Life can be stressful. Many of us lead such busy lives that we rarely switch off. We are constantly busy, on the go, in a doing mode. This leads us to become chronically tense and stressed.
To remain healthy, happy and avoid burn out we all need to take time during our busy days to relax. What follows is a serious but also at times light-hearted list of ways to relax. There are literally thousands of ways to relax and I plan to gradually add more and develop a very long, useful and entertaining list.
To start with, in summary, begin each and every day in a positive frame of mind, eat a healthy diet, with lots of fruit, vegetables and oily fish, take exercise most days, laugh frequently throughout the day (every day), see the good in things and people, spend time in a green landscape or by calming water, nurture relationships and be part of the local community.
For some, becoming religious or becoming a volunteer are effective. All of these will strengthen your defences against the damaging, negative effects of stress, enabling you to become relaxed and happy - and also prevent illness, disease and mental health problems and even to live longer.
To start the day
Begin the day with a healthy, nutritious breakfast, eaten slowly. Strengthen your thinking and mental armoury with positive thinking.
- Think positively. Start the day with positive thinking. If you begin the day feeling positive, then you will be less prone to stress and less likely to go down with viral infections. Medical research has found that positive thinkers are less prone to catch colds and flu, and if they did get a cold their symptoms were milder. When you wake up think about something that in the past that made you feel full of hope for the future and intensely happy. Let yourself enjoy those positive emotions for a few minutes before getting ready for the day.
- Practice morning meditation. Sit on the floor, on a rug, with your legs crossed. Relax your hands on your thighs and close your eyes. See any thoughts as they drift through your mind as projections on a screen. Watch the thoughts as they cross the screen in a disinterested way, and then imagine the screen going blank. Gradually build up to 20 minutes of meditation.
- Make your own meusli. Start the day with a nutritious breakfast of oats, nuts and seeds, which are heart-protecting, calming and brain pleasing. Use 500g of organic oats, as many seeds and nuts as you wish. Try chopped walnuts (to lower cholesterol), Brazil nuts, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame seeds, pine nuts and linseeds (flax seeds). To the muesli each day add 1 tablespoonful of natural yoghurt, plus a handful of grapes, slices of apple, chunks of cantaloupe melon and blueberries (good for the brain).
- Re-arrange your day. Try to rearrange your day to include some relaxed family time in the morning. Get up earlier than usual to have breakfast with the children and read them a story if you regularly miss bedtime. Those people who feel supported by strong family ties tend to feel more relaxed and are less prone to stress.
- Have a calming breakfast. Breakfast with sugary cereals and bars lead to a rush of glucose with peaking blood sugar levels that then fall, causing the release of stress hormones – and associated feelings of anxiety, irritability, moodiness or sleepiness. Aim for a gentle increase in blood sugar which is sustained. Therefore try eggs, wholegrain toast with cottage cheese or peanut butter, a fruit smoothie, porridge or a nut-laden muesli. In other words low GI (glycaemic index) foods.
- Eat a brain-stimulant breakfast. To boost levels of the brain-activating chemical tyramine try a bacon, ham, cheese or avocado sandwich on wholemeal bread in the morning. When you are alert you are able to beat away and cope with stress more easily.
- Use relaxing shower gel. Try a relaxing shower gel. Try using 1 tablespoon of unscented shower gel, 1 drop of essential oil of juniper and 2 drops of essential oil of bergamot. This can help to focus the mind and strengthen the nerves. (avoid during pregnancy).
- Sing in the shower. Singing promotes a sense of wellbeing by boosting circulation, improving posture and deepening breathing. Singing also prompts the release of endorphins in the brain, helping to relieve stress and pain. As you sing, stand up taller and breathe deeply.
- Do some gentle stretching or yoga. Indulge in some gentle relaxing stretching. Stand tall, with bottom tucked in, shoulders relaxed and low, feet hip-width apart. Stretch both arms above your head and reach up as high as you can, then take a deep breathe in. Stretch up with your right arm high and then your left arm, alternating as you breathe in and out deeply and gently.
Relaxed Commuting to Work
- Walk to work if possible. Research has found that a large proportion of the stress of commuting comes from the lack of control, a sense of frustration and helplessness. By being pinned down by timetables, red traffic lights and the bodies of other commuters. The best way to combat this lack of control is to relax and rely on your own two feet. It may take longer to get to work but you will arrive calmer and invigorated. The exercise is calming and healthy. Use the additional time to adjust your attitude, tuning into work issues and problems on the way in to work and unwinding and mentally relaxing on the journey home.
- Take control. If you have to commute by train or bus, then be productive during enforced stationary times by writing letters, processing emails or reading reports. The sense of being in control and being productive is key to remaining calm and relaxed.
- Practice window meditation. On the other hand, an enforced switch-off can be the ideal way of de-stressing for busy workaholics who try to force too much into a busy working day. Instead of working on the train, use this time to stare out of the window and contemplate the moving scenes and the world around you. Try not to dwell on ideas or preoccupations. Allow the ever-moving flow of life and its diversity remind you of the changing nature and inconstant nature of the world.
- Daydream solutions. If you are fed up with your stressful way of life, take 10 minutes during your commute on consecutive days to contemplate other possible life options. On the first morning, allow yourself to contemplate all types of possibilities, regardless of how outlandish they may seem. Are you able to change your job and work closer to home, move to a more manageable city, start working from home or marry a millionaire? The next day, spend 10 minutes thinking about the practical ways that you could bring about some of those solutions.
- Lose yourself in a good book. Take advantage of the commute by train or bus to immerse yourself in a page turner.
- Listen to music while travelling. Lots of us do this now, with our MP3 players, iPods and iPhones. Research has shown that music calms the mind and defends against nerves.
Relaxing at your desk
- Pin up a poem. A good poem condenses complex ideas into a few lines, and can therefore make a good escape from work and provide a reviving exercise for the brain and emotions. Contemplate how few words are necessary for great impact and how the meaning can change from one word to the next.
- Have a laugh. Many studies have shown that laughter is great way to prevent and counter stress, relieve pain and boost the immune system. Also, the benefits of laughter are communal. Your laughter triggers activity in the brains of those who hear it, resulting in them to laugh in response. Build moral and defuse conflict and stress by telling corny jokes.
- Enjoy a bowl of berries. The superfood, blueberry, is rich in antioxidants (e.g. resveratrol) and helps to repair the damage caused by stress. Blueberries have also recently been shown to be good for the brain. They also contain pterostilbene which helps to regulate blood sugar levels, reducing the production of stress hormones.
- Enjoy flower remedies for work. The following can help to ease a bad day. Place 4 drops in water and sip until the symptoms subside. Try the following flower remedies: Hornbeam helps to ease the “Monday morning” feeling, when you are feeling unenthusiastic or stale. Impatiens helps to reduce the “headless-chicken” syndrome: when there is so much going on it is easy to miss the larger picture. Walnut offers protection against unpleasant atmospheres or people and is good for sensitive types.
- Pimp your cubicle. Separated work stations bring anonymity and result in a tendency to get your head down and ignore your colleagues. Personality-free or “sterile” working environments can lead to worker stress. Remember to step outside your cubicle to make human contact, and personalize your office space with photos, plants and personal mementos.
- De-stress your spine. Stand with your right sole on a chair. Place your left hand on your right knee, twist your right shoulder back and let your spine follow. Breathe out, and turn a little further. Breathe in back to the centre and repeat on the other side.
Carry around a stress-reduction kit
If you find yourself too busy to stop, make a stress-reduction kit and carry it around with you. Healthy drinks and snacks are a particularly good way to help support the body and mind through stressful periods. Examples of things to include:
- Photos that make you sigh. Looking at pictures of loved ones boosts endorphins and positivity.
- Red grapes. Carry around a supply to repair damage caused by toxic free radicals. The skins are rich in resveratrol, which accounts for the anti-oxidant effects of red wine.
- A bottle of water. Maintaining hydration helps you to keep a clear head. It has been shown that students who drink water get better results in exams.
- Emergency banana. Bananas contain B vitamins, good for the nervous system, potassium which helps lower raised blood pressure and they also boost levels of the calming neurotransmitter serotonin.
- Good dark chocolate. A little dark chocolate is a pick-me-up with a potent antioxidant punch. It contains antioxidant flavonoids which relax blood vessels, boosting blood flow and lowering blood pressure. Choose dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids because these taste better and sate the appetite.
- Calm and clear head. The Australian Bush Flower essence Calm and Clear is excellent if you over commit. It brings a calming mental clarity which can be so elusive for those who are chronically pressured.
- Herbal tea bags. Camomile tea is relaxing and has anxiolytic properties. Ginger tea can relieve nausea brought on by late nights, overwork and worry. Fennel tea helps rebalance the digestion and helps stimulate an appetite. Peppermint can relax the bowels and treats the colic of irritable bowel syndrome and helps headaches.
- Soothing skin cream. Carry a moisturising skin cream to counter the effects of dry office environments, cold winds and hot climates.
- Scent refreshment. Place a drop of essential oil of peppermint on a tissue and place in a plastic bag. Take a sniff if you feel mentally tired, low in mood or angry. (Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding).
- Carry a notebook. Use this to jot down inspiring thoughts before they are lost in a frazzled over-worked brain. Find one with handmade paper and leather or cloth binding.
- Old-fashioned ink pen. Just having something that is well made and old-fashioned makes you feel that you live a leisurely existence. Invest in a lovely fountain pen and savour writing longhand rather than typing.
- Practice writing exercises. Escape daily frustrations by writing in your notebook for 10 minutes. Do not think too hard or get too hung up on grammar, and allow your creative side to flow. As examples, try: I love spring because…, my first memory…,my worst holiday…, my bedroom when I was nine… etc.
Take Relaxation breaks
When you are working hard and feel overwhelmed, stopping everything for a short break preserves your peace of mind and can maintain your sanity. At stressful times, stop work, have a relaxation window and take some time out to calm down, recharge and recover. Stop to have something eat or drink, to take some brisk exercise or a power nap. When you resume work, note how much more focused you feel and how much more measured are your reactions to everyday stressors. Taking time out to relax makes you more resourceful, productive and protects you from the negative effects of excessive pressure.
- Stop every hour. If you are engaged on a relentless task, set an alarm clock to bleep on the hour. Stop work and see if you are still working productively. Note if you have drifted off into daydream mode. Take a few minutes to refocus your priorities and attention.
- Take a lunch break. An American study found that only 3% of people took a full hour for lunch. On study found that Britons spend an average of 27 minutes away from their desk for lunch, with women less likely to have a break. Having a proper lunch break can leave you relaxed and energised, ready for the afternoon's work.
- Get away from your desk. A study found that Americans are bad at getting away from their desk to eat lunch. One study found that 75% of those who take a lunchbreak sit at their desks to eat. In Canada, some Canadian government workers are obliged to take an hour lunch break away from their desks. Try leaving your desk and office for your lunch break. Eat in a relaxed cafe or the park and see the difference it makes.
- Snack on seeds and nuts. Nuts and seeds have a calming effect on the brain. Keep some at work to eat in a break from work. Try including almonds, hazlenuts, sunflower and sesame seeds. These are rich in tryptophan which is used by the body to make serotonin, a calming brain neurotransmitter chemical.
- Eat on oat cake. Complex carbohydrates release energy into the bloodstream steadily and have a calming effect. Oats are a complex carbohydrate, but they have additional relaxing properties, and herbalists recommend them to relieve nervous exhaustion, insomnia and anxiety. If you are getting "nervy" reach for an oatcake or two.
- Have a relaxing lunch. Choose a light meal that is brain-supportive, nerve-calming and energizing. Suggestions from nutritionists include: oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel with wholemeal bread. Chicken sandwich, salad or soup. Baked potatoes. Salads made from spinach, lettuce leaves, avocados and walnuts. Crudites of carrot, celery and cucumber with hummus. Seaweed-wrapped sushi.
- Add olive oil. Olive oil has been shown to protect the brain from declining performance, helping to ward off the post-lunch slump. It also helps to relax blood vessels and boosts the circulation. Drizzle some olive oil over your salad at lunch or use olive oil spread in your sandwiches.
- Enjoy curries. Some spices found in curry have been discovered to help regulate insulin, thus preventing blood sugars swings and helping maintain a calm brain. Try curry dishes with cloves, turmeric and cinammon.
- Eat stress-fighting nutrients. When you are under stress, your body needs more nutrients, because many essential vitamins and minerals are depleted by stress. When work is especially demanding, eat extra fruit and vegetables which are a good source of Vitamin C and potassium, and on seafood and wholegrains which contain zinc. Vitamin C, potassium and zinc are the first three nutrients to be lost when the body is under stress.
- Have an afternoon pick-me-up. A fresh fruit salad is stress-reducing when it contains bananas, apricots, watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew melon, which contain blood-pressure regulating potassium. Top up with some natural yoghurt and a topping of sesame seeds.
- Stock up on Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is needed for the nervous system to work properly. When under stress the body requires extra Vitamin B12. So eat foods rich in this Vitamin, such as: meat, eggs, fish or yeast spread on bread.
- Get some exercise. Walking briskly around the block, eases muscular and nervous tension, reduces anxiety, activates the body and energizes the mind. Just 10 minutes of exercise has been shown to restore "joire de vivre", lift mood, dissipate lethargy and lessen worry. One research study discovered that this could even spark a 2-hour burst of productivity in the afternoon. A brisk walk has been found to increase alertness as effectively as a cup of strong coffee, and reduces agitation rather than increasing agitation. While you are walking, plan how you can fit in a 45 minute session of more intense aerobic activity into your busy day, to lift your mood, lower blood pressure, increase energy levels and ease symptoms of stress on a regular long-term basis.
This article about ways to relax and treat anxiety is continued on: Ways to Relax - article 2