughter groups can help such people tremendously. Some may find it embarrassing to laugh in front for no reason but that happens only initially. Once you make the first move, there is no looking back and you’ll often find yourself laughing hysterically.
Stress and Music – Music Relieves Stress
Listening to music has a profound effect on your psyche. It helps in making you comfortable, calms your tense nerves and reduces stress. Music as a therapy works at various levels and is a growing field in the arena of health care. As a stress reliever, music calms brain waves. It also works to induce a positive state of mind, which is necessary to avoid stress.
Musicians and mystics have known the neurological effects of music for many years and many cultures use drumming and rhythmic music to bring on trance states. Brain waves resonate in sync with the beats. Faster beats bring in sharper focus and alertness and a slow tempo induces a meditative and calm state.
Alteration in brain waves brings about changes in the physiological functions controlled by the autonomic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary actions of the smooth muscles, heart and glands. Soothing music slows the heart rate and the breathing rate and activates the body’s relaxation response.
Relaxation response counters the stress response, commonly known as the flight or flight response. During the relaxation response, the body reverts to its normal relaxed state. From a state of physiological arousal the body moves to a state of physiological relaxation. The enhanced release of stress hormones such as Adrenalin and cortisol, increased heart rate and blood pressure, the slowed digestive system and other bodily responses for preparing the body to fight or flee return back to their normal.
Apart from the physical changes that it brings about in the body music is also used as part of techniques like yoga and meditation. While exercising music makes you feel energized.
To derive maximum benefits, put on slow rhythmic music on your stereo and lie down in a comfortable position. Choose rhythms that are slower than 72 beats per minute (the normal rate at which your heart beats). If you must, use headphones to focus attention. But ensure that you put it on low volume since high volumes can cause hearing impairment. Focus on breathing and let it deepen and become regular. For complete relaxation, try not to analyze music, allow the music to ‘wash’ over you.
If you need stimulation after a hard day’s work put on loud music and see how it relaxes your muscles to enable release of tension that you carry after a stressful day.
Listening to the sounds of nature is also an effective way to relieve stress. Music can bring these sounds indoors if you are unable to move out. Get some CD’s of these sounds and play to create a virtual outdoor experience.
Music is an effective tool for stress management. It is part of the numerous self-help techniques for stress relief. While using music for relieving stress, it is important to note that forcing yourself to listen to music that you do not like may lead to more stress instead of relieving it.
Yoga and Stress – Yoga for Stress Relief
Yoga, as it is practiced the world over, is but one part of the ancient Indian system of harmonizing the mind, body and soul. It is not, as is widely believed, only an exercise regime nor is it a therapy designed for treating disease or for relief.
Yoga is best defined as a comprehensive or all inclusive system. In fact it is a way of life. The ultimate goal of yoga is to achieve equanimity – a mental state where neither good nor bad happenings induce emotional responses. Yoga incorporates devotion to the almighty, righteous action, acquisition of knowledge, meditation and releases of piled up energy.
What we now see being practiced as yoga can be termed as modern yoga – a set of asanas or yogic postures, pranayama or breathing exercises and dhyana or meditation. Performed under guidance of a yogic master, yoga can provide benefits associated with workouts, breathing exercises and meditation.
Yoga is one of the rare ancient techniques that are approved by modern science as it is based on deep study of body physics. Yogic postures are designed in a way to exert appropriate pressure on glands to allow free flow of energy and provide relief from stress.
Yogic postures are but one part of the eight steps for gaining knowledge of the self, which eventually leads to a state of mind where neither adversity nor privilege makes a difference.
The eight stages outlined by the sage Patanjali are as follows:
- Ethical percepts or yamas.
- Observances or niyamas.
- Yogic postures or asanas.
- Controlled breathing or pranayama.
- Withdrawal of senses from extraneous distractions or pratyahara.
- Focused relaxation or dharana.
- Meditation or dhyana.
- Finally, the ultimate stage of yogic meditation or Samadhi.
Yoga is also one of the few ancient disciplines that have been studied and authenticated by modern science. Medical science attributes the success of yoga to the balance it creates in the nervous and endocrine systems which has a direct and positive effect on other organs and systems in the body. It is only when the body is healthy that you can achieve the most vital goal of yoga to attain mental peace, improved concentration and a relaxed state of mind and harmony in relationships.
A typical yoga class does not end with physical postures but with a pose of relaxation or shavasana (a corpse-like posture) followed by a session of guided relaxation the teacher leads the student through a progressive relaxation of the body for further reduction of stress.
Exercise and Stress – How Exercise Relieves Stress
Stress is an integral part of modern life. Try as much as you can, there is no way in which you can escape daily stress. Stress follows us in the traffic, at work and even at home in relationships that may have gone sour. The stress response the physiological change that it brings about was intended to be a transient state to face stress and the body must return to its normal relaxed state. However, if you bundle up stress and do not relieve it in some manner, these very physiological changes are liable to cause various other problems that can be physiological as well as psychological in nature. Exercise is by far the simplest and one of the best tools for stress relief.
The physical changes that occur during stress response are directed towards building up energy within you so as to enable you to fight or flee from the scene of danger. The underlying idea behind exercise as a tool for relieving stress is to release the energy that is blocked up within you. Exercise also allows you to give vent to your emotions.
Exercise provides a change of scene, which allows you to take your mind off worries. We humans developed a biological response to physical threats that our ancestors faced in the Stone Age. Regardless of whether the need was to fight or flee from the scene, the body needed extra strength to accomplish it. To meet such threats there was a sudden surge in energy that was brought about by the release of specific hormones and neurotransmitters. Modern life, however, is more about psychological stress. But what is strange is that the human body has not been able to adapt to the changed reality. The best way of ‘fleeing’ from psychological stress is distraction.
Adverse situations or annoyances lead to stress giving rise to anger or frustration. Exercise provides an outlet for these negative emotions. Give vent to your anger by simply boxing a punch bag and see the difference it makes to the anger that was flowing all over you just a moment ago.
Continuous workout, when the level of exercise is between moderate to high, causes the release of endorphins. Endorphins are released by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus and are body’s natural analgesics. These are responsible for the feel ‘good factor’ associate with a ‘runner’s high’. Exercise also lowers the levels of stress hormones like cortisol released during stress responses.
The relationship between illness and stress is a two way process. Both are at the same time a cause and effect of each other. While stress can greatly affect your overall health, poor health is one of the major contributors to stress. Exercise promotes health. A healthy body is better prepared to combat stress.
It is not necessary that you join a gym or perform strenuous exercises. Mild forms of exercise like walking, jogging, a trek or biking can be equally effective when you are seeking to manage stress in your life. For that matter, any form physical activity, including some forms of dance, even gardening, helps to calm tense nerves.
Benefits of Oil Massage for Stress Relief
The importance of massage therapy and its potential benefits can be gauged by the fact that it is included in conventional as well as alternative therapies in its various forms. There are presently nearly thirty types of massages listed for various treatments including physical and mental stress relief. The simple oil massage is the oldest and most common type of massage.
Oil massage, as a therapy can be traced back to thousands of years and finds mention in many ancient cultures including Indian, Chinese, Greek and Roman. The popularity of oil massage can be attributed mainly to the Ayurvedic herbal massages or Abhyanaga.
Basically, oil massage involves rubbing, pressing and moving muscles and soft tissues with hands and fingers. With added herbs, the massage becomes more potent and effective in relaxing the muscles. Research shows that herbs have antiseptic and analgesic properties and are capable of adjusting moods. Although the oil facilitates the movement of hands and fingers over the skin, the main purpose is to derive the benefits of the medicinal properties of the herbs contained in the oil. Performed by a specialist, the science and art of oil massage can do wonders to your physical and mental health. It is a very effective tool for de-stressing the body and the mind.
Oil massage works at a physical as well as a mental level. It stimulates bodily functions and provides nourishment to body tissues, increases absorption of food, increase vital body fluids, improves mood and calms tense nerves.
Physical benefits of oil massage include but not limited to the following:
- Relaxing tense and stiff muscles
- Alleviating pain and swelling
- Promoting faster healing of strained muscles and sprained ligaments
- Controlling blood pressure
- Improving skin health
- Improving posture
- Promoting joint flexibility and ease of movement
- Providing lubrication to body mechanisms
At the emotional level an oil massage promotes a healthy and alert mind. The most famous example of this is the Indian head massage (champi). With appropriate oils, it works on the areas that are most tense and uses gentle to moderate caresses on the head and face to provide almost immediate relief by increasing blood flow to the brain.
Besides head massage, the full body oil massage also provides emotional benefits that include:
- Reducing general susceptibility to anxiety
- Reducing sub-clinical depression
- Increased mental alertness
- Monitoring stress signals and activates relaxation response
- Improving cognitive abilities
The gentle touch of a professional massager also satisfies the need of the caring touch, which is sometimes very important for relieving stress.
An oil massage is integral to holistic treatments for physical and mental ailments. Although oil massage therapy was relegated to obscurity by other civilizations, Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine retained it through the centuries and is still widely practiced in India. In the west massage therapy was maligned by ‘massage parlors’. But in most eastern cultures it remains a sacrosanct holistic and natural form of treating various ailments and stress relief.
Choosing Your Massage Oil
In addition to the massage technique, Ayurveda lays a lot of importance of the type of oil to be used for a massage. One can either use single oils or oils infused with medicinal herbs. Generally sesame oil is recommended for vata type individuals (thin build, dry skin, cold body), coconut oil for pitta type individuals (medium build, hot body, fair or reddish skin susceptible to sunburns) and olive oil or mustard oil for kapha type individuals (heavy build, soft skin, susceptible to colds and congestion).
As it’s extremely rare to find individuals with purely single constitution, usually a combination of above oils is recommended.