Relaxation goes hand-and-hand with stress. When life starts to get overwhelming and stress creeps in, you no longer feel like yourself.
The most common suggestions for easing or preventing the symptoms of stress is to learn how to relax. Relaxation is an important step that can help you return to a normal state and avoid the many health problems associated with stress.
The American Psychological Association states that stress affects not only our mental wellbeing, but it can also affect our physical body, resulting in increased risk factors for several health conditions.
How Stress Affects the Mind and Body
According to researchers, stress may contribute to one of several health conditions:
- General pain
- High blood pressure
- Sleep disorders
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Disturbing dreams
- Weight management
- Jaw comfort
- Upper extremity musculoskeletal problems
- Back problems
- Cardiovascular disease
So where does stress come from? Every person’s life is a little bit different. One person’s stressful situation may not affect another person in the same way.
Causes of Stress
Stress is understood as an everyday part of life. It’s one of the tactics used by the body to help us adapt to our environment. Stress may create a sense of urgency that helps us, but too much can interfere with our wellbeing. Here are the most common causes of stress:
- Environment – Neighbors, where we live, weather, traffic, local or global news, pollution, moving
- Employment – Deadlines, competitiveness, new job, unemployment, underemployment, retirement
- Money – Debt, poor benefits, homelessness
- Ourselves – Adolescence, disease, accidents, poor health and nutrition, substance abuse, decision making, unrealistic expectations, competition, attitude, self esteem, perfectionism, lack of control
- Social – New relationship, bad relationships, loss of someone close, conflicts
What are your stressors? Identifying your source of stress is the first step in working towards positive coping mechanisms that will help you to overcome or limit its impact on your life.
6 Tips for Relaxation
1. Deep Breathing / Meditation
Deep breathing, meditation, or any form of prayer or mindfulness decreases the body’s response to stress to help you to less stress and more incontrol again.
When our ancient ancestors hunted or needed to flee from a dangerous animal, the stress response was an alarm system for the body. When the alarm goes off, cortisol and adrenaline flood the body and increases heart rate, breathing, and blood sugar level in the bloodstream. These biological changes allowed us to run further or fight harder, but in today’s world we are rarely faced with these types of challenges.
When we have to deal with a sales report, errands, debt, or any other daily challenge, the stress response can make it almost impossible to focus or complete tasks. So learning to use breathing or meditation may help you to turn off or reduce its effect on the body.
Exercise is highly effective at reducing stress and anxiety. Regular participation in anaerobic exercises may be best as it decreases tension, helps to stabilize mood, supports a healthy sleep cycle, and may aid with self-esteem. But no matter the exercise, any increase in physical activity will be good for you. In fact, the positive effects of exercises may be felt after just 5 minutes.
3. Hobbies (music, art, crafting, volunteering, etc.)
Participation in leisure activities is linked to an improvement in mental health and helps to provide a buffer against stress. While social activities with large groups are less likely to have the same effect, participating in a leisure activity with one other person is believed to be especially fulfilling. Find a hobby that brings you the most pleasure and pursue it a few times a week.
4. Guided Imagery
Guided imagery is a psychological strategy to help cope with difficult situations. In practice, the person using this strategy will focus on a peaceful image to invoke positive senses. When successful, it has been shown to stimulate changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory patterns. Include soothing music and nature sounds to make the experience more immersive.
Ever need to get something off your chest? A close friend or really good listener might be the perfect sounding board for what’s troubling you. Studies have shown that a support structure provides a buffer against stress. When people face a difficult situation but know there is someone who can help them overcome the challenge, they are less likely to feel overwhelmed and can more immediately deal with the situation.
Bringing an animal into the home may be one way to help deal with daily stressors. It’s important to keep in mind that animals require care for the entirety of their life, especially if you adopt a cat or dog. With the cost of food and veterinary care, you could end up adding more stress to your life. But there are many other, less demanding pets you might considers. Rabbits, fish, and guinea pigs have all be shown to offer support for stress, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and may lower the risk for heart disease. Of course dogs, especially therapy dogs, have been found to have the most profound impact on people.
4 Products for Relaxation
Aromatherapy is a practice of alternative medicine that uses essential oils massaged into the skin or temples, or added to a diffuser and breathed to help balance the mind and body. Research shows that natural essential oils without synthetic compounds are likely the most effective as the plants extracts that absorb into the body are the source of stress relieving factors.
Bergamot and lavender are popular essential oils that are believed to provide optimal support for feelings of relaxation, restfulness, and a healthy sleep cycle.
A deficiency of magnesium is associated with increased amounts of stress and anxiety. Magnesium is an essential mineral that supports more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including homeostasis. Research suggests that magnesium supplementation may help to regulate how the brain responds to stress and the subsequent symptoms.
Ashwagandha contains adaptogenic properties that as the name suggests may help you to adapt to situations. Studies show that ashwagandha helps to regulate cortisol concentrations in the body, which are directly tied to how the body preserves energy, the function of the immune system, as well as maintaining the health of the brain and cardiovascular system. Because stress can cause an increase in cortisol, ashwagandha supplementation may help to maintain normal cortisol levels in the body, support a healthy immune system, brain, and heart.
4. Lemon Balm or Theanine
Lemon balm is an herb that belongs to the mint family of plants but has a slight lemon flavor. Theanine is a compound found in green tea. Studies associate that the use of lemon balm with an increase in alpha wave activity and relaxation. Interestingly, the relaxation effects of lemon balm were found to not compromise focus or attention, which may make it ideal for the waking hours of the day. Theanine complements lemon balm by helping to disrupt the release of stimulating neurotransmitters, while at the same time helping to release calming neurotransmitters.
When lemon balm and theanine are taken together as a supplement, it may provide optimal daily support for relaxation and stress.
Learn From Your Stressors and Adapt to Them
You may never be able to eliminate stress from your life, but there are ways to help cope with the challenges of stress. If stress or the inability to cope is making life too hard, start by speaking with a licensed healthcare practitioner who can discuss treatment options with you. For anyone that wishes to improve their daily life and feel better when new challenges present themselves, try a combination of the above tips and products and see if they make your life a little more relaxed.