While no single stress reduction technique can make a stressful situation disappear, any technique can help you learn to consciously trigger your body’s relaxation response and release muscle tension and accumulated stress. Here are some useful relaxation techniques to consider in helping relieve stress and stress-related pain:
- Physical Exercise – If you are in severe stress-related pain, such as neck or back pain, exercise may seem like a bad idea. But the truth is physical exercise is a great stress buster. Aerobic exercise is particularly effective for relieving stress. Aerobic exercise changes your body’s chemistry by burning off stress hormones and increasing the production of endorphins, which relieves pain and improves mood. If strenuous aerobic exercise is not an option even simple stretching exercises can relieve stress and loosen tight muscles. Yoga and Tai-Chi incorporate poses and moves that increase strength and flexibility along with breathing techniques that relieve stress.
- Breathing Exercises – One breathing technique that can quiet stress is known as 2:1 breathing. Try a pattern of inhaling to the count of three and exhaling to the count of six. Repeat several times.
- Body Scan Visualization – Begin by either lying or sitting down. Do several cycles of 2:1 breathing. Once you are fully relaxed, conduct a full mental sweep of your body, as though you were undergoing a deliberate and complete x-ray. Go slowly but steadily, noting any areas of tightness or tension. Once you’ve finished the scan, return to those tight or tense areas and let your attention linger there. Consciously “breathe into” those areas for several breathing cycles and imagine the muscles relaxing. The body scan takes time — but if it is done on a regular basis, it can help you become aware of the early warning signs of an impending stress or anxiety attack.
- Meditation – Meditation has been found to be one of the surest ways to reduce stress and consciously invoke the relaxation response. There are many, many forms of meditation, and to discuss them all goes well beyond the scope of this post, however a simple technique is “taking the one chair.” Imagine yourself in a room in which there is only a single chair. Sit down on the chair and observe your thoughts and negative emotions pass in front of you. Remember that you are occupying the only chair in the room, so your thoughts have no place to rest. Watch them pass out of the room.
- Biofeedback: Special equipment is needed for biofeedback and it must be taught by a professional. Biofeedback involves using machines to monitor subtle changes in the body, such as skin temperature, muscle tension, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. By monitoring subtle changes in the body’s autonomic functions, a person can learn what technique works to produce the desired result. Eventually, the person can produce the same result without the machine.
How Can I Improve My Overall Emotional Health?
Maintaining overall good emotional health is the surest way to reducing stress and maintaining general good health. So here are some ways to keep your spirits high on a regular basis. Practice them and don’t be surprised if more than just your stress level improves.
- Express Your Feelings – Do not keep things bottled up. It is OK to express your feelings to friends, family, co-workers, as long as you do so in positive and appropriate ways. If you are not comfortable sharing feelings of anxiety or sadness with your family, speak to someone, your family doctor, a counselor or your clergyman.
- Balance is Key – In today’s world, it is impossible to live a stress-free life. We all have problems at home, on the job, etc. I am not suggesting that you can just smile and pretend that the things that trouble you are not there, however, there is always a bright side as well. Try not to dwell on the negatives so much, and balance them out with the positives. You may want to write down the things that make you feel happy or peaceful. Research has shown that having a positive outlook can improve your quality of life and give your health a boost. Find at least one thing that really makes you happy, and afford yourself the time to do that thing.
- Take Good Care of Yourself. Just as we have now established that our emotional health affects our physical well-being – so too does our physical health affect our emotions. Taking care of your body by eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and exercise, all fight depression and improve emotional health.
Always remember that stress management is an ongoing process. It requires patience, perseverance, and practice over time. Eventually, you will become better and better at it, just as you become stronger through exercise.
Combining some of the specific relaxation techniques presented here, with taking a deep and introspective look at our lives, and finding small yet meaningful ways to live better, can reduce a lot of pain – in your body and otherwise.