The importance of stress relief
Stress is a fact of life, but being stressed out is not. We don’t always have control over what happens to us, says Allen Elkin, PhD. Yet, that doesn’t mean we have to react to a difficult situation by becoming frazzled or feeling overwhelmed or distraught. Being overly anxious is not just a mental hazard; it’s a physical one too, with damaging effects to the brain and the rest of the body. The more stressed out we are, the more vulnerable we are to colds, flu and a host of chronic or life-threatening illnesses – and the less open we are to the beauty and pleasure of life.
Breathing is so innate that most of us don’t even pay attention to how we do it, but there is a way to breathe for better health and for stress management. “Breathing from your diaphragm oxygenates your blood, which helps you relax almost instantly,” says Robert Cooper, PhD, co-author of The Power of 5, a book of five-second and five-minute health tips. Shallow chest breathing, by contrast, can cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up, exacerbating feelings of stress. To breathe deeply, begin by putting your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Repeat several times.
It sounds New Age-y, but at least one study, done at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, has found that it’s highly effective in reducing stress. Dr Cooper recommends imagining you’re in a hot shower and a wave of relaxation is washing your stress down the drain. Gerald Epstein, MD, author of Healing Visualisations, suggests the following routine: Close your eyes; take three long, slow breaths; and spend a few seconds picturing a relaxing scene, such as walking in a meadow, kneeling by a brook, or lying on the beach. Focus on the details – the sights, the sounds, the smells.