If you, like millions of Americans, feel stressed out and in need of a long vacation you can’t afford to take, don’t sweat it. There is a lot you can do to de-stress yourself. Keep in mind that the opposite of tension and stress is relaxation. Relaxation comes in many forms. Sometimes it has to be learned and practiced.
For example, if you grew up in a home with an alcoholic or abusive parent, you may not even realize that your body has carried physically tension for years. Alcoholic/abusive parents can create uptight kids. Kids never know when the alcoholic/abuser will be available, angry, critical, physical, kind or calm. This unpredictable pattern creates a tense child – always waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. Tension becomes a learned state of living. Many of these adult children need to teach their bodies how to relax.
Here is an easy way to learn to relax. Before you begin, try to rate the level of tension in your body from zero (no tension– you are probably dead) to 100 (this much tension will kill you).
Now, take deep breaths – When you are tense, breathing often becomes short and rapid. It tends to originate in the chest. Some people even hyperventilate which can lead to panic. Breathing should come from the abdomen, not the chest. If you are unsure, place your hand on your abdomen, take a breath and see if your hand moves. If you don’t feel an in and out motion, chances are you are breathing from your chest and throat.
When you concentrate on taking deep, slow breathes, you supply more oxygen to the brain and muscle system. You stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms you. Taking deep breaths can help you clear your mind. Try to concentrate on your body. Try to inhale slowly through the nose and let the air go down low. Pause and slowly exhale through your nose or mouth.
Do this over and over, about 10 times. When you practice deep breathing three or four times a day, you will catch yourself breathing incorrectly and teach your body to breathe correctly. The good thing about this form of relaxation is that it is free, easy to do and can be done anywhere. You can be in the middle of a crowd, start feeling tense and take a number of deep slow breaths to calm down. Or you can be alone in the house and practice.
After you have practiced this exercise a few times, rate the level of tension in your body again on that 0-100 scale. The number should be lower. If not, you need more practice. The more often you sense stress in your body, the more you can apply this technique. So next time you feel tension creeping into your body, take a deep breath and relax!
Dr. Linda Mintle writes the relationship and advice blog Doing Life Together on Beliefnet.