Dear Dr. Levister: My life is very hectic and stressful. What can I do to relax? G.S.
Dear G.S.: For many of us with hectic, stressful lives, relaxation means zoning out in front of the TV at the end of the day or snatching some extra sleep at the weekend. Unfortunately, this does little to help reduce the damaging effects of stress on the mind and body.
To effectively combat stress, we need to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques including deep breathing, visualization, meditation, and yoga, or by performing rhythmic exercise, such as running, cycling, or mindful walking. Finding ways to fit these activities into your life can help reduce everyday stress and boost your energy and mood. They’ll also help you to stay calm in the face of life’s unexpected events.
Breathing deeply is a simple, effective addition to a healthy lifestyle. Chronic stress leads to quick, shallow breathing which then becomes a habit. Bringing conscious attention to our breath, lengthening and deepening the drawing in of oxygen, nourishes every cell of our body and promotes relaxation. Prolonged exhalation helps get rid of stale air and toxins in our lungs. This is something that you can do for yourself by following these steps:
Sit quietly and comfortably.
Close your eyes.
Start by relaxing the muscles of your feet and work up your body relaxing muscles.
Focus your attention on your breathing.
Breathe in deeply and then let your breath out. Count your breaths, and say the number of the breath as you let it out (this gives you something to do with your mind, helping you to avoid distraction). Do this for ten or twenty minutes.
This slower, deeper breathing, combined with the rhythmical pumping of our diaphragm, abdomen, and belly, helps turn on our parasympathetic nervous system--our “relaxation response.” Such breathing helps to harmonize our nervous system and reduce the amount of stress in our lives. And this, of course, has a positive impact on our overall health.
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