Need stress relief? Use these techniques to relax your mind and de-stress
Meditation can be a great way to relax, especially if you are under a lot of stress . Research has shown that meditation can be helpful in lowering heart rate and blood pressure, and even improving cognitive performance.
And meditation is pretty simple to do: just find a comfortable place, close your eyes, relax your muscles, and focus on ONE thing, whether it’s your breathing, an object (a flower, or a painting)—or even a picture in your mind—perhaps you are sitting on a beach in the Caribbean. You can do this for as little as 10 minutes to experience benefits. The key is staying focused and not letting any distractions or thoughts enter your mind—being mindful is key. If you have a bit more time, take a Yoga or Tai Chi class—both incorporate mediation, along with physical movements.
2. DRINK GREEN TEA/AVOID CAFFEINATED BEVERAGES
Green tea is very soothing—it contains theanine, an amino acid that gives flavor to green tea and also promotes relaxation. It is also thought that theanine is a caffeine antagonist, meaning it counters the stimulating effects of caffeine. So, drink green tea, and avoid caffeinated beverages, since caffeine can worsen the stress response.
3. CONSUME SEROTONIN-BOOSTING FOODS
Many of us crave indulgent carbohydrates like cookies, candy, ice cream, pretzels, and other sweet and starchy foods when we’re stressed, anxious, or tense. These foods can have a soothing effect in some women, and it may have something to do with low serotonin levels during these mood states. Serotonin is a brain chemical responsible for feelings of calmness and relaxation. It’s thought that consuming these carbohydrates helps boost serotonin levels, which results in feelings of contentedness and relaxation. So, enjoy these treats if they provide some instant satisfaction, but do watch your portion sizes! I recommend 100 calorie portions—4 Hershey Kisses, or a small handful of pretzels. You may want to pre-portion out pretzels, for example, and take them with you as a snack when you leave the house. The 100-calorie packs work well too.
4. CREATE A RELAXATION ROOM AT HOME
Many spas have relaxation rooms to sit in before and after treatments, and it’s a great thing to create at home too. A relaxation room doesn’t have to be a “room” per se—it can be a space in your bedroom, for example, but the key is having an area or room at home, solely devoted to relaxing. You can have a really comfortable chair or daybed, with dim lights, or candles nearby— whatever it is that you enjoy and find relaxing. This will give you an opportunity to decompress, with very little stimulus—this is key. Forget the blackberry, cell phone and laptop—this is a time to kick back and relax. You might want to read a book or magazine, but the idea is to clear your mind of distractions and stressors.
5. LISTEN TO YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC
Listening to soothing music can be very relaxing—and slow tempos in particular can induce a calm state of mind. (It can also slow down breathing and heart rate, lower blood pressure, and relax tense muscles too). This can be particularly beneficial when you’re getting ready for a tough day at work, or if you’re in your car stuck in traffic, or, if you’re lying in bed trying to free your mind of stressful thoughts. Interestingly, music therapy has been shown to be helpful in decreasing anxiety associated with medical procedures: one recent study found that heart rate and blood pressure decreased significantly among individuals who listened to music during a colonoscopy (the control group did not experience any changes). The music intervention group also required less sedation during the procedure.
6. ENJOY AN AROMATHERAPY MASSAGE
Getting a massage is a great way to free yourself of tension and relax, and adding aromatherapy oils such as chamomile or lavender can be particularly beneficial: one recent study found that emergency room nurses experienced reduced stress levels with aromatherapy massage: The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, found that 54 percent of the emergency room staff in summer and 65 percent in winter suffered moderate to extreme anxiety. However, this fell to 8 percent, regardless of the season, once staff received 15-minute aromatherapy massages while listening to music. If you don’t have a lot of spare time, you can get aromatherapy oils and massage tools to use at home.
7. INDULGE IN A HOT BATH
Heat relaxes muscles — and taking a long bath can be soothing for the mind as well. Stock up on your favorite bath salts and soaps, get a bath pillow, and decorate the room with candles. You can even create an in-home spa, by incorporating spa treatments like facials.
8. ENGAGE IN MODERATE EXERCISE DAILY
Exercise helps to boost endorphins and reduce stress — and research shows that 20 minutes each day is all that is needed to experience benefits.