3 Easy Ways to Keep Stress from Killing You
Most people assume that stress doesn’t actually impact health that dramatically, but nothing could be further from the truth. The bottom line is that reducing stress and tension mean better health and well being. It’s as simple as that. By now, it is well documented that everyday stress can seriously decrease your chances of living a long, happy life. It’s associated with increased risk for everything from heart failure to high blood pressure, body-wide inflammation and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Make No Mistake, Stress is a Killer — But There’s a Clinically Proven Antidote: Relaxation
If you are experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety taking time to relax may seem futile at first, but with practice you can develop effective stress reducing techniques to put into practice when you need them most. And as intimidating as they may sound, they work wonders! I find that many people think meditation, for instance, is boring and that they don’t get any benefit from it. They give up because they think they’re not “doing it right.”
But the benefits of meditation are well documented throughout history — even the Bible promotes meditating on scripture. And practice is like putting money in a bank account — the rewards are there when you need them. If you wait for a stressful situation to hit before you learn how to relax “on purpose,” you may be too overwhelmed to access this natural self-healing state of being. So practice now, and enjoy the rewards both in the moment and long term.
Here are three easy ways to keep anxiety at bay – starting right now:
1. Take 3 deep breaths.
Anytime you feel tension start to creep into your shoulders, your head, your belly — wherever you tend to feel it first — stop and take 3 deep, belly breaths. You could be in your car, at your desk or in a doctor’s office. Sit or stand tall and breath slowly and deeply, expanding your belly first, then your ribs, then your upper chest, then reversing the flow in the same slow, steady manner. Do it right now, and feel the tension begin to thaw. Need a little guidance? Take deep breaths in sync with this — it helps every time.
2. Take a short, brisk walk.
A study done years ago at the University of California showed that just 15 minutes of brisk walking has the same relaxation power as taking 5 mg of valium! That’s an immediate benefit. Regular exercise, of course, will help to de-stress your body by ridding it of harmful, stress-related chemicals through increased circulation. Your brain is particularly soothed by repetitive movements like walking, jogging or swimming. Increased energy and stamina from daily exercise will help you stand up to stress in your life, long term. It can also increase your brain power, giving you access to more creative ways to deal with life’s stresses. For maximum relaxation effect when walking or jogging, focus on the cadence of your feet, “left right, left right” to block any worrisome mental chatter.
3. Evoke the relaxation response.
Herbert Benson, MD, founder of the Mind Body Medical Institute and author of The Relaxation Response and Timeless Healing studied the effect of simple relaxation techniques, such as meditation, on health and well-being. Stripping meditation of any particular cultural or religious influence, he created a simple but powerful technique with proven medical and emotional benefit when practiced on a daily basis for 20 minutes once or twice a day.
In a nutshell, the steps to evoking the Relaxation Response are:
- Repeat a word, sound, prayer, phrase or muscular activity.
- When you catch yourself thinking about anything, return to repeating your word, phrase or muscular activity.
- Do this for 10 – 20 minutes, breathing slowly but naturally. Be passive. Do not try to evaluate how well you are doing. Know that other thoughts will come up. Even experienced meditators have thoughts.
- When you are done, sit quietly for a minute or so more and reorient yourself to your surroundings.
The Relaxation Response works faster than sleep to ease your brain and body. Regular practice reverses the effects of the “fight or flight” response that is so over activated by our modern day environment.
I know that taking the time, energy and concentration required to relax can be challenging, especially if you’re struggling with things like fear of losing your job, your retirement money or your health. But you can learn relaxation techniques and improve upon them through practice. I hope you feel motivated enough to start today!