Mention stress relief, and many people think of meditation. It works, of course, but it’s just one of many body-mind approaches to stress management, among them: yoga, sleep, aerobic exercise, and sex.
1. Breathe. The body-mind therapies all begin with deep breathing. The reason, stress expert Cooper explains, is that the respiratory system links the mind and body. Stress causes shallow breathing, which limits oxygenation of blood. To keep blood oxygen levels up, the heart strains to pump extra blood. The brain reacts to this with anxiety. “But when you breathe deeply,” Cooper says, “your blood becomes well oxygenated without straining your heart, and your mind and body relax.”
2. Meditate. Meditation simply involves twenty minutes of deep breathing, with the focus on the rhythm of your breathing or a word or phrase, your “mantra.”
3. Exercise. Stress-relieving regimens combine deep breathing with physical movement, from light workouts (strolling, stretching, tai chi, qigong) to moderate activity (brisk walking, yoga, gardening) to strenuous exercise (race walking, jogging, aerobics).
4. Walk. Walking is the easiest body-mind approach to try. You don’t need a class, or special shoes or clothing. Just put one foot in front of the other. Walking deepens breathing, lowers blood pressure, and stretches the arms and legs. In addition, you go from one place to another, which provides perspective. Finally, you’re already good at it, so you don’t have to endure the stress of learning a new skill.
Use your mind
When you’re stuck in traffic, you can’t meditate for twenty minutes or jump out of the car and take a walk. No problem.
5. Listen to soothing music. In the Bible, young David relieved King Saul’s stress by playing the harp. Recent studies have shown that music relieves the stress experienced by surgeons while they are operating as well as the stress of those people whose daily lives include dealing with heart disease. Use your car radio or invest in an auto cassette deck or CD player.
Introduce music into your kitchen or office. Get headphones if you commute by bus or train.
6. Listen to a relaxation tape. Relaxation tapes combine music and verbal suggestions that enhance relaxation, either with instructions to relax certain muscles or with descriptions of calming scenes. Some of the best relaxation tapes are produced by stress expert Martin Rossman, M.D., co-director of the Academy for Guided Imagery. Some Academy tapes are for general stress management. Others deal with specific problems such as insomnia and chronic pain. For a free catalog, contact P.O. Box 2070, Mill Valley, CA 94942; (800) 726-2070; www.interactiveimagery.com.
Relaxation tapes work. Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation gave a tape to 130 people about to have colorectal surgery. Over soft music, the tape instructed them to visualize a “special place” where they felt supported and relaxed. Others about to have the same surgery did not receive the tape. The tape group experienced less stress and required less pain medication during recovery.
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