10 Relaxation Techniques to Reduce Stress

meditation-300x224If your hectic lifestyle has got you down, experts say relaxation techniques can bring you back into balance -- some in 5 minutes or less.

Chances are, your ever-growing to-do list doesn’t include one very important task: Relax. But managing stress is key to staying healthy. Think you don’t have time to unwind? Each of these stress-relieving tips can get you from OMG to omin less than 15 minutes.

1. Meditate 

A few minutes of practice per day can help ease anxiety. “Research suggests that daily meditation may alter the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress,” says psychologist Robbie Maller Hartman, PhD, a Chicago health and wellness coach.

The process can be simple. Sit up straight with both feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Focus your attention on reciting -- out loud or silently -- a positive mantra such as “I feel at peace” or “I love myself.” Place one hand on your belly to synch the mantra with your breaths. Let any distracting thoughts float by like clouds.

2. Breathe Deeply 

Give yourself a 5-minute break from whatever is bothering you and focus instead on your breathing. Sit up straight, eyes closed, with a hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose, feeling the breath start in your abdomen and work its way to the top of your head. Reverse the process as you exhale through your mouth.

“Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure,” says psychologist Judith Tutin, PhD, a certified life coach in Rome, Ga.

3. Be Present

You rush through dinner, hurry to your next appointment, race to finish one more thing on your agenda. Now try something different: Slow down.

“Take 5 minutes and focus on only one behavior with awareness,” says Tutin.Notice how the air feels on your face when you’re walking and how your feet feel hitting the ground. Enjoy the texture and taste of each bite of food as you slowly chew. When you spend time in the moment and focus on your senses, you should feel the tension leave your body.

4. Reach Out

A good social support system is one of the most important resources for dealing with stress. Talking to others -- preferably face-to-face or at least on the phone -- is a great way to better manage whatever is stressing you out.

5. Tune In to Your Body

Mentally scan your body to get a sense of how stress affects it each day. Lie on your back or sit with your feet on the floor. Start at your toes and work your way up to your scalp, noticing how your body feels.

“Simply be aware of places you feel tight or loose without trying to change anything,” says Tutin. For 1 to 2 minutes, imagine each deep breath flowing to that body part. Repeat this process as you move your focus up your body, paying close attention to sensations you feel in each body part.

6. Decompress

Place a warm heat wrap around your neck and shoulders for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and relax your face, neck, upper chest, and back muscles. Remove the wrap and use a tennis ball or foam roller to massage away tension.

“Place the ball between your back and the wall. Lean into the ball and hold gentle pressure for up to 15 seconds. Then move the ball to another spot and apply pressure,” says Cathy Benninger, a nurse at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

7. Laugh Out Loud

A good belly laugh doesn’t just lighten the load mentally. It lowers cortisol, your body’s stress hormone, while increasing brain chemicals called endorphins that boost your mood. Lighten up by tuning in to your favorite sitcom or video, reading the comics, or chatting with someone who makes you smile.

8. Crank Up the Tunes

Research shows that listening to soothing music can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. “Create a playlist of songs or nature sounds (the ocean, a bubbling brook, birds chirping) and allow your mind to focus on the different melodies, instruments, or singers in the piece,” suggests Benninger. You also can blow off steam by rocking out to more upbeat tunes -- or singing at the top of your lungs!

9. Get Moving 

You don’t have to run in order to get a runner’s high. All forms of exercise -- from yoga to walking -- can ease depression and anxiety by helping the brain release feel-good chemicals and by giving your body a chance to practice dealing with stress. You can go for a quick walk around the block, take the stairs up and down a few flights, or do some stretching exercises like head rolls and shoulder shrugs.

10. Be Grateful

Keep a gratitude journal or several (stash one by your bed, keep one in your purse, and one at work) to help you remember all the things that are good in your life.

“Being grateful for your blessings cancels out negative thoughts and worries,” says Joni Emmerling, a wellness coach in Greenville, N.C.

Use these journals to savor good experiences like a child’s smile, a sunshine-filled day, and good health. Don’t forget to celebrate accomplishments like mastering a new task at work or a new hobby. When you start feeling stressed, spend a few minutes looking through your notes to remind yourself what really matters.

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