There’s no avoiding it - stress is a fact of life. Learning to relax could be the strongest defence against this modern-day curse.
By Reader's Digest
We all experience some form of stress at some stage of our lives.
Yet being able to relax is one of the best ways to cope with the physical and emotional stresses.
If you feel you’ve lost the ability to relax, perhaps its time you learnt the simple rules behind this simplest of pleasures.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines stress as ‘the reaction people may have when presented with demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and abilities and which challenge their ability to cope.’
A number of physical changes take place as your body relaxes that can help to relieve accumulated physical stress and help your body.
Different Ways of Relaxing
Relaxation is as subjective an experience as stress.
Just as there are many stressors that evoke different reactions, there are many ways to relax that, depending on your personal make-up, provide varying degrees of relaxation.
Some relaxation strategies are more effective than others, but anything that helps you to unwind can count as relaxation.
Ways to Relax - Make your exercise ‘green’
Research fro the University of Essex suggests that exercising in nature is especially beneficial to mood and self-esteem.
Benefits were found to be greatest after just 5 minutes of such ‘green exercise’, with light activities having the biggest effect on self-esteem and light or vigorous activity the biggest effect on mood.
Walking, jogging, cycling, boating, horse riding, gardening and swimming in the ocean, lakes and rivers are all good options for mood-enhancing outdoor exercise.
Not only will they combat stress, they will also improve your physical fitness.
Put the kettle on
Keep calm and have a cuppa – but with a friend or two.
Even though tea contains some jitter-causing caffeine, there are certainly times when it seems to calm rather than jangle the nerves.
Turning to the ritual of making and drinking tea has become an almost conditioned response during times of stress.
And, according to researchers at City University of London, it seems to work. But the calming effects may have nothing to do with chemistry.
Researchers believe that it is the tea ritual itself, with its associated social aspects, that make the friendly cuppa a natural tranquilliser.
Living in the moment is a way of approaching life by consciously staying only in the present moment.
It is our thoughts about the past and about the future that cause us the most distress.
But you can’t change the past and there may be nothing immediate you can do to affect the future.
Letting go of our attachment to this pattern of thinking and focusing instead on the present moment can bring relief from anxiety and worry.
The technique is easy to use, and can be learnt through going to classes.
It involves knowing how to open up and to be intensely aware of what is happening around you right now, in this moment.
It requires you to focus on the present events, sensations, feelings, thoughts, sounds and smells – in an objective, non-judgmental way.
When mindfulness mediation is practiced regularly for about 30 minutes each day, stress levels and feelings of being overwhelmed have been shown to fall, while a sense of coping increases.
Many yoga classes incorporate mindfulness meditation.
Create a stress-relief toolbox
Here are some tried-and-true stress-reducing strategies.
Use at least one tool every day, even if you are not feeling stressed.
Hug your partner
Spend time in nature
Get a massage
Listen to music
Do some colouring-in
Work in your garden
Talk to a good friend
Play with a pet
Watch a funny movie
Global stress busters
Stress is universal.
Different cultures have come up with a range of individual stress antidotes.
Some are calming, long-standing traditions, others new, fun and active.
All are intended to de-stress, recharge and beat burnout.
The Zen rock garden is a place of serenity designed to encourage contemplation, and kirtan, the Indian devotional call-and-response chanting, are traditional ways of dealing with the pressures of the world.
In contrast, zorbing, a heart-thumping adventure activity in which you roll about secured in a transparent ball, is a new way of busting stress.
Physical signs of stress
Stress can be the culprit behind a variety of physical complaints.
Symptoms, which apply to both acute and chronic stress, include:
Aching shoulders, neck and back
Dry mouth, problems swallowing
Diarrhea or constipation
Shortness of breath
Heart palpitations, rapid pulse
Cold or sweaty hands and feet
Skin problems (acne, eczema, psoriasis).
When people are under pressure, they may experience or exhibit some of the following emotional and behavioural problems: