Stress is an understandable side effect of the times we are living in right now. I empathize with the stress you may be experiencing and understand why you might be feeling nervous or anxious. Whether it’s the unknowns of your children attending school virtually on in-person, the stress of a lost job, or concerns over taking care of yourself or loved ones, our mind and body are being challenged from every direction. However, I want you to know you’re not alone in your feelings. In fact, feelings of stress are a natural phenomenon, and the body’s way of protecting us in difficult or dangerous situations. That said, it’s important to know how to reduce feelings of stress and relax.
What Relaxing Does for The Body
Relaxation is as natural as stress. The stress response, or what some people call “fight or flight,” is the counterpart to the relaxation response, which happens when your body and mind no longer perceive danger, or stress, and your autonomic nervous system returns to normal levels. Think of the relaxation response as the “off switch” that calms the body down. Relaxation reduces the anxiety and stress in the body. Although the relaxation response is a natural body function, there are a variety of techniques you can use to create the relaxation response to reduce stress and anxiety when needed.
- Deep Breathing: A cornerstone of most relaxation techniques, deep breathing is easy to learn can be practiced anywhere – all you need is a quiet place to do so. I recommend this kind of breathing because it helps your belly expand, rather than your chest cavity. The expansion of the belly through breathing activates the calming (parasympathetic) nervous system in your body to promote relaxing. There are even mobile apps, such as Calm and Headspace, that will lead you through deep breathing exercises. Another great deep breathing exercise, recommended by wellness resource Healthline, is called a Body Scan. It’s a deep breathing exercise that promotes focus and meditation on your entire body’s tensions and sensations. Experts from Harvard Medical School suggest that deep breathing can boost your mind-body connection.
- Visualization: The act of imagining you’re at your most peaceful place, such as a sunny beach with waves at your feet or skiing down a smooth, powdery slope, can help reduce stress and anxiety. Try taking five minutes each morning or evening to practice a visualization.
- Do Something You Enjoy: Our mind plays a big role in our stress response, so consider doing an activity you enjoy that serves as a nice, healthy distraction from what’s causing you that stress. There’s nothing wrong with gardening, going on a hike, watching a movie or playing a board game if those activities bring you joy because doing things you like distracts the stressful response in our bodies and promotes relaxation. Those activities encourage the mind to be present when often stress has us thinking about uncertainty and that’s healthy for everyone.
- Rhythmic Movement and Exercise: Exercise may not sound like the most relaxing activity to some, but the act of exercising produces the relaxation response. Try a low-impact activity such as cycling or dancing.
- Yoga: Yoga involves deep breathing plus movement and stationary poses to help reduce anxiety and stress. In these times, many health clubs offer group yoga in socially distant outdoor spaces or consider doing yoga in your own living room. Guided yoga classes are readily available on YouTube and other online video platforms.
No relaxation technique is one-size-fits-all, so you should find out what works for you. It’s also important to acknowledge that relaxation techniques can help you feel better but are not a cure for behavioral health conditions. Last year, 41 percent of Americans with a behavioral health issue went untreated. We introduced Mindful by Blue KC to lower that staggering statistic by providing our members with trained advocates, online therapeutic resources, virtual care, expedited access to services, workshops and more. Even though it may feel like you or the world are constantly in crisis, no one should go through difficult times alone. For a full overview of how Mindful by Blue KC can work for you, read our Blueprint post or visit MindfulBlueKC.com.