Exercises for Managing Stress

Stress reduction is the most effective way to maintain a healthy mind and body. Sources of stress include finances, relationships and our negative and/or fearful thoughts. It is easier to keep stress at appropriate levels when you incorporate stress reduction techniques into your life because each new stressor compounds your stress level. This build up can come bubbling up and explode if you don’t take the time to practice relaxation techniques. Some of these techniques are: deep breathing and muscle relaxation which calm our bodies’ physiological responses. Techniques like [visualization and meditation] thought stopping will help control these anxiety-provoking thoughts, as well as developing a life plan with goal setting and time management.

Deep breathing exercises decrease feelings of stress and anxiety by increasing the oxygen supply in the brain. Deep breathing can be practiced almost anywhere, anytime, and can be combined with other techniques, such as meditation.

DEEP BREATHING:  for best results, lie down on a comfortable but firm surface. Make sure your spine is straight, and breathe deeply from your abdomen. Inhale deeply and slowly through your nose and you will see your abdomen will rise as you inhale and fall when you exhale. Your chest should move only slightly. When you are done with this exercise, scan your body for tension. If any tension remains, focus on relaxing that particular area. Increase the duration from 5 minutes to 12-15 minutes as you become more comfortable.

DEEP MUSCLE RELAXATION:  this is a techniques that relaxes your muscles and decreases blood pressure and respiration rates. The body responds to stress with muscle tension and deep muscle relaxation teaches the body to respond with much less much muscle tension. Get into a comfortable position and take a few deep breaths. Relax  your body and notice the difference between tense muscles and relaxed ones. Start by tightening your right fist and hold it tight for 7 seconds; then loosen it and notice the difference in how this feels. Repeat with your left hand. Next, tighten and loosen the muscles in your face in the same manner, progressing through your torso and legs, ending with your feet. Like most relaxation techniques, you will become better at this each time you do it.

Thought stopping will prevent the self-talk that leads to unwanted feelings. These thoughts can be repetitive, unproductive and anxiety provoking. The first step is to identify those thought that are counter productive.

Begin the exercise by focusing on a situation that causes these thoughts. Allow these thought to enter your mind for three minutes. Use an egg timer or an alarm to let you know when the three minutes are up. Shout “stop” and empty your mind of all but positive thoughts. If the thoughts return in 30 seconds shout “stop!” again.  Each time you do this exercise try shouting a little softer until you are whispering or saying it in your mind.  This exercise works because it is an assertive way to provide a mild punishment and distract the mind. Finally, find a positive phrase to substitute in the stress inducing situation. Come up with several alternative statements.

There are many stress reduction and relaxation exercises. More can be found on YouTube, including tips on visualization and using music to aid in relaxation. It is up to you to try several ones and choose a few to use on a daily basis.