Feeling keyed-up and stressed unfortunately is a common problem and can be the source of many health problems. Viruses in particular frequently are linked to stress in research studies. Experts say that stress directly affects the immune system, causing it to weaken and causing a greater vulnerability to colds and many other diseases.
There are several methods to help keep your mind and body strong. Physical exercise can help, as can simple, common sense steps like taking plenty of breaks and vacations. There are also more formal methods that may be helpful.
Guided relaxation lowers blood pressure and reduces anxiety. During guided relaxation you sit or lie down in a quiet place and close your eyes. Then a relaxation expert, or a DVD or CD helps you to unwind by tensing and relaxing each major muscle group in turn. You are encouraged to breathe slowly and steadily through the nose.
This technique uses deliberate visualization of scenes or actions. There are at least two ways of using visualization.
At home during a quiet time, imagine stressful situations and picture yourself reacting in a calm, rational way. This can help develop strategies to react differently in the future.
Visualization also can be used in the middle of a stressful situation. Take a moment to concentrate on a very relaxing experience such as an afternoon on a quiet beach, or a long candle-lit bath. Picture it in detail and you will be able to take a step back from what’s currently happening and lower your anxiety.
It only takes 10 to 20 minutes to benefit from meditation. These few moments of quiet reflection will bring relief from stress and help increase your tolerance to it.
A research study found that meditation can help produce antibodies against infection as well as lift your spirits. People who meditated at home one hour a day, six days a week, for eight weeks had greater brain activity in the part of the brain linked to positive emotion and higher levels of antibodies than those who didn’t meditate. What’s more, the biological effects lasted up to four months afterwards. It is simple to do: Sit quietly in silence, or listen to peaceful music, relax, and try to empty your mind, or think of a calming word or phrase. If you like, you can focus on an object such as a candle or a crystal. Practiced regularly, it will increase your sense of control and allow you to confront stressful situations more positively.
Controlled breathing is a valuable stress-relieving tool which calms the body and mind. How we breathe reflects how we are feeling — shallow and rapid when we are anxious, deep and slow when we are relaxed. Deep breathing can help you relax and increase your energy levels, so make sure you are breathing from your abdomen, not the top of your chest.
Touch is an effective stress reliever — it produces a feeling of well-being. There are many forms of massage:
- Back, neck and shoulder massage, which targets the muscles where tension often is stored.
- Full body massage, as a longer, luxurious treat.
- Indian head massage, which covers the shoulders, neck, head and face. Scalp massage is particularly good for taking your mind off anxieties.
- Reflexology, or foot massage. There are thousands of nerve endings in the feet which reflexologists massage to encourage energy flow and reduce tension.
- Shiatsu is a Japanese form of massage. It’s related to acupuncture and osteopathy. It can be quite intense and the masseur will use their elbows, knees and feet as well as hands.
Essential oils can be used during massage or added to a bath, handkerchief, or pillow. There are over 400 varieties, and each type is believed to have therapeutic properties. The varieties which are said to be stress-relieving include lavender, chamomile, jasmine, rose, ylang-ylang and peppermint. Buy from a trustworthy retailer.
Yoga is very effective at reducing stress and improving strength, flexibility, coordination, circulation and posture. An Indian practice, dating back more than 5,000 years, yoga was designed to unify the human spirit with nature. It is now used around the world as a technique to link the body and mind in relaxation. Through stretching postures, breathing, and meditation techniques, it calms the mind and tones the body.
Yoga books and DVDs are available, but attending a class with an experienced instructor may be the best approach for a beginner.
This martial art helps to reduce stress and improve strength and flexibility. It was developed to benefit health and spiritual development through a series of gentle physical movements and breathing techniques, leading to a meditative state. It is believed to facilitate the flow of chi (life energy) through the body by dissolving blockages within the body and between the body and the environment. As with yoga, it’s best to learn from a qualified teacher.
Davidson R. J. et al. Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol. 65, 2005, pp. 564-70.
Collingwood, J. (2007). Relaxation Tools for Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/relaxation-tools-for-health/0001103
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.