You have probably heard, “Stress is not what happens to you, but your response to what happens to you.“The cause of your stress, (the event or problem), is termed the “stressor”. Do you have any “stressors”? Who doesn’t. Many are tense and anxious and seem unable to relax even when they take time to stop their regular activities. What can you do to relax? Here are a few suggestions that will really help to relieve that excess tension and pressure along with the accompanying mental and physical symptoms caused by a chronic “stress response” .
What is the stress response? The stress response is simply the cascade of body reactions in response to any perceived stressor.
- Brain perceives stressor
- Brain activates nervous system
- Nervous system activates adrenal glands
- Adrenal glands release adrenaline
- Adrenaline stimulates: heart rate, increases blood pressure, directs more blood to the brain and muscles and shuts down blood flow to digestive system.
The stress response prepares us for movement” “fight or flight”. But the odd fact is that we do just that opposite nothing! When the stress response is not reduced in a reasonable amount of time, we become anxious, fearful, and over time, depressed.
A major reason why people find it difficult to relax is the lack of strenuous physical exercise each day. Ideally, you should take some time during the day to walk, swim, work in the garden, or take advantage of that gym membership you purchased several months ago. The hard, vigorous work puts the body in a mode that uses excess stress hormones, thus helping the muscles to relax much more easily. This is probably the greatest secret of relaxation. Exercise balances the body’s chemistry and is vital in reducing the “stress response”.
Taking long slow, very deep breaths can also be very helpful as you relax. If you have been sitting for many hours at work, a walk outside in the fresh air will be very relaxing to both your body and your mind. Your muscles will feel better from the rhythmical contractions and relaxations, and your whole system will be more calm and relaxed because of the increased negative ions in outdoor air. Those who live near the ocean, next to a stream, or near a forest are especially benefited by the air that is high in healing negative ions.
During those times that exercise is not practical, you can still aid your muscles to relax by sitting comfortably in a chair or lying down and then tightly contracting any tense muscles briefly and then allowing them to relax. Particularly notice the muscles of your face and scalp. Often, if tense or anxious you have been holding these muscles in a tight tense condition for hours without even noticing it. Continue until you have relaxed all of the tight, tense muscles in your body.
One word of warning. There are some who teach a method of relaxation which combines deep breathing with relaxation exercises into a hypnotic state where one then repeats to himself phrases such as “I feel very calm.” Various other hypnotic inductions are taught as various forms of meditation. While these techniques can be very effective to make one feel relaxed, there are some very real dangers associated with them. Hypnosis is an effective tool for behavior control, but with this behavior control goes a steady loss of personal independence and the ability to think and choose for one’s self. The human will is the most important aspect of human nature. Upon its right use depends our success in all of the battles of life. It is with the will that you make the right lifestyle choices. With it, you will choose a better life of right living to replace old habits that debilitate rather than strengthen health.
If you have some time to be outside when the sun is shining, that can be very helpful. Sunlight, directly on the retina, stimulates nerve fibers connected to the center of the brain. Here they cause an increase in the level of melatonin and serotonin. These substances in the brain cause a relaxed, calm, peaceful state of mind. People without daily sunlight have lower levels of serotonin and increased incidence of depression and anxiety. Most medications which doctors prescribe for depression are drugs which work in some way to increase the level of serotonin in the brain. Unfortunately, these drugs have many undesirable side effects. But time outside in the sunlight can give you these benefits free of any problem.
The melatonin produced in the pineal gland is released at nighttime bringing on a relaxed restful condition promoting a natural sound sleep. Many people with sleep disorders can correct them merely by taking a melatonin supplement at bedtime. But you can get the same benefits naturally by just being outside in the sunlight without dark glasses everyday.
The thoughts you choose to think have much to do with your ability to relax. Thoughts which have been stressing your mind all day can be replaced with thoughts that are restful, forgiving, and hopeful.
Probably one of the greatest hindrances to a calm relaxed state of mind is guilt. There can be no substitute for the strength and peace of mind that comes from a sense of right doing. If you have wronged someone else, go and make it right. If someone has wronged you, the resulting anger and resentment will increase stress hormones and leave you anxious. Forgiveness to all is essential to a stress free mind and body.