Holiday Relaxation Tips
Managing Stress Practically
Practical techniques are important such as planning the day’s events, using a calendar, separating needs from wants and sticking to a schedule (or developing one). Writing things down and checking off a list rewards your psyche by giving you a visual of all you have accomplished. Remember to prioritize when making your schedule identifying both needs vs. wants, things you can change and things you cannot change.
To reduce stress, it's important to work on those things that are in your capacity to change and write down and record how you can change it. Identify your stressors, triggers, and coping strategies!
Keep yourself accountable to your schedule and ideas by sharing it with someone, getting a social support network in place such as friends, family, support groups, clubs and social networks, places of worship, where you can talk about your stress. Be sure to keep friends posted about any bad coping mechanisms you have when stressed out – like binge eating, drinking, smoking, TV, procrastinating, making excuses (these may be "relaxing" but do not provoke the relaxation response!).
- Be accountable to your support network.
- Be sure to set a bedtime.
- Make time for wants, time for hobbies and recreation in your schedule.
- Finally, eat a balanced diet and keep temptations (binge foods, drinks) out of your house.
- Follow the “everything in moderation” rule if you have the self-control, otherwise eliminate temptations.
Practicing the Relaxation Response
Stress can be fought and we can learn to respond to stressors with less anxiety, but it not only takes practice, it takes conscious practice. There are specific exercises you can perform to reduce or prevent the stress response. In general, it is good to have some form of regular exercise whether it is housework, gardening, walking or going to the gym or pool. Changing your focus off of your troubles and onto a specific relaxation activity can help a great deal to elicit a relaxation response in your body.
Start in a quiet place, dim the lights, wear comfortable clothes, sit comfortably or lie down. Set aside 5-10 minutes of private “DO NOT DISTURB” time – set a timer! Set aside up to 30 minutes only as you succeed at lesser times and only as much as your schedule will allow. Like REM sleep there is a time that it takes for your body to enter the relaxation phase. Starting with small chunks of time tend to be a lot less intimidating and "doing something is better than doing nothing." Turn the phone off, tell the family to leave you alone for that time period and not to disturb you unless it is an emergency (please be sure small children are supervised).
Here are some activities that can help you achieve a relaxation response:
1) Deep Breathing/Diaphragmatic breathing: place one hand on your chest, one hand on your abdomen. Begin by exhaling through pursed lips (like blowing out birthday candles, or as if whistling) so that your abdomen sinks down towards your spine, feeling the hand sink down as well. Then, inhale through your nose, allowing the abdomen to fill like a balloon and keeping the chest hand motionless – very little to no movement should occur through the chest and neck with proper breathing. Breathing should be full and natural. Avoid straining, but you will notice your respiration rate will slow because your breaths will be more full.
2) Visualization and/or Imagery: Quietly attend to pleasant, restful images. A pretty straightforward concept, but problems arise either staying focused on where you are trying to be and/or distracting sounds and perhaps even falling asleep. So, some hints like putting the thoughts or sounds out of mind, using mood music or creating white noise with audio sounds or a fan. Turn off phones and alert your household to your need for some alone time! Know that by practicing you will get better at staying focused! Also, combining techniques – breathing, palming, stretching or using tapes can help keep you focused.
3)Autogenic Training (Note: This is Complicated): You have 6 themes: heaviness, warmth, cardiac activity, respiratory activity, warmth in the abdomen, and coolness of the head. Each limb will go through first 2 themes (warmth and heaviness). “My right arm is warm, my left arm is warm…my left leg is heavy.” Cycle through each limb once for each theme and then go back and combine warmth and heaviness for each limb. “My right arm is warm and heavy….my left leg is warm and heavy." Next, proceed to cardiac activity. “My heart rate is calm and regular.” Then, “my breathing is easy and natural.” Next, “my abdomen is warm.” Finally, “my forehead is cool.” Repeat to fill time appropriately. Shorten the cycles to enhance your initial success if needed.
4)Palming: A technique using heat (rubbing palms together or holding warm clothes) over the eyes to soothe a headache or fatigue. Commonly, this is done sitting up, but you can lie down and support the elbows on a thick pillow, knees supported. Place elbows on a raised, padded surface so that hands are at eye level. Cup hands over eyes (after rubbing palms together or holding warm washcloths) and hold in place 1-3 minutes. You may combine breathing or visualization techniques as well.
5) Meditation and/or prayer: Spiritual links to relaxation have been made through these practices and they are encouraged according to your belief systems. Furthermore, studies have shown them to be quite effective at reducing stress. Preferably, it should be alone time or performed as a structured meeting with your family or as an organized group in order to enhance your focus and mood, rather than a general family prayer such as those at dinner or before bed.
6) T'ai chi ch'uan: is a slow motion, moving, meditative exercise for relaxation, health, and self-defense. Originally developed for combat, its methods were developed with the express purpose of prevailing in combat in an efficient, scientific manner. Today we may use Tai Chi to "fight" fatigue, stress, overwork, and assists with balance and helps the circulation of the chi and the blood.
7) DVD's/CD’s/YouTube/mobile apps (or other media): Media can be used to enhance your success or progress to lengthier sessions or more structured programs. Select a something that specializes in your favorite technique above, or one that offers a combination of techniques for variety.