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Do you feel anxious all the time? Is decision-making difficult for you? Are there times when you really feel stretched out and want to run away? Do you feel lethargic? Or have you been losing sleep lately? Does the mere thought of change disturb you?
If you have answered most of these questions in the affirmative, you may well be in the grips of stress, a malady of modern times. Stress has been defined as a reaction or response to any kind of change. It acts like a signal for the body and mind to get prepared for any eventuality. In that sense, some stress is essential for a healthy, lively life. But if you are facing a significant number of stress symptoms, you definitely need to do something about it, for these persistent problems could trigger off some more serious types of illnesses, physical and mental. Here are four techniques that could help you cope with stress:
The simplest of all stress-reduction techniques is deep breathing. Concentrate on your breathing several times in a day. This could be done anywhere, anytime—while traveling, stopping at traffic lights, while the telephone is ringing, or while waiting in a queue.
Take a deep breath right from the pit of your stomach. Inhale through your nose. Feel the energy coming in and revitalizing your body. Breathe out through your mouth, making a quiet, relaxing, whooshing sound like the wind as you gently blowout. Continue to take long, slow, deep breaths which raise and lower your abdomen. Focus on the sound and feeling of breathing as you become more and more relaxed. Continue deep breathing for about 5 to 10 minutes at a time, once or twice a day, for a couple of weeks. Then, if you like, extend this period to 20 minutes.
At the end of each deep breathing session, scan your body for tension and compare the tension you feel at the end of the exercise with what you had experienced when you started. You can practice this whenever you are feeling tense, angry or worked up and can easily breathe away to a state of almost instant relaxation. This exercise helps reduce anxiety, depression, irritability, muscle tension and fatigue. And though it can be learned in a matter of minutes and its immediate benefits experienced, its true effect may be fully apparent only after months of persistent practice.
Visualization is the technique of using your imagination to create what you want in life. It is based on the principle that the mind and body are intimately connected and changes in the physical state of the body create changes in the mind. Through visualization, we learn to use positive mental images consciously to bring about changes in the way we think and feel. It is, therefore, also called positive imagery.
Before we move on to the actual visualization method; let's do an interesting little exercise that will convince you of the efficacy of this technique.
Sit comfortably. Close your eyes, relax your body and imagine a lemon in your hand. Now smell it. There is no smell like the smell of a lemon. Is there? Now bite the lemon. Bite it hard, let the juice swirl around in your mouth and taste it. What does it taste like? What happened? You began salivating.
Such is the power of the mind.
You did not need the real thing, just the imagination was enough to create a real bodily response. Here is an example of visualization which can help you relax by creating your own special place:
Lie down or sit comfortably. Be totally comfortable. Close your eyes. Now imagine that it is a beautiful day. You feel like taking a walk...you mentally leave your bed, your room, your home.
You find yourself in an open field...a vast stretch of green...imagine yourself walking through the field...on the far side of the field is a forest. As you come into the forest, through the trees, it becomes more shady and cool. You can hear the sound of running water...walk along the river...you can feel the wet sand under your feet...you come to the top of some steps...you can see a beautiful garden below.
Start stepping down towards the garden...walk down the steps...down 10 steps...with each step you feel your tensions going away...1...2...3...4...5...6... 7...8…9...10. Now you are in the garden, take a look around...the lovely flowers...smell the sweet fragrance...you keep looking at the flowers...brightly colored. You can hear the leaves rustling in the wind. Smell the fragrance of freshness. Now, you wish to leave...you come to the steps...climb up to the riverside...walk along the river...through the forest...out in the fields... Let this image fade.
You are back in your room, feeling refreshed and alert...ready to get up. Now mentally count 1...2...3…and 3...2...1... Slowly open your eyes. Stretch and roll on to a side and keep lying down for a few minutes. Get up slowly. You feel absolutely calm, and completely relaxed...
As you may be unfamiliar with the skill of conscious visualization, it may take some time to learn. It is very likely that the images could be discouragingly uncooperative initially, flickering on and off, moving around or disappearing altogether when interrupted by some thoughts. If you have trouble getting impressions from all the senses, work on your strongest sense first.
The rest will gradually improve. Practice often, at least three times a day. You could play some light, soothing music to help the visualization process. Visualization is very effective in treating many stress-related and physical illnesses, including headaches, muscle spasms, chronic pain and general or situation-specific anxiety.
PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION
At the heart of this technique, which was developed by American physiologist Edmund Jacobson, is the premise that the body responds to anxiety-provoking thoughts and situations with muscle tension. This physiological or bodily tension is reduced by muscular relaxation, which thereby reduces anxiety. Here is the modified version of Jacobson's technique in four simple steps which can be easily practiced at home:
• Fold your hands into tight fists. Tighten the biceps and forearms. Hold for a few seconds. Release the tension and relax. Repeat.
• Wrinkle your forehead. At the same time, push your head as far back as possible. Roll it towards the right and then towards the left, then bring it back. Now tense all your facial muscles, press your eyes hard, wrinkle your forehead, tighten your jaws, tongue pressing the roof of the mouth. Stay in this position for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat.
• Arch back as you take a deep breath. Hold. Relax. Take a deep breath, pressing out your stomach. Hold. Relax. Repeat.
• Pull your feet and toes up towards your face. Hold. Relax. Now push your feet and toes down, tightening the calves, thighs and buttocks. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat. Keep lying down for a few minutes. Continue to take deep breaths. Now tell yourself: "When I get up, I will be fresh and alert." Count from 1 to 3 and 3 to 1. Open your eyes". Turn and roll towards one side. Keep lying, down for a few minutes, then slowly get up. For achieving quick deep muscle relaxation, whole muscle groups are tensed and relaxed. Each step is to be repeated twice, tensing each muscle group for 5 to 7 seconds and then relaxing it for 20 to 30 seconds. Remember to observe the contrast between the sensations of tension and relaxation.
This exercise should be practiced twice a day while sitting in a comfortable chair with a high back, or lying down on a flat surface on a thin mattress. Avoid tight clothing. You can listen to some soothing background music to enhance the feeling of relaxation.
Do not, however, do this exercise immediately before or after a heavy meal. Ideally speaking, it should be learnt under the guidance of a trained professional. It is a take-home therapy that should become a part of your daily routine. Consistent practice of this technique has helped in the treatment of muscular tension, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, irritable bowels, muscle spasms, neck and back pain, high blood pressure, mild phobias and stuttering.
And how can we forget the role of laughter in reducing stress? Remember, a chuckle a day, more than an apple, keeps the doctor away.
• Try to spend as much time as possible with cheerful people.
• Try not to always take yourself too seriously.
• Keep a collection of your favorite funny books and videocassettes.
So, the next time you are feeling miserable, try putting a really cheerful smile on your face. You will find it difficult to stay sad. Positive thinking reduces the, frequency and intensity of negative emotions and acts as a stress-buster.
Identify your negative thoughts, focus on your feelings and then eliminate all self-defeating thoughts. Substitute them with positive thoughts about yourself. Do not, however, avoid seeking professional help or mobilizing social support, if required, in dealing with stressful times.