While the economy is causing a lot of people stress, the holidays are also fast approaching and can just add to people’s already stressed-out lives. If you are (or a loved one is) facing imminent unemployment, or if you worry about being able to afford your mortgage, you may feel overwhelmed by stress. And while stress itself is not among the leading causes of death in the U.S., many highly-regarded studies link chronic stress to ailments such as heart disease, stroke, and a weakened immune system.
“Stress doesn’t just make you feel tense and edgy, it can actually impair your health,” says Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.
“Thankfully, there’s plenty we can do on our own to reduce stress in our lives.”
Of course, sometimes just thinking about embarking on such a program can feel overwhelming. Don’t freeze in your tracks. Instead, follow Dr. Miller’s suggestion to start small.
One stress-management technique that may work for you is a form of deep breathing known as the relaxation response. Another useful approach, known as cognitive restructuring, aims to change patterns of negative thinking. Not only will these strategies help you feel calmer, they may also reduce your blood pressure.
To begin, try the sample mini-relaxations that follow:
De-stressing when you’ve got 1 minute
Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in slowly. Pause for a count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation.
Or alternatively, while sitting comfortably, take a few slow deep breaths and quietly repeat to yourself “I am” as you breathe in and “at peace” as you breathe out. Repeat slowly two or three times. Then feel your entire body relax into the support of the chair.
When you’ve got 2 minutes
Count down slowly from 10 to zero. With each number, take one complete breath, inhaling and exhaling. For example, breathe in deeply saying “10” to yourself. Breathe out slowly. On your next breath, say “nine,” and so on. If you feel lightheaded, count down more slowly to space your breaths further apart. When you reach zero, you should feel more relaxed. If not, go through the exercise again.
Also in the free guide:
- Using a gratitude journal to turn your focus away from negative thoughts and feelings
- Learning to straighten out cognitive distortions
- Helping your children — or yourself — reduce stress with a “worry box.”
The Harvard Medical School Portable Guide to Stress Relief is available online for free from Harvard Health Publications.
Whether you have one minute or half an hour, the free stress guide will teach you ways to manage the strains of your day. It describes 10 common stressors and how to defuse their impact and offers information on how to use meditation to lower stress levels. You will also find step-by-step instructions for “mini-relaxation” routines, organized according to how much free time you have available.
Source: Based upon a press release from Harvard Medical School